Nelson Cruz, Baseball Player
By Eric Reining
It was Game 6 of the 2011 ALCS — the Rangers were bludgeoning Detroit in Arlington, clinching a birth into the World Series. Some guy with the last name Perry was on the mound for the Tigers, I remember (I think), and Nelson Cruz was at the plate for what was essentially an inconsequential at bat. (By that time, the Rangers were already winning by, like, 8 runs.) Nelson Cruz hit it, back back back and over the elevated left field fence, extending the Rangers lead to something even more un-comeback-able than it already was. For Cruz, it was his imperative closing statement in the ALCS, used to emphasize what was offensively one of the most productive series’ in postseason history. [8-22 (.364), 6 HR’s, 2 2B’s, 13 RBI]
It was also Game 6 — the following Game 6, in St. Louis — when Nelson Cruz made what many people probably consider the most catastrophic error in the history of the franchise. In the 9th inning, with a two-run lead, two men on base, two men out, and on a 1-2 pitch, Neftali Feliz threw a nearly un-hittable 99 mph fastball on the lower quadrant of the outside corner, and David Freese hit it.
Off the bat, it appeared like a playable ball. When I noticed David Freese running — the type of sprint that just screams there’s hope — I knew it might take a play. A great play. Nelson Cruz took a terrible route, eventually tracking the ball, and then flopped in the air some 3 feet away from where the ball landed. Game-tying triple then … Cardinals win then … yada yada yada. You remember how it went. I tend to think Cruz gets more flack for this play than he deserves, but since the Rangers wound up losing the World Series, inevitably the fan base looked for something, anything, to scapegoat. And for that, Cruz is the goat. The good credit he accumulated acting as savior of the prior ALCS against Detroit quickly turned into a steep debt. It only takes one negative play to give the common fan amnesia as to how much they like a player when he’s doing well. It changes in an instant.
I suppose the situation could have turned out well, and all could have been forgotten, but Nelson Cruz didn’t exactly set the world on fire the following season, in 2012. He put up a pedestrian .260/.319/.460, hitting 24 HR’s and driving in 86. Defensively, he was a tad below league average (UZR of -3.3), and he lost a step on the bases according to BsR (-3.2). For his supposed MVP-like talent, he certainly had a below-average season, yet he played in more games than any other Ranger (159).
For the fan base, I’m getting the impression a lot of people are considering this alleged Miami PED scandal as Nelson Cruz’s 3rd and final strike (if the ’11 World Series was strike one, and his underwhelming ’12 was strike two). Since the Miami New Time’s article surfaced I haven’t seen one writer or fan say they believe Nelson Cruz will be back in 2014 (after this, the final year on his contract).
Personally, I tend to agree with the notion that he won’t be back, but I disagree in begrudging him for the botched World Series play, or for the lackluster season that ensued. Even with this PED scandal, it doesn’t spawn any hate or disgust from me in Cruz’s direction. If he’s guilty, he gets a suspension, and I hope he kills baseballs when he comes back. That’s all it comes down to with me.
Let’s just put it this way: if Nelson Cruz comes back and performs at a high level, the fan base will embrace him. But the mob is fickle. Suppose he comes back and has another poor season — like last season — then how do you think he’ll get treated? If Rangers fans can turn on Josh Hamilton, the team’s most talented player, booing him during his sendoff game against Baltimore, then Cruz will certainly be an obvious target.
Overall, I like Nelson Cruz. I may have fallen too much in love with his potential at some point along the way, but right now I try my best to keep objectivity above all. The way I see it, Nelson Cruz has one year left and he’s set to make $10.5 million. If each Win Above Replacement is worth $5 million, that means Cruz needs to generate 2.1 fWAR to justify the terms of his contract.
($/WAR) = ($10.5M/$5M) = 2.1 WAR
It’s a contract year. He has 5-win potential, but all we need is a couple. A few would be nice. 4.0 WAR would be fantastic.
What do you think? Do you have positive feelings toward Nelson Cruz, or would you like to see him gone after this year? (Or, I guess option [c] would be: both.)