Nelson Cruz seems to be a perfect fit for the Texas Rangers with his potent bat and big personality.
With hopes of staying together even longer, AL championship series MVP Cruz and two-time defending AL champion Texas avoided arbitration by agreeing Thursday to a $16 million, two-year contract.
"Nelson is a cornerstone of our team for what really marks the whole turnaround of the franchise. He been part of the winning core, he's a huge part of that," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "He's been big-time performer in the postseason. He's part of the personality of this team, he plays the game with a ton of energy, a very dynamic player, true five-tool athlete."
The deal, negotiated for Cruz by agents Sam and Seth Levinson, came eight days before a scheduled arbitration hearing. It includes another potential $500,000 in performance bonuses and takes the 31-year-old slugging outfielder through his final two season of salary-arbitration eligibility.
Cruz and Levine both said there were talks of a longer deal going into his first seasons of potential free agency. They said there could be further conversations, but that the two-year agreement was the best way to settle things at this point.
"This was the priority right now," Cruz said. "Like I've said before, I would like to stay with the Rangers."
The deal for Cruz came a day after slick-fielding shortstop Elvis Andrus completed a $14.4 million, three-year contract on the eve of his scheduled arbitration hearing.
Cruz, who made $3.65 million last season, had asked for $7.5 million in arbitration and the team had offered $5.5 million.
In last year's six-game AL championship series against Detroit, Cruz had six home runs and 13 RBIs, both major league records for a postseason series. That included the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history. Cruz became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.
In 33 career playoff games, all over the last two years when the Rangers made their first two World Series appearances, Cruz has hit .270 with 14 homers and 27 RBIs.
Cruz is also a .270 career hitter over seven major league seasons and has hit 84 of his 106 career homers over the past three years despite six stays on the disabled list during that span. Most of the DL stints have been because of leg issues, but he said he is feeling good after changes in his offseason routine, including his workouts and diet.
"I've been working a lot in the offseason to ensure I stay healthy the whole season," said Cruz, whose workouts the past month have been at a Miami facility with teammate Mike Napoli and college players preparing for the NFL combine. "It's definitely different from what I've done before. I feel like it's a better situation and I'm in better shape."
Cruz missed 29 games last season because of two DL trips caused by a left hamstring strain and a strained right quadriceps muscle.
That was after he missed 51 games with three separate DL stints in 2010 because of problems with both hamstrings. Even though he played only 108 games in 2010, he matched a major league record with five extra-innings homers, three being game-ending shots. In the playoffs that year, he had 13 extra-base hits (six homers), a record for a single postseason.
The Rangers acquired Cruz in a trade deadline deal in July 2006, when he came from Milwaukee with Carlos Lee.
At the end of spring training in 2008, the Rangers put Cruz on waivers. But he cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Oklahoma, where he had an MVP season in the Pacific Coast League. He rejoined the Rangers for the final six weeks, hitting .330 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 31 games.
Texas, which hasn't had an arbitration hearing since winning its case against Lee Stevens in 2000, still is in talks with Napoli.
Napoli set career highs by hitting .320 with 30 homers and 75 RBIs in 113 games in his first season with Texas, when the catcher made $5.8 million after spending his first five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
He asked for $11.5 million, and Texas offered $8.3 million.
"Clearly at this juncture, we're going to turn 100 percent of our attention toward working with Napoli and explore all the alternatives there to avoid going to a hearing if possible," Levine said.
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