If the price is right, Rangers would bring back Cruz
Texas didn't anticipate slugger would still be out there, but he'd seem to fit as DH
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Nobody has to tell the Texas Rangers what Nelson Cruz supplies: power, lots of it, with the volume turned up full blast in the postseason to the tune of 14 homers and 27 RBIs across 34 games. The issue is demand.
Cruz, who delivered 27 homers and 76 RBIs last season while reduced to 109 games by a 50-game suspension for his Biogenesis association, is the No. 1 free agent left on the board. Exploring the matter on Wednesday with MLB.com, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels made it clear the Rangers would like to have Cruz back -- on reasonable terms -- but are prepared to go with what they have in camp.
The question, as time moves on, is what those terms are and how far other clubs, such as the American League West rival Mariners, are willing to go for Cruz, who is represented by Adam Katz.
If Cruz falls into a financial range with which Texas is comfortable, Daniels could make manager Ron Washington's day by making the 33-year-old slugger his primary designated hitter in a familiar environment conducive in all ways to his needs.
"We've touched base every week or so," Daniels said. "Nellie's highly regarded here. We have a good relationship with Adam. We made our moves [for Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo] and kind of expected [Cruz] to sign elsewhere. But we'll see where it goes. It's a unique situation for him as a free agent.
"When we made our decision to sign Choo [seven years, $130 million], it was with the understanding that [Cruz's] best opportunity would be to sign elsewhere. I don't know what's going on with other teams and Nellie."
Cruz appears to have more value in Seattle as a cleanup hitter protecting new superstar Robinson Cano. But what if Cruz can't find what he's looking for elsewhere and remains free and within reach?
"If that came to pass," Daniels said, "we would talk about it."
The Texas outfield is set with Choo in left, brilliant defender and evolving offensive player Leonys Martin in center and Alex Rios, a splendid all-around talent, in right. Rios is signed for $12.5 million this year, with a club option for $13.5 million (with $1 million buyout) for 2015.
Mitch Moreland, displaced at first base by the durable Fielder, promising outfielder Michael Choice and new catcher J.P. Arencibia are the prime DH candidates.
Choice, acquired from Oakland in exchange for versatile outfielder Craig Gentry, projects as a highly productive hitter and a quality defender.
"He's a baseball player, with strength, athleticism, skill," Daniels said of Choice, whose powerful frame calls to mind fellow Arlington product Vernon Wells. "He's always found a way to get on base, control the strike zone.
"When we made the trade, before we signed Choo, we thought he'd get a chance to play. Right now he's competing for a job, but it's early. We have time to figure out whether we'd be better off with him here [in a backup role] or playing every day [at the Triple-A level]."
Choice has played center field and is support there for Martin, who comes equipped with superior speed and an arm perhaps without equal for strength and accuracy.
Martin's .260/.313/.385 slash line in 147 games in 2013 took a late-season hit, perhaps owing to the rigors of his first full season in the Majors at 25 years old. Most impressive were the Cuban's 36 steals and 80 percent success rate, but he figures to hit in the bottom third of the lineup until he builds a better offensive profile.
Washington has a stacked top of the order with Choo (.389 career on-base percentage) and the swift and versatile Elvis Andrus, followed by the power firm of Fielder and Adrian Beltre.
Choo, who has reached at least 20 homers three times, could jump close to 30 with the inviting right-center target of his new home park.
"I like having a leadoff hitter who can put you up 1-0," Daniels said. "We had that with [Ian] Kinsler [who was sent to Detroit in the Fielder swap]. Rickey Henderson, of course, was the prototype, and you see what [Mike] Trout has done leading off. It's a weapon."
For the first time in his career, Fielder will be the one getting protection from another slugger. The past three seasons, in Milwaukee and Detroit, the man hitting in front of Fielder -- Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera -- won the Most Valuable Player Award of his league.
Rios, who hits for a higher average than Cruz but with less power, is slotted in the No. 5 hole. But if Washington wants to go with a deeper look, he could move Choo to the No. 5 spot as gifted Jurickson Profar, the new second baseman with leadoff skills like Martin, gains confidence in the batter's box.
Andrus, who arrived to camp with a full beard and his customary enthusiasm, brightened with mention of Cruz. The Rangers have had exceptional chemistry on and off the field in recent seasons, and the big right fielder has been a part of that.
"Everybody's hoping he comes back," Andrus said. "We know how different he makes the lineup look. He would be a great addition. He knows everybody here and is one of the best power hitters in the game. I know he's kind of worried back home [in the Dominican Republic]. Being his teammate, he's like a brother."
At the same time, Andrus acknowledged that his attitude and the Rangers' clubhouse will be lively and upbeat with or without Cruz.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Andrus said, grinning. "Adrian's the leader. I'm the assistant leader."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.