ARLINGTON — Go ahead and blame Nelson Cruz, if you insist.In this Texas Rangers season of patch and blame, Cruz’s defection to the Baltimore Orioles is as good a scapegoat as any.Along with:Derek Holland’s dog.Matt Harrison’s too-soft mattress.Prince Fielder’s missing X-rays.Nolan Ryan’s vacant parking space.But at least get your story straight. Cruz isn’t a villain here nor — except for a few scattered boos — was he greeted as one Tuesday night when he returned in an opponent’s uniform. During the off-season, he did what they all do, all the free agents who want to be courted and lavished with money by other teams. Cruz spurned the Rangers’ $14.1 million qualifying offer last November, and then waited for it to start raining Benjamins. Thirteen major league free agents received qualifying offers from their teams at the end of last season, and all 13 rejected the one-year offers.When other lucrative proposals didn’t proceed to fill their mailboxes, Cruz admitted Tuesday, “Yeah, no doubt. I was surprised.”It was a business decision, therefore, that led him to end up with the Orioles, just as it was a business decision that prompted him to accept his 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis case last season.No longer does it seem to be a festering issue, but the folks who run the Rangers felt that they were misled last August. They were led to believe that Cruz would appeal the suspension, postponing the inevitable, perhaps, into 2014.Had Cruz appealed, however — only Alex Rodriguez did — he reportedly would have been subject to having the suspension doubled to 100 games.Not the best of résumé lines for an impending free agent outfielder.For the record, the Rangers were 62-50 when Cruz began to serve his suspension. They were 29-21 without him. Cruz or no Cruz, they wouldn’t have caught the Oakland Athletics. Get your story straight, therefore. Cruz didn’t cost the Rangers the 2013 American League pennant. With 21 home runs and 55 RBIs so far for the Orioles - including his three-run blast in the eighth - he may cost the Rangers the 2014 pennant, but that’s another chapter.After turning down the November qualifying offer, Cruz reportedly also declined a multiyear offer — probably two years — from the Rangers in December. By February, still unsigned, Cruz’s agent is said to have sent word that Nellie would accept a one-year, $7 million contract from Texas that included starts in the outfield. The Rangers countered with $6 million and no guaranteed outfield starts. Cruz agreed to a one-year, $8-million deal with Baltimore a few days later.“I’m happy with the decision I made,” Cruz said before Tuesday’s game. “I don’t regret anything I did. I feel I made the right call.”By February, the Rangers had signed free agent Shin-Soo Choo and were set in their starting outfield. Choo had been targeted as a leadoff man and the kind of patient, work-the-count hitter that the Rangers hoped would help transform their lineup.The February offer to Cruz was to be the club’s designated hitter. When he declined, the Rangers elected to give Mitch Moreland a shot at the DH job. If you’re playing the blame game, therefore, blame Moreland. It was the club’s fascination with Moreland that also helped it to trade first baseman Chris Davis to Baltimore in 2011. Cruz, with his 20 homers, returned Tuesday night to the ballpark he used to consider home.“It feels weird to be on the other side,” he said.No doubt it did. But no apologies were necessary.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton