Texas Rangers, Nelson Cruz, and the changing of the guard


Scooping the Texas Rangers banner

Nelson Cruz stands with his bat on his shoulder.
Nelson Cruz may be missing from the lineup as early as today. Will the Rangers fill the void with additional moves? (Gary A Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

The Texas Rangers have a decision to make and may have to make it sooner rather than later. This afternoon, Major League Baseball is expected to suspend up to 13 players including New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Rangers’ outfielder Nelson Cruz.

For the Rangers, they will lose the biggest bat in their lineup. And no matter who they call up from the minor leagues, which does not include Manny Ramirez according to reports, there’s no way they can replace the kind of offensive production Cruz brings to the team.

As the July 31 trade deadline came to a close, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan and Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant both tweeted out one name that could be getting interest from the Rangers during the month of August – Minnesota Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

While his name isn’t the only one that will be out there during the waiver-wire period but he could be hand cheaper than this time last season.

Through 70 games this season (246 at-bats), Willingham is hitting just .224 with 10 HR and 37 RBI before going on the 15-day disabled list on July 1 due to a medial meniscus tear in his left knee. According to the Star Tribune, Willingham is expected to join the Twins’ triple-A affiliate on August 5 for his first rehab assignment.

Depending on how Willingham does through rehab, and how healthy he looks when he’s back with the big-league squad, the Twins could start getting interest in the left fielder before the August 31 waiver deadline.

Another name that could be on the Rangers’ radar is another current member of the Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau. After struggling to the tune of three hits in 25 at-bats, Morneau seems to have righted the ship over the last five games with eight hits in 20 at-bats with two home runs and four runs batted in.

If Nelson Cruz is in fact suspended by Major League Baseball and does not appeal the decision, the Rangers will be in desperate need of another bat to step in and at least try to fill a small part of the void.

Not only that, but with Lance Berkman trying to bring himself back from the brink of retirement, again, there could be a need  for Morneau to fill; not to mention filling in for a struggling Mitch Moreland.

There’s no question Morneau might be the longer shot in this conversation, but Willingham might actually be a solid contender to be wearing a Rangers uniform before the 2013 season comes to a close. The one thing the Rangers could like about Willingham is the same thing they liked about Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios – control beyond this season.

Willingham is under contract through the 2014 season and is extremely affordable; he’s owed only $7 million next season.

The problem with acquiring Willingham is beating other teams to the punch. An affordable player like that will be liked by other teams needing an outfielder with a decent bat to add to their offense.

While I’ll stop just short of saying the Rangers will acquire either one, or even make another move before the end of the month, seeing as I was wrong about them needing to make one before the end of July, I will say Willingham and Morneau could be on the radar and could be decent upgrades for the offense.

After sweeping the Los Angeles Angels and taking two of three from the Oakland Athletics, the Rangers are well on their way to turning around a season that looked lost only a few weeks ago. However, losing Cruz’s bat could have a lasting effect on the rest of the offense.

Are the Rangers really ready to go the rest of their season with David Murphy, Jeff Baker and Leonys Martin as their outfielders? Or can they bring in someone who brings a bigger bat to the offense?

Decisions need to be made. Do they stand pat once more or do they make the move that might need to be made?

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