How 50-Game Suspensions for Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez Would Impact 2013 Races
The PED allegations surrounding Alex Rodriguez in a recent report by Tim Elfrink of the Miami News Times have dominated the headlines, but he is far from the only player who could be impacted by the report.
In fact, given that he was already expected to miss at least the first half of the season with hip surgery and that his production was way down last season any way, Rodriguez is not even the best active player to be named in the report.
Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez were named as well, and could face suspension on what is known as a non-analytic positive, wherein a player does not physically test positive but there is strong enough secondary evidence to warrant a suspension.
Rick Ankiel and Jordan Schafer are two examples of players who have been suspended without a positive test, and Cruz and Gonzalez could join them in the weeks and months ahead.
Turning attention away from the report for a minute, let's take a look at how a 50-game suspension to those two players would impact their teams for the upcoming season.
Cruz endured a long journey to major league success, as he was not a full-time player until the age of 28 back in 2009.
Originally signed by the Mets, Cruz was traded to Oakland and then to Milwaukee before finally making his major league debut for the Brewers in 2005.
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He was then traded again, this time to the Rangers along with Carlos Lee at the deadline in 2006, and he continued to put up impressive numbers in the minors before finally getting a shot at everyday at bats in 2009.
That season, he hit .260 with 33 home runs and 20 steals, making the All-Star team and giving the Rangers yet another potent bat for their lineup.
Now established as a legitimate power threat, Cruz has averaged 27 home runs and 83 RBI over the past four seasons in Texas. He is playing for his next contract this coming season as he will be a free agent next offseason.
With the departure of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young in the Rangers lineup, Cruz was expected to be counted on more than ever to be a run producer hitting in the No. 5 spot in the Rangers' lineup.
The team has already moved David Murphy into a full-time role in left field and is set to turn center field over to prospect Leonys Martin, so the Rangers are not exactly flooded with outfield depth.
One option, should Cruz be suspended, would be to move Mitch Moreland to right field and give slugging prospect Mike Olt everyday at-bats at first base.
The team could also revisit the idea of moving Ian Kinsler to the outfield to free up a starting job for top prospect Jurickson Profar.
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Signing Michael Bourn remains a possibility as well, though that profiles less as a quick fix and more as a significant investment.
One thing is for sure, the Rangers can't afford to lose another run producer entering the season, and while Olt may be the best candidate to replace Cruz's production, expecting that from an unproven rookie is a risky move for a team looking to contend.
With the Athletics and Angels both looking like strong contenders entering the season, losing Cruz would just make what already appeared to be an uphill battle for the Rangers and even more difficult one.
The Nationals paid a steep price to acquired Gonzalez from the A's last season, and understandably so, as he went 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and 8.2 K/9 between 2010 and 2011 in Oakland.
Top pitching prospects, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris were shipped to the for Gonzalez and the move paid immediate dividends for both teams.
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Norris emerged as the A's starting catcher and Milone claimed a rotation spot and went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA. Meanwhile, Gonzalez established himself as one of the game's top starters and went on to finish third in NL Cy Young voting.
With a 21-8 record to go along with a 2.89 ERA and league-best 9.3 K/9, Gonzalez was the ace of the Nationals staff even before Stephen Strasburg was shut down and the five-year, $42 million extension the Nationals signed him to after acquiring him looked like an absolute steal.
As such, losing him to suspension would be a major blow for the Nationals, as they have a solid offense but rely on their dominant pitching staff to make a playoff push.
Christian Garcia (45 G, 0.86 ERA, 11.4 K/9) is being transitioned from reliever to starter this season, and if that goes well in the spring he would be the most likely internal option to replace Gonzalez.
On the free-agent market, there are still a handful of viable starting pitchers led by Kyle Lohse, who comes with draft pick compensation and is no doubt looking for a long-term deal.
Joe Saunders is also a solid option, would come at a substantially lower price and would give the Nationals a left-handed replacement for the southpaw Gonzalez.
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Another interesting option could be Javier Vazquez, who did not play last season but looked strong this winter and is attempting a comeback. According to a tweet from Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Nationals had "heavy interest" in Vazquez even before this report came out, so this could expedite their plans to sign him.
The Nationals would still have the horses to contend, but it would certainly be a blow to their rotation. Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann are solid at the top, but Dan Haren was a gamble on a one-year deal and Ross Detwiler pitched far better than he ever had in his career last season.
They'd certainly still be in the hunt in the NL East, but a suspension to Gonzalez would close the gap between Washington and Atlanta substantially.
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