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Could Nelson Cruz Return to Rangers on a One-Year Deal?

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Could Nelson Cruz Return to Rangers on a One-Year Deal?
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Cruz would be a definite offensive upgrade for Texas.

After the Texas Rangers signed Shin-Soo Choo a couple weeks ago, the general feeling around Ranger Nation was that longtime right fielder Nelson Cruz was all but gone, probably never to return. 

Well, Nelson Cruz is indeed gone right now. But this "never to return" talk might actually be a bit too far-fetched. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, h/t to NBC Sports' Hard Ball Talk, Cruz may be willing to accept a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value in free agency next season.

Cafardo reports that several general managers believe that Cruz' original asking price of four years for $75 million was just far too much for a guy coming off a PED year—supposedly. According to Cafardo, Cruz needs to re-establish his value on the market, and therefore signing with teams such as the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles makes the most sense. 

Cafardo says that these GMs think a one-year "pillow" deal would be best for Cruz this season. How big and fluffy would that pillow need to be, though? That's a question that the Rangers need to have answered in order to decide how interested they are in jumping in on the Cruz sweepstakes.

If this rumor is true, I'd like to have Cruz back in Texas on a one-year deal. But only at the right price.

What might that price be? It's hard to speculate on that, as nothing I've seen has reported what Cruz is seeking for a one-year flier. But I would assume that it would at least need to equal the value of the Rangers' qualifying offer—$14.1 million— that Cruz turned down early this offseason.

Let's take a look at how Cruz would fit into Texas' lineup. It wouldn't be an easy fit, but it would be a possible one. 

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
If Texas signed him, Cruz' new role would be much safer and risk-free.

If the Rangers signed Cruz, I have to imagine he would be the team's full-time DH, and a very occasional backup right fielder, in the case of days off or injuries. Texas' outfield is set with Choo, Leonys Martin and Alex Rios being one of the most durable groups in baseball. I'm not expecting much in the way of injury problems with those three. So Cruz would likely be on the bench as a DH around 90 percent of the time.

The obvious problem with this is that Mitch Moreland is already the current "full-time" DH. He isn't expected to get much time at all at first base with the ironman Prince Fielder entrenched there. So Moreland would indeed have to be moved to make room for Cruz, and this would be a feasible option.

Perhaps then the Rangers flip Moreland and a couple of prospects somewhere to acquire a solid starter who would legitimately fill out their rotation?

Cruz' bat is much more potent than Moreland's. When he was suspended for 50 games on August 4 last season for his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis debacle, Cruz was leading the Rangers with 27 homers and 76 RBI, while hitting .266. Had he not been suspended, or even if he had just appealed the suspension and delayed the process, Cruz very well could have reached 40 homers and 110 RBI last season.

Meanwhile, Moreland hit just .232 with 23 long balls and 60 RBI in 2013. But that production is more than acceptable for a guy who made $502,000 last season.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Moreland would have to be moved to accommodate a Cruz signing.

Porous defense wouldn't be a concern with Cruz as the full-time DH. The question here should be: is the offensive boost he will provide the Rangers' lineup worth the money he'll get? Hard to say. But if he can be had for anywhere around $15 million, I think the Rangers should at least jump into negotiations with him. 

One thing is for sure: Cruz hitting sixth in Texas' lineup would be frightening. Much more than a lineup with Moreland hitting sixth.

It would seem that if Cruz is seeking a one-year deal, any value familiarity has is really out the window, as several teams could suddenly be in on him. Cruz could very well be hunting for the most money with a one-year deal.

There are two notable issues with signing Cruz. One: Texas doesn't in fact know what it'll be getting from him after he is off the PEDs. He'll produce for sure, but will it be 27 and 76 by August 4? Unlikely. Cruz was absolutely on pace for a career year last season before he got busted.

More specifically, for this move to be worth the Rangers' money, Cruz would need to at least out produce Moreland's 23 and 60 from last season. Bare minimum. However, I believe he can do that playing injury-free as a DH. Nonetheless, the Rangers aren't certain of what they'll get from Cruz. 

Two: if Texas signed Cruz, it wouldn't gain back the first round draft pick it lost with the Choo signing. The Rangers would have a net loss of one draft pick for the offseason. Is this a back-breaking problem? Probably not. But it is definitely something to think about with potentially signing Cruz. 

At the end of the day, the only way I think the Rangers will sign Cruz is if they can get him for $15 million or less for that one year. I wonder if Texas would be comfortable essentially re-offering the $14.1 million qualifying offer it extended Cruz in early November. But with Choo and Fielder now on the books, that is obviously tougher.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Texas doesn't truly need Cruz, but would his offensive improvement over Moreland be worth his price on a one-year deal?

With a shorter term deal, it's reasonable to assume that many more teams will be in on Cruz. Cafardo reported that the Blue Jays, Mariners and Orioles could all be in the hunt for his bat. Baltimore and Toronto have spent very lightly this offseason, and being AL teams, could offer Cruz more versatility in a potential role with them.

Meanwhile, Seattle, as much as it has spent so far, has a clear need in the outfield that the Rangers do not.

The Rangers should make a one-year offer for $15 million to Cruz. Any higher than that and they should walk away and pick up their draft pick. If he takes that deal, it's an upgrade to the Rangers' offense, which may already be the best in baseball. More power to it.

But I can't imagine that the Rangers won't get outbid at that price. Other teams have more of a need for Cruz than Texas does, and have more cash to spend.

I'm sure Texas would love to have Cruz back at the right price, but it's also prepared to make a real run at the World Series without him. 

Would you take Cruz back on a one-year deal? How much would you offer for him?

 

*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

 

 

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