When the Orioles made the decision prior to the beginning of the season to sign free agent left fielder Nelson Cruz, they knew this acquisition was a high risk / high reward proposition. On one hand, the Orioles knew they were getting a prolific slugger, where the last five years, as a member of the Texas Rangers, he averaged 27 home runs, 81 RBI and an OPS of .848. He has been a prototypical power slugger that gets on base – often. On the other hand, the Orioles knew the backstory. Cruz, along with several major league stars, was linked to purchasing performance enhancing drugs from a clinic based out of Miami. He accepted a 50-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball for his involvement. After becoming a free agent, he knew he had a lot to prove, not only to an organization, but to himself. Cruz understood his talent superseded any PED’s he might have been linked to and made a decision to turn down an offer sheet from the Rangers for one year, 14-million. Why? He wanted a clean slate and an opportunity to prove who he really was. After talking with the Orioles, he knew he was in the right spot. A chance, not only to join a competitive team, but to be a part of the biggest stage in all of baseball – the American League East. He had something to prove. He only wanted a one year deal and took 8-million dollars to start fresh. And what a fantastic start! On Opening Day, Cruz hit a go-ahead solo home run off of Jon Lester, to put the Orioles ahead 2-1 against the Red Sox. A couple of days later against the World Champions, he hit an opposite field shot off of John Lackey. Welcome to the American League East, Mr. Cruz! He currently leads the team in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, and more notably RBI, coming off a game Wednesday night where he hit two home runs with 5 RBI, including a grand slam to put the Orioles ahead 7-6 against Toronto, a game they eventually won. The pitch on which he hit the grand slam was a high fastball, that he connected and watched as the ball flew over the left field fence. It almost looked like he was trying to exorcize all of the criticism that has followed him all of last year.
He has been the bright spot on a team that is still trying to figure things out. A team that still has the potential to win their division, having something to prove to the rest of the AL East. Maybe the Orioles should look to Nelson Cruz as their barometer of determination, will, and well – something to prove.