The following two sentences, spoken by Texas Rangers manager Jon Daniels to USA Today, are undeniably true.
"We'd be in better shape if he wasn't suspended. It's a choice Nelson made."
Daniels is talking about the 50-game suspension that Nelson Cruz accepted on Aug. 5 for violating baseball's drug policy. If Cruz had appealed, he could have continued playing for the Rangers, just as Alex Rodriguez has continued playing for the New York Yankees.
Well, it's not as if the Rangers were blind-sided by Cruz's suspension, which was more than six months in the making. And it's not as if the absence of Cruz is the only reason that the Rangers trail the Cleveland Indians by 1½ games for the second AL wild card with seven games to play.
The Miami New Times reported on Jan. 29 that Cruz's name had appeared in Biogenesis documents. The next day, Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com wrote, "The Rangers should expect this to get worse before it gets better. They should already be putting their contingency plan in place, so if Cruz gets popped for 50 games - the punishment for a first-time offense of the league's PED policy - they can handle the suspension as smoothly as possible."
The Rangers certainly would be in better shape if they had Cruz - they're averaging 3.35 runs per game in September, next-to-last in the American League (though, ahem, they averaged an MLB-best 5.89 runs in August despite getting only 15 plate appearances from Cruz).
And Cruz certainly made his choices, first in his use of performance-enhancing drugs, then in accepting his suspension. He told USA Today that baseball threatened him with a 100-game suspension if he didn't accept 50 - and that as a potential free agent, he did not want his ban to extend into next season.
A selfish act followed by a selfish decision. Shocker.
Daniels, who always accepts responsibility when his club plays poorly, would be the first to admit that the Rangers are stumbling for other reasons, some of which come back to him:
- The team's inability, going back to last offseason, to acquire an impact bat.
- The decision to sign Lance Berkman at DH instead of say, Raul Ibanez.
- The uneven performance of right-hander Matt Garza, whom the Rangers acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 22.
Things also happened that were beyond Daniels' control - most notably, the almost season-long absence of left-hander Matt Harrison, who twice underwent surgery on his back. The loss of Cruz also is not the club's fault, but the Rangers could have gone the route of the Detroit Tigers, who addressed the possible suspension of shortstop Jhonny Peralta by trading for Boston Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias.
Oh, the Rangers tried to secure a replacement for Cruz, according to USA Today, offering the newly acquired Garza, All-Star closer Joe Nathan and outfielder David Murphy to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Justin Upton. But the Braves, steaming toward the NL East title, weren't about to rip up their club and move Upton, whom they had obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks only six months before.
The Rangers eventually picked up Alex Rios in an August waiver deal, but they needed a hitter in addition to Cruz and Rios is more of a complementary part. Again, all of this was quite evident. And the Rangers should have known that they could not count on Cruz to make the "choice" to keep playing.
While Cruz initially told teammates and club officials that he planned to appeal his suspension, the Rangers knew that he was under pressure from both baseball and the players' union to accept it. He also was in the process of leaving his previous agency, ACES for a new agent, Adam Katz. His situation was fluid, to say the least.
The moment Cruz's name appeared in Biogenesis documents, the Rangers should have been on high alert. As it turns out, his explanation for using PEDs - that he was trying to recover from a gastro-intestinal infection from Nov. 2011 to Jan. 2012 that caused him to lose 40 pounds - does not match the dates that appeared on several documents published by the Miami New Times.
Cruz's name, according to the New Times, appeared on a client list from Biogenesis dated June 2012. The personal notebook of Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, labeled "2012," included five other references to Cruz.
One entry, under the heading, "5/29," lists Cruz's name along with his statistics - a .276 batting average, seven homers and 34 RBIs - through May 28. Another lists his name along with the words, "May 7, Baltimore," a date when the Rangers were indeed visiting the Orioles. Two other documents refer to potential visits that Bosch apparently intended to make to Cruz. And another has Cruz's name next to the number, "4,000," presumably referring to a payment that the player owed or had made to Bosch.
The Rangers should have put the pieces together, should have known that Cruz might be in big trouble, should have known that they were facing a potential mess.
If they want to point the finger at Cruz, fine, he deserves it. But they should also point it at themselves.