Rangers Searching for Right-Handed Bat, Holding out for Nelson Cruz?

Will KornCorrespondent IIJanuary 28, 2014

RF/DH Nelson Cruz.
RF/DH Nelson Cruz.Tim Sharp/Associated Press

If you've been wondering why the Texas Rangers haven't yet signed that right-handed bat they've been looking for, here's an interesting theory as to why from Rangers MLB.com beat writer T.R. Sullivan:

The Rangers certainly could use one more right-handed bat, and it does seem curious they have not re-signed Baker, who is still looking for a job. Here is a theory: the Rangers are putting off signing that coveted right-handed bat until Nelson Cruz signs somewhere. They may be holding out for the possibility of Cruz returning to Texas on a one-year contract.

That seems to be a risky plan at first thought. Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported on January 7 that the Rangers had interest in signing Baker to a utility role. But now Jon Heyman and Mike Axisa of CBS Sports are reporting that the Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles all have interest in him as well.

Axisa suggests that the Nationals would like to use him as a right-handed bench bat, much like the Rangers would have. Meanwhile the Marlins could possibly hand him a starting role. 

Regardless, the Rangers shouldn't give up their interest in Baker. For the small need their offense still has—another righty bat with some pop and experience—Baker would fit the role perfectly and would come at the right price for the team.

Holding out for the possibility of Nelson Cruz might give the feel of a heart-warming idea, as it's a sure bet many Ranger fans would have been sad to see him depart. He has a memorable history in a Ranger uniform since his acquisition in 2006.

But the Rangers need to be choosers here when filling their needs. They should not sit back and let things happen to them. Having Cruz fall into their laps isn't ideal, although it wouldn't be all gloom and doom.

He has been the catalyst of many spectacular moments in the canon of Texas' World Series runs and appearances—both positive and negative, to be sure. Like this one. 

Trying to stay positive here.

Cruz's bat is definitely more potent than Baker's, and he can likely better handle the ups and downs of a longer season with more plate exposure. He was impressive last season, hitting 27 homers and 76 RBI last season by August 4. Now that he's supposedly off PEDs, will he be able to replicate that power this year?

The first concern here is the price. There haven't been any recent officially reported figures as to Cruz's asking price, although Heyman reported in November that Cruz was looking for $75 million over four years.

More than the money though, the concern for the Rangers bringing back Cruz is that they will not gain back the first-round draft pick they lost by signing Shin-Soo Choo earlier in the offseason.

It's definitely a bit surprising that Cruz is still unsigned, but this has to be something Jon Daniels and his staff considered when they made the final call to Scott Boras over Choo.

Bottom line: I'd love to have Cruz back with the Rangers at the right price, provided that two things happen. One, he'd have to accept being a full-time DH. It's conceivable that he could occasionally play right field to give the aging Alex Rios a rest. Leonys Martin and Choo are versatile enough to shift fields effectively.

But he'd be warming the bench a vast majority of the time.

Secondly, the team would have to figure out what to do with current projected DH Mitch Moreland. He'll probably make no more than a third of the money Cruz will. Is at least $10 million too much for a guy who will be on the bench 95 percent of the time?

Signing Baker doesn't force any additional, potentially complicated team moves.
Signing Baker doesn't force any additional, potentially complicated team moves.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the dots are starting to connect here. Moreland is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, and his figures have still not been settled and agreed on by both the Rangers and an individual arbiter.

But all this seems like much more work than necessary for Daniels. He's already concerned with signing a starting pitcher, which is a chess match market by itself. It'd be far easier—and a bit cheaper—to just keep Moreland as the DH and sign Baker to fill the exact role that is needed. 

As much as l love the Cruz and would welcome him back, Baker just makes more sense for Texas. 

Don't make things unnecessarily difficult here, Jon. 


 *All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com