30 Rangers In 30 Days: Nelson Cruz
By Eric Reining
Alas, we’ve reached the final day discussing the assumed starting lineup heading into the 2013 season. The starting rotation is handled; A.J. Pierzynski is at catcher, Mitch Moreland at 1B, Ian Kinsler at 2B, Adrian Beltre at 3B, Elvis Andrus at SS, David Murphy in LF, Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry platooning in CF, and today, we’ll get into our right fielder, Nelson Cruz:
Could I find a more antiquated photo of Cruz? Probably not.
Originally, Nelson Cruz was the throw-in from Milwaukee during the underwhelming Carlos Lee trade of 2006, the one that set Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Francisco Cordero away from the Rangers’ organization. At the time, the fan base grew so disgruntled with Lee that we were more than OK letting him walk to the Astros the ensuing offseason. But Cruz, a power-hitting outfielder who showed flashes of all 5 tools, remained tucked away at AAA waiting for his opportunity to arise.
Admittedly, it would take several years before Cruz asserted himself into the everyday rotation. In his short sample of 2006 (41 games), he hit .223/.261/.385 (58 wRC+). In 2007 (96 games), he hit a clip of .235/.287/.384 (71 wRC+). In 2008 (in 31 games), he began to show flashes of brilliance, accumulating a triple slash of .330/.421/.609 (168 wRC+), and ever since, he has more or less been an integral piece in the lineup.
Between 2009 and 2010, he generated an elite 8.3 fWAR, though despite hitting 53 home runs over the last two years, his WAR totals have plummeted in comparison — only 2.8 fWAR.
Cruz’s sin of omission during this recent Miami PED scandal adds credence to the idea that he may very well have been on something during his illustrious spike in production over the last 4 years, but with the evidence being so muddled, I have a hard time implicating him without doubt. So for the context of this article, we’re just going to assume that (a) he was never on any type of performance enhancing drugs, and (b) that he will be the Rangers starting right fielder in 2013. I understand that both (a) and (b) are very much in question, but I’m upholding the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing, even though in the court of public opinion it’s typically perceived in the opposite sense.
Nelson Cruz is a very intriguing prospect, looking at the Rangers in the longterm. He’s already heading into his age-33 season, and with only one year and $10.5 million remaining on his current deal, this may very well be his last year in Texas. At the same time, what with the added motivation of playing in a contract year, conflated by his need to prove himself that much more from this PED issue, I suspect he will be very, very good in 2013.
His defense has declined the last two years (cumulative -9.4 UZR) and his once-average speed has began to fall off (combined -5.2 BsR in ’11-’12), but if his bat catches fire, what then? Do you try to bring him back in an OF/DH capacity after this year? And how much would you pay for that?
I’m a big believer in the talent of Nelson Cruz, and I hope his production output in 2013 vindicates whatever tiny ripples this HGH issue has created. With that said, my logic tells me regardless of how he performs this year, that he will no longer be with the Rangers in 2014.
For what it’s worth, Bill James has Cruz hitting .269/.333/.489 in 2013, while FanGraphs has him at .268/.319/.480, good for 2.5 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I’m expecting a solid campaign from Nelson Cruz in 2013. I believe he will be the 2nd, or 3rd best bat in our lineup. With he, along with David Murphy playing for contracts next year, and with no viable OF prospects in the farm system, only Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry figure to be in the outfield rotation in 2014. If Nelson Cruz proves to be better than he’s been the last two years, he is worth a serious look to get a one- or two-year contract after the season ends. As far as generating that value, I envision Cruz hitting north of 30 home runs, playing so-so defense, and netting right around 3.0 fWAR next year. I’ll be cool with that.