Nelson Cruz was among the players listed in Tuesday’s Miami New Times report about a clinic allegedly selling performance-enhancing drugs. The outfielder is innocent until proven guilty, but even if he eventually faces a suspension, don’t expect the Rangers to make any rash decisions.
According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers have not renewed their interest in free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Sullivan reports that even if the Rangers end up losing Cruz until the middle of June because of a suspension, the plan is still to go with what they have right now.
That obviously leaves the Rangers in quite a pickle, but as terrible as the outlook would be if Cruz was forced to miss any time, signing Bourn would only make a terrible situation that much worse.
There’s a good chance Cruz won’t end up getting suspended in the wake of Tuesday’s report due to the lack of a positive drug test, but as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale points out, a suspension is still possible in such cases, as there is a precedent to suspend players based on other information. Outfielders Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen were suspended in 2007, although neither tested positive for a banned substance. Instead, they were found to have purchased HGH and steroids, and were then suspended based on the non-analytical positives. The same can be said for Astros outfielder Jordan Schaefer, who received a similar suspension as a minor leaguer in 2008.
Now, let’s put all of that (very important) mumbo jumbo aside for a minute, and look at what the Rangers’ situation would look like if Cruz does miss time this season because of the whole PED debacle. Going with what they have right now would likely entail Mitch Moreland or Mike Olt shifting to the outfield. Moreland figures to be Texas’ starting first baseman with Cruz in the lineup, while Olt has played mostly third base throughout his minor league career.
There’s also a possibility that Ian Kinsler could shift to the outfield, paving the way for No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar, who could play up the middle alongside Elvis Andrus. That situation is probably a lot less likely, as rushing Profar also doesn’t make sense, but it’s still something to consider since Kinsler said in the past that he’s open to a position shift if necessary.
None of these scenarios is ideal, but that’s obvious. Having one of your biggest offensive threats linked to a PED scandal is never a good thing, and it’s especially problematic when it requires the skipper to start shifting parts and crinkling up projected lineup cards before the season even begins. From that standpoint, adding a talented outfielder like Bourn, who could slide nicely into the lineup while allowing everyone to remain at their primary positions, makes sense. The Rangers still need to use their head and think beyond any potential Cruz suspension, though.
If Cruz gets suspended — which, again, is a big “if” — the Rangers shouldn’t pursue Bourn for the same reason other teams have been reluctant to this offseason: it’s a sizable investment for a good, but not great player. Bourn reportedly is seeking a five-year deal and, with Scott Boras as his agent, you can bet the outfielder will hold out as long as possible in an effort to earn what the pair deem to be fair compensation.
There has been speculation in the past that Bourn could command a contract in the $75-80 million range. A five-year pact worth that much for Bourn is blasphemy in and of itself. Sure, he’s a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and a stolen base machine, but paying a premium price would require overrating his skill set drastically. Then, when you consider that Bourn is tied to draft pick compensation by way of the new collective bargaining agreement, signing the 30-year-old outfielder to a multiyear deal would undoubtedly represent a panic move by Texas.
Not only would the Rangers be forced to overpay financially in order to secure Bourn’s services, but they’d have to mortgage a little bit of their future in the form of a first-round pick. And for what? Even if Cruz gets suspended, he’ll likely be back in June, and the time away from the field could even help the oft-injured slugger remain healthy for the remainder of the Rangers’ 162-game grind.
For now, the Rangers should cross their fingers and hope that Cruz doesn’t get suspended. If he does, it’s still not a good enough reason to shove those same fingers into their deep pockets in order to overpay for a player like Bourn.
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Nelson Cruz photo (right) via Flickr/Keith Allison