Nelson Cruz returned to Texas Rangers camp Thursday as a conquering hero following the Dominican Republic’s triumph in the World Baseball Classic.
Dominican teammate Leury Garcia also was back at the Surprise Recreation Campus, as was Jurickson Profar after his quick, one-game trip to the semifinals with Team Netherlands.
They arrived with only a week left before the Rangers break camp and head to Texas for three exhibition games ahead of the March 31 season opener at Houston. Each of the three is facing a big decision about his future.
Cruz is on the team for now as he awaits word from Major League Baseball on its investigation into the anti-aging clinic that reportedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to the right fielder. There is no timetable for MLB to wrap up its investigation.
Middle infielders Profar and Garcia, though, should know within the week if they will be on the Opening Day roster or assigned to Triple A Round Rock for more seasoning.
The clock is ticking.
“We’ve got the rest of the week here and part of next week,” manager Ron Washington said. “We feel like we have time to do what we need to do. We’ll get them in the game tonight, try to mix them in and see what happens until we make a decision.”
Cruz said that he hadn’t thought much during the WBC about a possible suspension but started pondering his situation Thursday.
He was one of several major leaguers named in the personal ledger of the head of Biogenesis of America, Tony Bosch, to have purchased PEDs. MLB investigators have not spoken to Cruz but are expected to within the next two weeks.
Washington has said that Leonys Martin or Craig Gentry could play right field if Cruz is suspended, and the Rangers also could turn to Mike Olt to fill in.
“Hopefully, as soon as we can, we can figure that out,” Cruz said.
Until it’s solved, Washington will write Cruz’s name into the lineup as often as possible. Cruz batted .324 with four doubles and six RBIs in eight WBC games. He was in the Rangers’ lineup Thursday against the Angels and said he’s ready for the regular season.
“I’m ready to play,” he said. “I’ve been playing a high level of baseball. There’s no doubt that’s going to help me at least of the first part of the season.”
Profar appears to be headed to the minor leagues to start the season as the Rangers would prefer to see him play every day to continue his development rather than be a big-league bench player who would be lucky to get 10 at-bats a week.
The Rangers have All-Stars at shortstop and second base, the two positions Profar plays.
The club would like to see Garcia develop as a full-time player, too, but there isn’t the same level of concern about stunting his development. He played all winter in the Dominican Winter League and said that he is still game-ready despite having only one at-bat during the WBC.
He’s fine being a utility player, and his time away from the Rangers didn’t alter his standing as the top in-house candidate to back up shortstop Elvis Andrus. The Rangers had interest in John McDonald, who was traded by Arizona to Pittsburgh, but have no interest in the recently released Ronny Cedeno.
“It’s the same opportunity right now,” said Garcia, who, like Profar, has never played full-time above Double A. “Wherever I go, I want to play whenever they want me.”
He and Profar should know soon where they will be headed to start the season. The wait for Cruz — and the Rangers — will be longer.
But decisions are coming.