Stay or go: Nelson Cruz heads Rangers’ free-agent class

Posted Sunday, Oct. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Rangers free agents The Rangers have 10 players from the 2013 roster who can be free agents, though Lance Berkman is expected to retire. Here’s a look at the other nine free agents, and a forecast on whether they will return next season: Nelson Cruz, OF Pros: Offers power in a market that lacks it. Is popular in Arlington and feels comfortable there. Would fill a Rangers need. Cons: At 33, is an old first-time free agent. Admitted use of a performance-enhancing drug adds uncertainty to how genuine power is. Wants to play outfield more than be a designated hitter. Forecast: Re-signs with Rangers. Joe Nathan, RHP Pros: Saved 80 games in two years with the Rangers with a 2.09 ERA. Veteran leadership helped groom young relievers. Internal candidates to replace him all come with questions. Cons: Turns 39 in November and wants a multiyear contract. His right to void the club option on his current contract will give him options other than the Rangers. Forecast: Re-signs with Rangers. Matt Garza, RHP Pros: Innings-eater whom the Rangers had coveted since the past few seasons. Is better than what he showed after trade from Cubs. A team can never have enough pitching. Cons: Price will soar as one of the most coveted starters on the market. Was a disappointment down the stretch. Has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. Forecast: Does not re-sign with Rangers. A.J. Pierzynski, C Pros: One of the most durable catchers in the game’s history. Had a productive season at a spot where production is hard to find. Isn’t the bad guy he is portrayed to be. Cons: Will be 37 next season. There are concerns about his ability as a receiver and mobility behind the plate. Forecast: Does not re-sign with Rangers. David Murphy, OF Pros: Epitome of a great teammate. Has flourished as an No. 4 outfielder in his career. Lives locally. Cons: Never shook out of his funk in a contract year. Made $5.78 million in 2013. Forecast: Does not re-sign with Rangers. Geovany Soto, C Pros: Made favorable impression by accepting part-time role. Still had pop in his bat and is considered a good receiver. Has improved his conditioning. Cons: Likely wants more playing time. Catching market is always thin. Forecast: Re-signs with Rangers. Jason Frasor, RHP Pros: Started slowly but became a trusted arm down the stretch. Veteran who wants to experience postseason before retiring. Made only $1.5 million in 2013. Cons: Relievers are always sought in free agency. Rangers have stable of young arms in minors who could be ready for majors. Forecast: Re-signs with Rangers. Jeff Baker, IF/OF Pros: Was a key component as a platoon player before injuring his right thumb. Understands utility role and flourishes in it. Cons: Can’t play shortstop. Rangers could eliminate need if Cruz re-signs and if they acquire an everyday first baseman. Forecast: Does not re-sign with Rangers. Colby Lewis, RHP Pros: All-around good guy and the type of person the Rangers want on the team. Has proved to be a big-game pitcher. Cons: Coming off hip surgery. No guaranteed spot for him in rotation. Will likely have to accept minor-league deal with Rangers. Forecast: Re-signs with Rangers.

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The freedom that players spend the first six years of their careers awaiting has arrived for Nelson Cruz, who will become a free agent for the first time as soon as the final out of the World Series is made.

Uncertainty comes with hitting the open market no matter the caliber of the player. Robinson Cano, baseball’s top free agent this off-season, knows he will get paid handsomely but isn’t sure which team will meet his outrageous early demands.

Cruz is one of 10 free agents from the 2013 Texas Rangers, but none of the other nine will face the scrutiny and uncertainty that is headed Cruz’s way after he admitted to using a banned substance and served a 50-game suspension.

He also will turn 34 years old in the first year of his new contract, and he could have the stigma of costing any team that signs him, aside from the Rangers, its first-round pick as a player who turned down a qualifying offer.

Cruz wants to return to the Rangers, the only team he has played for in the majors, but in a market that is starving for power hitters, he could find a suitor who lures him away.

“You don’t know what to expect because it’s something new,” Cruz said. “I’m comfortable here, but I understand it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s best for the team. I’ve just got to wait and see what happens. Hopefully, things will work out for both sides.”

Closer Joe Nathan, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, outfielder David Murphy and right-hander Matt Garza are also included in the Rangers’ free-agent class. The Rangers hold an option on Nathan for $9.25 million, but he earned the right the past two seasons to void it.

Nathan wants a multiyear contract and so does Cruz, who recognizes that this could be his only chance at free agency. In a perfect world, he would receive multiple years from a team that wants him to play every day in the outfield.

The five-year, $90 million contract that San Francisco gave last month to Hunter Pence, the Arlington High graduate and former UT Arlington player, could help fuel the market for Cruz.

“This will probably be my last shot, so I want to take advantage of that situation,” Cruz said. “I want to play in the outfield, no doubt. That’s something I feel more comfortable doing, and I think I can help my team better if I’m in the field.”

He is willing to play left field, where he practiced during workouts in Surprise, Ariz., as he served his suspension. The Rangers need corner production and power in a 2014 outfield that will have Leonys Martin in center field and Alex Rios in right.

The Rangers used Cruz at designated hitter in the tiebreaker game Monday, but they were going to consider using him in left field had they made an extended playoff run.

With Lance Berkman headed toward retirement, the Rangers also have a hole to fill at designated hitter, another power spot in the lineup.

“Power was clearly something we were lacking and is something we need to address,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We’re not the only team looking for it. We’re going to have to find ways to address that.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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