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Where Will Nelson Cruz Bat in the 2014 Baltimore Orioles' Lineup?

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Where Will Nelson Cruz Bat in the 2014 Baltimore Orioles' Lineup?
Associated Press
Nelson Cruz with manager Buck Showalter

The signing of free-agent All-Star outfielder Nelson Cruz was made official on Monday, stirring up the inevitable question amongst most Orioles fans, "Where is he going to bat?"

The one-year $8 million deal Cruz and his agent reached with the club includes another $750,000 in possible incentives.

Cruz joins an elite Baltimore lineup that scored 745 runs during the 2013 season, which was tied for fifth in the majors.

The general consensus is that Cruz will serve as the club’s primary designated hitter, a position that was a revolving door for the Birds last season and was devoid of any noticeable production throughout the course of the season.

The Orioles used eight different players at DH throughout the 2013 season according to FanGraphs.com. Their combined efforts totaled a triple slash line of just .234/.289/.415.

For a position at which the job is solely to hit, the Orioles simply could not find a competent enough hitter to produce efficiently for that role.

Throughout the offseason, it was well noted that the Orioles were seeking a middle-of-the-order bat as well as a DH. The Orioles filled both of those needs with the addition of Cruz.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Nelson Cruz batting in 2013's AL tiebreaker game vs. the Rays.

Cruz can immediately step in and become a true force in the Oriole lineup, providing protection to the 3-4 hitters, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, in whichever order manager Buck Showalter wants to slot them on a given day.

Depending on who leads off for the Birds in 2014, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis will most certainly be the next three batters up to the plate. So the question is whether Cruz is slotted in at fifth or sixth.

Whatever his decision may be on Opening Day, Showalter can’t go wrong choosing between the two options.

Last season, Cruz posted nearly identical numbers between the fifth and sixth slots for the Texas Rangers.

According to BaseballReference.com, Cruz’s triple slash line production hitting fifth and sixth last season was .269/.342/.567 and .267/.336/.533 respectively.

Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com gave a look at one possible lineup the Orioles could trot out on Opening Day:

RF - Nick Markakis

3B - Manny Machado

CF - Adam Jones

1B - Chris Davis

DH - Nelson Cruz

C - Matt Wieters

SS - J.J. Hardy

LF - David Lough/Nolan Reimold

2B - Ryan Flaherty/Jemile Weeks

Right fielder Nick Markakis had never had an on-base percentage lower than .347 before last season in the majors, which is exactly what you’re looking for in a prototypical leadoff hitter. While the stolen bases might not be there (two total in the past two seasons), if Markakis can tap into his power that has been lost in recent years, he can be a doubles machine at the top of the Baltimore lineup.

If this is what Showalter goes with, Cruz would most certainly be the fifth hitter at the start of the season.

However, another candidate to lead off for the Orioles in the 2014 season is outfielder David Lough, who was acquired in a trade for utility infielder Danny Valencia earlier in the offseason.

If Lough can display his raw speed on the basepaths and increase his walk rate (10 in 335 plate appearances in 2013), then he can possibly walk out of spring training with the job, bumping everybody down one slot in the order and creating a deadly middle-of-the-order unit.

If Cruz can stay injury-free and stay clean performance-enhancing-wise all season, there is a good chance that he hits over 25 homers and 100 RBIs in this year’s campaign.

Six Orioles in the lineup could possibly have 20-homer seasons (Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and Nelson Cruz) and maybe even a seventh in Nick Markakis if he can avoid the injury bug.

Wherever Cruz ends up in the lineup, fans can rest assured Showalter will optimize his lineup to be among the elites in all of baseball this season.

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