Rangers prepare for worst after news on Cruz

The worst offseason in the history of the Texas Rangers took another ugly turn Tuesday when slugger Nelson Cruz’s name showed up in a Miami New Times report linking major leaguers to performance-enhancing drugs. Two of the players on this list, Alex Rodriguez and Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez have issued strong denials.

Cruz, who apparently was in the Dominican Republic, hasn’t issued a statement at this point. Just by coincidence, Rangers GM Jon Daniels and several members of the organization were on a working trip in the Dominican when the news broke. They had not been tipped off that a report was forthcoming and were only beginning to process the news.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Cruz isn’t suspended for at least 50 games during the upcoming season.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the players union has proudly moved forward with one of the most comprehensive testing programs in professional sports. This will give Major League Baseball another opportunity to prove how serious it is about cleaning up a sport that has been sullied by PEDs. Cruz hasn’t failed a drug test under MLB’s program, but he can be suspended if investigators show “just cause.”

The likely suspension of Cruz puts even more of a spotlight on the Rangers’ rocky offseason. If the team had landed someone of Zack Greinke’s stature in free agency, perhaps this Cruz situation wouldn’t pack so much of a punch.

The Rangers were forced to sign aging free agents just to fill out a lineup. Now, they could lose one of their top run producers for a significant portion of the season. This was already being billed, by some, as a transitional season. But with a shaky starting rotation and the potential loss of Cruz, this could be a disaster.

A source said on Wednesday that it’s highly unlikely the Rangers will go outside the organization for a contingency plan. The source added the club will resist the urge to request (again) Ian Kinsler moving to first base in order to make room for Jurickson Profar to play second base. In that scenario, Mike Olt and Mitch Moreland would likely platoon in right field during Cruz’s absence.

What’s more likely to happen is Olt replaces Cruz in right, and Lance Berkman gets more time than expected at first base. But Berkman’s had two knee surgeries in the past year and he only appeared in 31 games for the Cardinals in 2012. It might not be a great idea to have him stretching for throws.

It’s surprising that Kinsler has so much leverage in this organization. It’s understandable that he doesn’t want to end up switching positions like his friend and mentor Michael Young was asked to do three times. It’s been mentioned that Kinsler needs to be in a good frame of mind if he’s going to help replace Young as a leader in the clubhouse.

But if his moving to first base gives the Rangers the best chance to win, shouldn’t that trump everything else?

It really is amazing at how Kinsler and his agent have been able to flex so much muscle, especially on the heels of such a poor individual season. But at this point the Rangers have promised Kinsler he can stay at second base, and they don’t intend to renege.

It’s also important to recall that manager Ron Washington didn’t roll out the red carpet for Profar when he was called up last summer. No matter what the skipper says now, Washington felt like Profar and Olt were being forced upon him. Washington took one for the team when he admitted that he may have run his players into the ground last season — I’m not sure he believes that had much to do with his team’s shocking collapse.

If Cruz is going to skate on this allegation, he better have a wonderful alibi. The problem is that two of the names that showed up in the newspaper’s report, Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera, are both coming off 50-game suspensions. Selig was embarrassed by how former NL MVP Ryan Braun beat the system on a technicality. The commissioner is determined not to let that happen again.

The Rangers can’t afford to wait around for a ruling on Cruz. They’re already discussing several scenarios.

Maybe this will force them to tap into farm system that has been hailed as one of the best in baseball for several years. Texas fans just better hope Kinsler doesn’t get the final say this time around.