As MLB investigates, Nationals and Rangers can only worry and plan
The two teams that could be most affected by MLB's drug investigation in South Florida are the Nationals and Rangers, and sources say both teams are very concerned that they could lose Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz to 50-game suspensions at some point this season. What can they do to prepare?
Alex Rodriguez got the headlines. His future has been debated, almost nonstop, since the Miami New Times story that set off baseball's latest round of PED angst.
But for all the talk about A-Rod, MLB's ongoing investigation in South Florida is a lot more likely to affect the 2013 fortunes of the Nationals and/or the Rangers than it is to affect the 2013 Yankees.
A-Rod just had hip surgery, and the Yankees were already preparing for 2013 without him. They'd love to think the Miami drug mess could help them get out from under Rodriguez's horrible contract, but that's not a 2013 issue.
Gio Gonzalez would be. Nelson Cruz would be.
The Nationals and Rangers aren't talking publicly, at least not until MLB's investigation is complete and any penalties are handed out. But people familiar with both teams say they are very concerned that they could lose Gonzalez and/or Cruz to a 50-game suspension, and have begun discussing what to do about it.
Besides Rodriguez, Gonzalez and Cruz are thought to be the players most at risk of a suspension. The other three players mentioned by the New Times -- Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal -- all served suspensions after testing positive last season, and couldn't easily be suspended again unless baseball were able to prove a separate violation.
Gonzalez and Cruz are at risk, and even though the Nationals and Rangers can't yet know whether or when they'll be suspended, the risk is significant enough that they need to plan for their loss.
It won't be easy. Gonzalez was a 21-game winner in 2012, the third-place finisher in National League Cy Young voting. Cruz is an important power threat for a Rangers team that has already lost Josh Hamilton to free agency.
The Nationals and Rangers don't know that they'll lose Gonzalez and Cruz for 50 games, which would be the first-time penalty if baseball can confirm what the New Times has reported. They don't know when they'd lose the players, either, because the investigation is ongoing and it's tough to predict how long it will take (and how long any appeals process would run).
So, do the Nationals try to sign another starting pitcher? After all, depth in the rotation was already one of their bigger concerns, even before this.
Do the Rangers re-enter the Michael Bourn market, which they looked at earlier in the winter but seemed to have dismissed? After all, they never really replaced Hamilton. They looked for an outfielder on the trade market, trying for Justin Upton and Michael Morse, but lost out on both.
The Nationals have five strong starting pitchers -- counting Gonzalez -- with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler. But the current options behind them are Craig Stammen, Zach Duke and Christian Garcia, not overwhelming for a team with aspirations of winning a World Series.
The Rangers have David Murphy, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin to fit into the outfield along with Cruz. Some club officials would no doubt like to see Martin get a chance for more regular playing time. There's even a chance that a Cruz suspension could create opportunities for young Jurrickson Profar and Mike Olt, whose spots in the infield remain blocked.
The Profar issue will be a big part of the debate when the Rangers open spring training. The team wanted to make room for Profar in the lineup, but Ian Kinsler has so far resisted the idea of moving to first base, and an earlier plan to move Kinsler to the outfield also seems to have lost steam.
When Kinsler signed his five-year, $75-million contract extension last April, he told the Rangers that he would eventually consider a position change. But he has since told the team that he doesn't want to move this year.
At least the Rangers can make plans to have him in the lineup all season.
They can't say the same about Nelson Cruz.
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