Texas Rangers

June 2, 2014

Nelson Cruz’s return to Texas triggers more ‘what-ifs’

The Rangers didn’t re-sign the slugger, now with Baltimore, who is leading baseball this season in home runs.

The next three games at Globe Life Park will give fans, baseball analysts and even some club personnel another chance to play the What Might Have Been game with the Texas Rangers.

Round 1 was May 22, when the Rangers traveled to Detroit for the first series between the teams since they swapped Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. Cynics said that the Rangers lost out big-time in the biggest trade of the off-season, especially when Fielder was lost for the season.

Round 2 begins Tuesday, when Nelson Cruz brings his baseball-leading 20 homers and 52 RBIs to Arlington as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.

Again, the perception is that the injury-ravaged Rangers, who have the second-fewest homers (35) in the American League, have lost out by not re-signing Cruz.

The Rangers can still catch up on the Kinsler-Fielder trade over the final six years on Fielder’s contract. Not all the evidence has been presented, so to make a final judgment now is just a knee-jerk reaction.

Cruz is different. The Biogenesis hatchet had been buried. The money was there. The need was there, with the Rangers knowing that they couldn’t afford any injuries and that the bottom of their lineup needed to exceed expectations.

But Cruz isn’t there, even after bidding for the slugger reached bargain prices. The Rangers and Cruz couldn’t agree for more reasons than just money, but everyone agrees that the Rangers’ banged-up lineup would be much more formidable with him in it.

“Obviously, he’s having a great year, and it would be some nice production to have in the lineup especially with all the injuries we’ve had,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “There were a few factors there. Right now, you’d love to have a slugger in the lineup, but a lot of these decisions, it takes time to really know.”

Cruz didn’t sign with the Orioles until Feb. 24, after every team had opened spring training. The Rangers had extended him the one-year qualifying offer for $14.1 million in November and then made him a two-year offer in December.

Both were rejected by Cruz, who was hoping to score big in his first time as a free agent and as one of the top power hitters on the market at the advanced age of 33, and the Rangers moved on late in December with the signing of free agent Shin-Soo Choo.

Daniels called Cruz, who was in Colorado on vacation, to inform him of the Choo deal. Choo was given Cruz’s jersey number, and signing him cost the Rangers a first-round pick in the June draft that they would recoup if Cruz signed elsewhere.

“We value the draft pick,” Daniels said.

February arrived, though, with Cruz still seeking employment, and there were discussions between the two sides.

Cruz would re-sign for $7 million, but he wanted to be in the outfield mix.

The Rangers informed him that they had only $6 million to spend and wanted him to be their primary designated hitter.

Baltimore called with a one-year deal for $8 million and the assurance that he would be a part of the Orioles’ outfield mix. Cruz made his choice.

Since he made his choice, the Rangers’ offense has been ravaged by injuries. They can’t slug their way out of any hole that might be created by a poor start from one of the fill-ins in their injury-ravaged rotation.

The Orioles have struck gold with Cruz, though he was hit in the left wrist Sunday by a Scott Feldman pitch and is day-to-day. That bruise, though, is just a blemish on an otherwise monster start to the season that has seen Cruz homer more on the road than in hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Orioles fans have quickly wrapped their arms around Cruz, and he quickly felt at home in a Baltimore clubhouse that includes three former Rangers players on the 40-man roster and three former Rangers coaches on the big league staff.

“It was like coming to Texas,” Cruz said last week.

He’s coming to Texas on Tuesday but isn’t sure how fans will receive him. They cheered wildly for him as he returned for the play-in game last season after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.

“The last time it was the most incredible thing in my life,” said Cruz, who on Monday was named the AL player of the week. “I still go back and watch my first at-bat, and I get chills. They used to love me. I don’t know how it’s going to be now because I’m trying to beat them up.”

Once again, it’s time to play What Might Have Been.

“Sometimes you don’t know what had you until you lost it. That’s the case right now,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “As a teammate we know how valuable and how good of a player he is. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for him to stay here.”

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