No Cruz control: Rangers still have holes to fill

02/09/2014 10:21 PM

02/09/2014 11:45 PM

Admittedly, it was an interesting notion, this idea that Nelson Cruz would reconsider and come home to the Texas Rangers at discount prices.

But it’s probably never going to happen.

That’s not the way that major league baseball works these days. And it’s also not the way that general manager Jon Daniels and the Rangers do business.

If a player, especially a 27-homer, .833-slugging percentage guy, finally reaches free agency, he’s not going to take discount anything, even if he’s already comfortable in the uniform.

Money is money. Free agent Cruz, a late bloomer at 33 years old, wants somebody to guarantee him at least three years of it. This may well be the only chance of his career to cash in.

Reports from Seattle say that the Mariners are ready to offer Cruz a multi-year deal. Signing the biggest bat left on the free agent market would fit the desperate off-season profile of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

Seattle, which has had only two winning seasons in the past 10, signed a deal earlier this winter that will pay second baseman Robinson Cano $24 million at age 40.

Go for it, Nellie.

The Rangers, however, were never inclined to pay Cruz what he has rightfully earned. Their initial qualifying offer — one year at $14.1 million — was their best offer. They knew Cruz would decline it, and he did.

After trading for Alex Rios last season and signing free agent Shin-Soo Choo, there is no longer a position for Nellie in the everyday lineup. The $14.1 million that was offered to Cruz in November has been spent — on Choo, mostly.

The Rangers also gave Cruz’s No. 17 uniform number to Choo.

Still think Nellie’s coming back?

There is another factor in the Cruz-Rangers negotiations, or lack thereof, that shouldn’t be minimized. By signing free agent Choo, the Rangers forfeited their first-round draft pick in the June first-year player draft. If another team signs Cruz, the Rangers would be awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the first round, approximately the No. 31 pick.

If they themselves sign Cruz, however, the Rangers wouldn’t make their first pick until around the 60th spot. They would also lose valuable dollars from their bonus pool, from which they are allowed to sign first-year players.

That would be a prickly high price, in more ways than one, for signing Cruz to what would likely only be a one-year contract.

Would Cruz have impacted the Rangers’ 2014 lineup? Without question. Rios played very well here after being traded from the White Sox, but we all saw during Cruz’s 50-game suspension how his power presence can affect the Rangers’ offense.

Who, then, handles the designated hitter role this season? Daniels keeps saying that he’s prepared to open the season with Mitch Moreland and newcomer Michael Choice sharing the role. If one emerges as the clearly better option, the thinking seems to be that that player will get the lion’s share of the job.

This is far from ideal, of course. Moreland was the least productive first baseman in the American League during the second half of last season. He is 28 years old — older than the man he replaced, Chris Davis — and he’s likely not going to produce more than his career .253 batting average and an annual WAR in the 0.5 range.

Choice’s contribution remains a mystery. The former UT Arlington star, 24, has only 19 major league plate appearances. The Rangers hope to see big things from him, but they privately don’t seem to expect to see them this year.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Arizona next week, therefore, here’s what Daniels is facing:

He needs a productive DH who can bat in the No. 6 spot in the lineup, and he needs a solid, dependable starting pitcher to fill the void until lefty Derek Holland returns.

In simpler terms, if they truly want to be pennant contenders, the Rangers have to find a way to productively fill about 20 pitching starts and 450 DH at-bats.

That’s a lot to fill by just juggling — and crossing their fingers on — the roster pieces on hand.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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