When the Orioles signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract Feb. 25, the team wasn’t sure what to expect. Cruz was coming off a suspension-shortened season, in which he missed 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Hence, the one-year deal as opposed to something more long term.
The Orioles have a history of players who were caught using PEDs (think Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmiero, Brian Roberts. Jay Gibbons and many more), so the signing of another proven user was scary for fans. Plus, many current Orioles have spoken out against PED use.
Here are just a few examples:
“I think when McGwire and Sosa did what they did in 1998, it was awesome to watch. And then when all the stuff came out with the PEDs and all of that, it was really disheartening,” Chris Davis told the Baltimore Sun in 2013. “And if there are people that want to get upset with me saying that 61 is still, in my opinion, the single season record, I’m entitled to my own opinions and own beliefs. I was a fan before I played this game at the big league level, and I think what Roger Maris did is still considered by a lot of people to be the legitimate home run record.”
“These guys that are doing performance-enhancing drugs are taking away from a lot of other people that are doing it the right way. They are taking opportunities away and they are basically stealing,” Nick Markakis told the Sun’s Dan Connolly. “Stealing money away from owners because they are basically purchasing damaged products. It’s not a good situation all the way around. And all of us that have done it the right way, we are going to suffer and have to answer questions about this for a while now. I think that puts us in bad situations that we don’t deserve to be in.”
So when Cruz decided to sign with the Orioles, he knew that he needed to prove to his new teammates that he was not what his past defined him as. He had unquestioned talent, as evidence by his stat line. Despite playing in just 109 games last year, he hit 27 home runs and drove in 76 runs.
Orioles fans came into this season hoping Chris Davis could lead the league in home runs yet again, but he has just seven of them so far. He trails the major league leader by 12 home runs.
Who is the major league leader? Nelson Cruz, of course. Cruz has focused completely on baseball and leads the Orioles in almost every offensive category. He currently has leads two of the three categories for the Triple Crown, home runs (19) and RBIs (48).
When he’s at his best, he can change a game. Like this one, for example.
Cruz proved what he can do, and without him, the Orioles may have been looking at the cellar in the AL East. Instead, Cruz has lead his team to a third place standing and a 26-25 record.
The question remains now, will the Orioles try to lock him up for more than this year? The answer better be yes.
Cruz proved that he can produce without the help of PEDs and the Orioles are currently depending on him for offense. And in 2014, the Orioles have committed to the “win now” philosophy. Heck, they gave up a draft pick for him and Ubaldo Jimenez; something that was out of the question just a year ago.
Think about: a core of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz and possibly Matt Wieters playing for a handful of years for the Orioles. If the team could ever seal up some consistent pitching, it could compete for a World Series title for the next 4-6 years.
Before you get all excited and jump around the house, we have to actually make the move. It won’t come mid-season, but in the barrage of deals that will come in the offseason, I hope that Cruz stays with Baltimore.