Posted on February 9, 2012 at 7:48 PM
ARLINGTON - The Texas Rangers agreed to a $16 million, two-year contract with Nelson Cruz on Thursday, keeping the American League Championship Series MVP around as the team chases a third-straight AL pennant.
"Nelson is a cornerstone of our team for what really marks the whole turnaround of the franchise. He been part of the winning core, he's a huge part of that," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "He's been big-time performer in the postseason. He's part of the personality of this team, he plays the game with a ton of energy, a very dynamic player, true five-tool athlete."
The deal came eight days before a scheduled arbitration hearing. It includes another potential $500,000 in performance bonuses and takes the 31-year-old slugging outfielder through his final two seasons of salary-arbitration eligibility.
Cruz and Levine both said there were talks of a longer deal going into his first seasons of potential free agency. They said there could be further conversations, but that the two-year agreement was the best way to settle things at this point.
"This was the priority right now," Cruz said. "Like I've said before, I would like to stay with the Rangers."
The deal for Cruz came a day after slick-fielding shortstop Elvis Andrus completed a $14.4 million, three-year contract on the eve of his scheduled arbitration hearing.
In last year's six-game AL championship series against Detroit, Cruz had six home runs and 13 RBIs, both major league records for a postseason series. That included the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history. Cruz became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.
In 33 career playoff games, all over the last two years when the Rangers made their first two World Series appearances, Cruz has hit .270 with 14 homers and 27 RBIs.
Cruz is also a .270 career hitter over seven major league seasons and has hit 84 of his 106 career homers over the past three years despite six stays on the disabled list during that span. Most of the DL stints have been because of leg issues, but he said he is feeling good after changes in his offseason routine, including his workouts and diet.
"I've been working a lot in the offseason to ensure I stay healthy the whole season," said Cruz, who missed 29 games last season because of a left hamstring strain and a strained right quadriceps muscle.
That was after he missed 51 games in 2010 because of problems with both hamstrings. Even though he played only 108 games in 2010, he matched a major league record with five extra-innings homers, three being game-ending shots. In the playoffs that year, he had 13 extra-base hits (six homers), a record for a single postseason.
Texas, which hasn't had an arbitration hearing since winning its case against Lee Stevens in 2000, still is in talks with Napoli.
Napoli set career highs by hitting .320 with 30 homers and 75 RBIs in 113 games in his first season with Texas, when the catcher made $5.8 million after spending his first five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. He asked for $11.5 million, and Texas offered $8.3 million.
"Clearly at this juncture, we're going to turn 100 percent of our attention toward working with Napoli and explore all the alternatives there to avoid going to a hearing if possible," Levine said.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.