COMMENTARY | ESPN is reporting that Major League Baseball is about to come down hard, very hard, on as many as 20 players implicated in the Miami performance-enhancing drugs scandal.
While the national media is focused on Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez as the big names on the list, the eyes of Texas are on the long shadow growing in right field. Reports allege that Nelson Cruz is on that list. The ESPN report also mentions these could be 100-game suspensions as they could be considered first offenses for use, and second offenses for lying to investigators.
Braun and A-Rod have had their PED issues; Braun failed a drug test that was overturned for technical reasons, and Rodriguez has admitted PED use. Until now, Cruz has never been tied to drug use or been subject to any type of investigation. He's not been officially implicated, or accused.
However, the Miami New Times reported in January that records obtained from Biogenesis of America noted that the clinic "needed to meet" with Cruz in Texas and deliver meds that allegedly contained testosterone. So far, MLB is taking its time and issuing limited statements but if the worst comes, does it move the Texas Rangers to answer the question: Can the team win without Nellie?
Cruz has deservedly been a fixture in the Texas Rangers' outfield since the 2009 season, bringing stability and a healthy right-side bat to the lineup. He was the MVP of the ALCS in 2011 and is good for 90 RBIs a season when he's healthy. He has a howitzer for an arm, capable of taking a runner out at third from the right field corner of Rangers Ballpark. Even his fielding, long a sore spot with detractors, is about average among AL outfielders.
But then there's Game 6.
The Texas Rangers were one lonely out from winning the 2011 World Series, and all Cruz had to do was catch David Freese's fading liner for the last out. He didn't. The Cards tied it, and in what might be the best World Series game ever played if you're a Cardinals fan, the Redbirds came back to win the game 10-9 in 11 innings, on their way to winning the series. Cruz will long be the goat for that play, but it could pale in comparison to the disaster he may be bringing to the team.
With Cruz in the lineup, Texas is heavy with outfielders -- David Murphy is solid in left, and Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin try to find ways to outshine each other in center with every start. Jeff Baker has proved to fill a utility role and might be the guy to move into right if Cruz gets the boot. Baker's 6 homers in 60 fill-in at-bats speak loudly to his ability to supplant Nellie's bat. And his defense should prove a step up.
But then the ripples from this rock in the pond begin to move out. Frankly, nobody in the outfield at the Rangers' Triple-A Round Rock Express looks to be ready to step into a major-league batters' box. Could Ian Kinsler come off the DL and move to right? Kinsler in right and Profar at second would be a combination more in tune with Ron Washington's school of run, run, and then run some more offense, as opposed to the homer-fueled innings the Rangers have benefited from this season.
If Kinsler still has his shortstop's arm and can make a willing conversion to right, he certainly gives an interesting look to the defense and the batting order. And it gives the club a chance to look at options with this being the last year of Cruz's 2-year contract.
Could it work? If anyone can do it, it would be Washington. The sad thing is that it may be a last resort if the lineup in Arlington is determined not between the lines or inside the clubhouse, but in the Commissioner's Office and a clinic in Miami.
Colin Holmes is a DFW-based freelance writer and lifelong Rangers follower.
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