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Roll call: The Rangers' options in the case of a Nelson Cruz suspension

Rangers vs. Athletics

Credit: Getty Images

The Rangers' Nelson Cruz is congratulated at home plate by Adrian Beltre after Cruz hit a three-run homer against the Oakland Athletics in the fifth inning at O.co Coliseum on May 15, 2013. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

by JOSEPH URSERY

WFAA Sports Blogger

Posted on June 6, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 12 at 4:52 PM

It's possible that Nelson Cruz is soon to be suspended for 100 games. This is possible because it's possible Nelson Cruz purchased some banned supplements from a supplier named Biogenesis in Florida.

It's also possible that those supplements do nothing to actually enhance performance, because very smart people have worked very hard to prove or disprove whether 'performance enhancing' drugs actually enhance performance.

And all of this is possible because Bud Selig rarely meets a bad decision he doesn't like - such as, bringing a ham-fisted set of punishment down to front-line employees instead of celibrating the draft process - which has been broken since its inception. Then again, his terrible decisions have made the draft a Rube Goldberg-like device that punishes smart teams and good amateur baseball players, so maybe he wants to take attention away from it.

What's more likely, though, is that Nelly doesn't sit out a game this year, because he has a strong union behind him that will invest a great deal of resources in fighting MLB's case, and that has the werewithal to at least delay a decision until the off-season.

(As an aside, if you're a Texas Rangers fan, I'd think you have to be cheering for the case to drag on significantly into the off-season. If Nelly gets off and it's resolved before December, I'd expect some team to roll out a 4 year, 60ish million dollar deal for Nelly, which is too long and too much. But if he could be suspended- or if he does have a suspension hanging imposed to begin at Game One- the best he'll likely get is a one-year, make-good type deal- and the ideal situation to garner the most value, for him, is with the Texas Rangers.)

But this isn't about IF Nelly has to sit, it's about what happens IF Nelly has to sit.

Questionable emphasis aside, there are two components to the equation; who replaces Nelly on the roster, and who replaces Nelly in the field. Let's examine:

 
Option #1: Call up Engel Beltre
 
Engel Beltre is the best outfielder the Rangers have on the 40 that is not in the Majors right now. While it seems like he's been around forever, he's only 23 years old. He's a weird case as a prospect, as he started life off as a boom-or-bust type, who was either going to be a superstar or completely flame out; yet he's evolved into a low-ceiling, high-floor type (he might end up being a first-division fourth outfielder).  He's hitting .280/.331/.358 this year, trading in a little higher average and on-base for some power, compared to what he's done over six prior minor league seasons.
 
Beltre an field all three outfield positions at least well, and possibly very well. He's left-handed, though, so you're losing a right-handed bat in the equation. Also, plate discipline has always been a severe issue for Beltre -- he's walked in 147 of 3,142 plate appearances. He's struck out in 588.
 
As for how he could be used, there's multiple variations. You could keep the left field platoon that's working well the same, platoon Gentry and Beltre in right, and install Leonys as the everyday centerfielder (which is likely an eventuality, anyway).  Or you could maintain the centerfield platoon, install Murphy as they everyday left fielder, and platoon Baker and Beltre in right.
 
Beltre was added to the 40 man roster two years ago, so he's on his final option this year, which makes taking a look at him in the major all the more appealing.
 
Option #2: Call up Mike Olt
 
Topically, this seems to be the best option, because Olt is the best player in the Rangers upper minors, needs a position such as right field long-term (as it seems Moreland has put down roots at first, and Adrian Beltre is what you hoped Olt could turn into, knowing it was a wild dream), and is right-handed. However, Olt has lost all but the last week due to an issue with his eyesight, so jumping from the Extended Spring Training to AA to AAA to the majors that quickly seems tough for a seasoned MLB vet, let alone a 24 year old with 40 major league plate appearances on his ledger.
 
As well, the issue of playing time is murky with Olt, as well. Ron Washington would likely not put Olt on the field every day while players who have produced for him only hit opposite-handed pitching. The most likely result of Olt coming up would likely be a Baker and Murphy on the corner spots full-time, with Olt filling in for one of them or Moreland/Beltre once or twice a week, which is a very sub-optimal  usage of a premier prospect.
 
Option #3: Call up Joe Benson
 
You might not know who Joe Benson is, which is lucky for you that you have a buddy like me who does (we're buddies, right?). Benson is a recent pickup from the Twins' organization who's settled in nicely for the Rangers at Frisco. How nicely? Well, his slugging percentage is roughly the same as what Chris Davis' total OPS is. That would be 1.167 for Mr. Benson.
 
The downside is that Mr. Benson has accumulated that mark over six games, which means it means about as much statistically as David Murphy's one inning of shutout pitching. More significant are the 2800 MiLB plate appearances that show Benson as a  347 OBP / 427 SLG guy. The 25 year old might be a poor man's David Murphy in the majors, which is not really that appealing.
 
However, Benson is a guy, unlike Olt, you're comfortable with sitting on the bench for five games a week. He's just not likely to ever turn into an average major league baseball player, so using his development time effeciently isn't a huge priority (while it is with Olt and Beltre, as they have much higher likelihoods of being effective major leaguers). So if you are going to put your head down and use Murphy and Baker every day, Benson can sit on the end of the bench and fill in during emergency situations.
 
Option #4: Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
 
Please?
 
Of course, this isn't happening without losing Profar and a healthy chunk of the top-end of the farm, so don't take this as much more than a joke.
 
Option #5: Jurickson Profar, Right Fielder
 
Like Olt, Profar needs to find a place to play. Long-term, that will be in the center of the diamond, one way or another. However, Ian Kinsler is too valuable of an asset at second to move to right in-season, while Profar hasn't earned that much capital... yet.
 
While Profar has never played right (to my knowledge), he's athletic enough and has enough arm (remember, up until about two years ago, a highly-regarded scout who's holding a front-office position with another major league team thought the consensus regarding Profar was the Rangers messed up by not developing him as a pitcher) to play the spot. As well, his aptitude as a baseball player is one of the things that have made him the best prospect in baseball, so learning a new position like right field on the fly should be more possible for him than it is for most baseball players.
 
Of course, you could use Kinsler's rehab time for him to get some right-field reps in down in Arizona or Frisco and keep Profar at second once he's healthy, and have a more solid long-term plan, but there's a reason they don't let economists run the country.
 
Again, I don't think Cruz is going to sit, at least this season. But if I could predict what Bud Selig was going to do, I wouldn't be writing here, because my powers of prediction would be so awesome I would win a bunch of lotteries and go live on top of a mountain somewhere and probably swim in a big room full of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. 
 
If it does happen, though, my recommendation would be Profar for the spot. There will be a dropoff, because as good as Profar is he's not going to produce offensively as much as Cruz (Profar's value is producing well at an offensively-challenged position). But, in my estimation, he's the best man for the (hypothetical) job.

Joseph Ursery is an expert on not only Joe Benson, but also Kris Benson, Anna Benson and the early- to mid-80s ABC TV show 'Benson'. To be his friend and engage in conversation about any of those topics, all you have to do is follow him on Twitter at @TheJoeUrsery.
 

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