Letting Cruz Walk Still Haunts The Texas Rangers
I’ll spare you the cliché about hindsight but over the last two weeks, the Texas Rangers have had plenty of chances to look back upon a critical mistake made prior to the 2014 season. It is a decision that continues to impact the team to this day. Not re-signing Nelson Cruz now looms as one of the larger mistakes in the Jon Daniels era and the Rangers have seen why in April.
When Cruz became a free agent after the 2013 season, he was coming off of a 50 game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Rangers decided to slow play the Cruz negotiations in order to let the market establish a value for the outfielder’s services.
Ultimately, the Rangers lost this game of chicken and Cruz signed with the Baltimore Orioles. One of the contributing factors to Cruz’ decision to leave Texas was the insistence of the Rangers that the slugger be the team’s primary designated hitter. Cruz was offered playing time in the filed by the Orioles thus prompting him to leave Texas for a meager one-year deal.
Not many fans were distraught over the loss of Cruz (myself included) because at that time, most still thought Jon Daniels was a genius. Alex Rios, who the Rangers acquired via trade the previous season to replace Cruz during his 50 game suspension, was thought to be a capable replacement in left field.
In 2014, the man who had a two-foot-long hotdog named after him at Globe Life Park hit .277 with 40 homeruns and 108 RBI in Baltimore. On the other hand, Rios hit .280 with 4 home runs and 40 RBI. However, the Rangers had signed free agent Shin-Soo Choo to replace some of Cruz’ offense but he hit only .242 and matched Rios with 4 homeruns and 40 RBI. The man the Rangers let walk away, more than doubled the output of both of the Texas corner outfielders.
Making the situation more painful is that in 2014, Cruz was paid $8 million by Baltimore while Rios was paid $13 million and Choo was paid $14 million. Had the Rangers paid Cruz $8 million for three years ($24 million total) they may not have felt to pressure to sign Choo to the unwise 7 year and $130 million contract.
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The loss of Cruz has also left Texas with the worst outfield in the game. The failed Michael Choice experiment, Choo’s struggles, and the lack of talented outfielders in the farm system have crippled the Rangers’ offense. If Texas had kept Cruz, it is likely that they would not have made this week’s controversial trade for outfielder Josh Hamilton.
To make matters worse, Cruz is now the best hitter on the roster of a division rival, the Seattle Mariners. In five games against Texas this year, Cruz is batting .416 with two homers (including a walk-off shot on April 19th) and five RBI.
Overall, Cruz is hitting .337 with 10 homers and 22 RBI. Meanwhile, Texas has a total of 13 long balls on the season and has scored only 73 runs. Cruz alone has accounted for 28% of the run production that the Rangers have been able to amass as a team.
Cruz was a fan favorite and one of only seven big leaguers to hit at least 20 HR for five consecutive years when Texas made the decision to low-ball him. He has continued to be one of the best power hitters in the game while the Texas offense has been as potent as a water gun.
The next time you watch Cruz in a Mariners’ uniform, imagine how different this offense would be if Cruz were hitting behind Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre rather than Choo, catcher Robinson Chirinos or any of the other unproductive Texas bats.
Two seasons ago, the organization that now has one of the worst offenses in baseball let one of the best hitters in the game leave despite his desire to stay. It is fair to say that the Rangers’ regret grows with each crack of Nelson Cruz’ bat.
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