On Sunday, Nelson Cruz played what is likely his last game for the Texas Rangers. If there is any truth to the massive and steady flow of rumors that have flowed from MLB's front office since April, he'll receive his 50 game suspension for involvement in the Biogenesis Investigation on Monday.
Which, conveniently, is the Rangers 112th game and that conveniently puts him out of play until an at-this-point-still-hypothetical Game 163. And, for the first and likely only time of his career, Cruz will be a free agent once the World Series concludes.
Of course, it's possible that Cruz returns for that theoretical game. But in a do-or-die, one-game scenario, do you want to entrust 4-6 plate appearances and 9 innings of right field to a guy who hasn't played for 8 weeks? And, for the moment, let's assume that the play-in game is the team's route to the post-season; PECOTA gives the Rangers a 34% chance to win the division, and a 58% of playing in Wild Card game. Assuming the 58 percent happens seems to be the optimistic route.
And for a Rangers fan who has seen the departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, CJ Wilson, Cliff Lee, Mike Young, Darren O'Day, Koji Uehara, and Chris Davis over the last two-plus seasons, this one hurts. It's sentimental. It's weird but I'm really going to miss Nelson Cruz.
Maybe it's simply the fact that Cruz never was the superstar that some of those names on the list above were. In 2009 and 2010, respectively, he was worth 3 and 4.9 fWAR, which are both great seasons. However, in the remainder of his time as a full-time player- 4 seasons- he produced 5.5 fWAR. That's the same level of production I like to make fun of David Murphy for.
Maybe it's because he joined the team on pretty humble terms, being a lottery ticket throw-in on a deal involving luminaries such as Carlos Lee, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and Francisco Cordero.
Maybe it's because his 2008 in AAA was one of those runs that you always remember. In 448 plate appearances, Cruz hit 37 homers and stole 24 bases. He slugged 697. His OBP was 429. Yes, it was AAA, but dominance like that is always just fun.
But, since I'm closing in on the 400 word mark, I think I have to mention Game Six, in which he produced the single worst moment of my baseball life. That moment was replaced a few innings later, and then again one game later, but that doesn't erase it. It was awful, and Cruz has been awful at defense for the past three years. He's likely to continue to be awful, and he's going to do it while being more expensive, so he's likely to do it in another uniform. That's logical, clean and smart.
I just don't like it.
There's also reasons for loyalty to Cruz; he never was a superstar because he never had to be. Hamilton, Kinsler, Napoli and Beltre were the offensive superstars. Elvis made it to that level with his glove and his base running. Nelson was able to snuggle into a cozy offensive spot, being significantly better than Young or Murphy or whoever the Rangers found to play catcher on nights where Napoli was sitting, DH'ing, or playing first. And for a guy who was the fifth or six-best hitter on his team, he was great.
Consider that Cruz is seventh in all-time Rangers in home runs and eighth in career slugging percentage. That guy was batting sixth or seventh.
There's also his postseason heroics. No one has hit more home runs in a Rangers uniform in the postseason than Cruz. In fact, in hitting 14 of the 49 the Rangers have, total, he represents 28 per cent of the home runs for the franchise in the playoffs. He's also #1 in postseason RBI, garnering 27 of the 169 the Rangers have tallied- 16%.
His larger body of work is still impressive, if not as monumental. Cruz is twelfth all time for the Rangers in raw OPS, 15th in RBI, 16th in total plate appearances, 18th in games played. Among Rangers all-time right fielders, he's rubbing shoulders with the two greats; Juan Gonzalez and Rueben Sierra. Gonzalez produced 30.1 fWAR, and Sierra 18.8. Cruz;s 13.2 seems to pale in light of those; however, Cruz generated his 13 in 795 games, while it took Gonzalez 1397 games for his 30, and Sierra got 1182 games for his 18.
(As an aside, those three plus Kevin Mench have played 3,776 games in right field for the Ranges since 1986. The Rangers have played 4,307 games since 1986, which means those four guys have played 87 per cent of the team's games in right for the last 27 years. Wow.)
So for now, Nelson, I wish you the best. And that's one of two possible timelines; in one, you sign here with Texas for less money than you had hoped, but you're happy and you're productive and you're home and I'll rewrite this article in two years. In the other, you get paid the money you want, for the amount of years you want but you go do it in a National League town, and we don't see you outside a few interleague regular season games.
In the event you take route two (and it's OK, since that's the way I'd go if I were in your shoes), I'll see you in another life, brother. At least you have plenty of other ex-Rangers out there you can text if you get lonely.