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02/09/12 5:10 PM EST

Cruz signs two-year deal with Rangers

New workout regimen has helped outfielder shed pounds

ARLINGTON -- Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract on Thursday, has had an interesting offseason.

Shortly after the World Series, he went back to the Dominican Republic and was hit by a stomach bacterial infection the doctors couldn't identify. In January, he went to Miami for further diagnosis and found not only a cure but also a place to do his offseason workouts.

Cruz has spent the last month working out at Bommarito Performance, a Miami cross-training fitness center where many athletes work out, including teammate Mike Napoli and many college football players who are preparing for the NFL combine. Cruz, who dropped 16 pounds from the virus, said his new workout center has made a big difference and he feels he is better prepared to avoid the leg injuries that have plagued him the past three seasons.

"Everything is great," Cruz said on a conference call to announce his new contract. "I feel like my legs are stronger and more flexible. It is a huge difference than in the past."

The two-year deal keeps Cruz from going through arbitration both this winter and the next offseason. His hearing was scheduled for Feb. 17 in Tampa, Fla. He can still be a free agent after the 2013 season and assistant general manager Thad Levine said the Rangers remain open to discussing a longer-term contract with Cruz's agent.

"When we talked with Nelson's agent, we evaluated all our different options," Levine said. "We talked about a one-year deal, a two-year deal and a longer deal. We felt that a two-year deal was right for this moment. That doesn't preclude us from talking about a longer deal down the road."

Cruz said that is still "on the table" as far as he's concerned.

"We wanted to take care of this first," Cruz said. "That was the priority. I want to stay with the Rangers and that's something we'll decide later on."

Cruz played in 124 games for the Rangers in 2011 and batted .263 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs. He finished with a .509 slugging percentage but also went on the disabled list twice because of strained muscles in his legs. He has been on the disabled list six times in the past three years. He also had to leave Game 6 of the World Series with a strained right groin muscle, although he was in the lineup for Game 7.

He has been searching for a new offseason workout regimen that would keep his legs healthy for an entire season and his agent suggested the place in Miami. He weighs 224 pounds right now because of the weight he lost as a result of the virus. He normally reports to Spring Training weighing 240 pounds but wants to come in around 230 and be lighter this year than in the past.

"I'm definitely doing things different," Cruz said. "I feel like I'm in a better situation and better shape, and I expect a big return. I have been working hard this offseason to make sure I stay healthy the whole season, help us get back to the World Series and win the whole thing."

The Rangers did not win the World Series last October. They lost in seven games to the Cardinals. They had a 7-5 lead going into the ninth inning of Game 6 and needed three outs to win the World Series. Instead, David Freese hit a two-out, two-run triple just over Cruz's glove in deep right field to send the game into extra innings.

"It was one of those balls ... I was trusting my instincts," Cruz said. "I probably should have been playing deeper. but at that moment, I felt I should have been playing shallow and that's what happened."

The Rangers ended up losing in 11 innings and the Cardinals finished them off in Game 7 with a 6-2 victory. The Rangers also lost to the Giants in five games in the 2010 World Series.

"It has been difficult," Cruz said. "You always want to finish your goal, especially when you go to the World Series in back-to-back years. We didn't make it so now we have to get over it. We want to get better ... the whole team ... make sure we stay tough, do what we can to get better, make it back to the World Series and win it."

The new contract for Cruz leaves the Rangers with just one arbitration case remaining. Napoli's hearing is scheduled for Feb. 15 but the two sides continue to negotiate.

"Each negotiation goes at a different pace," Levine said. "At this point, we're going to devote 100 percent of our attention to working on Mike and doing everything we can to avoid a hearing."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.