Orioles stand in solidarity as Cruz is introduced
Group of O's players attend news conference for enthusiastic superstar slugger
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Moments before Nelson Cruz took the podium, they started filing in. Former Rangers teammates Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter, who both took seats for the crowded news conference, were followed by Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, the latter half-dozen standing in the back, waiting on the arrival of their new superstar teammate.
When Cruz did walk in -- accompanied by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, manager Buck Showalter and agent Andy Katz -- his eyes traveled to the back of the room, and he smiled -- a look of reassurance and genuine appreciation for a player who brings massive amounts of power as well as some apprehension given his role in last season's Biogenesis scandal.
"That means they care about their teammates," said Cruz, who was suspended 50 games last season, of what it meant to have such a display of support Tuesday morning. "From experience, I know the closer you are to your teammates, the better you're going to perform on the field. We are now a family, and we're going to stick together the whole time."
The Orioles' display of solidarity meshes with the general attitude of the clubhouse in the days leading up to Cruz's official announcement, with the news of the agreement first breaking on Saturday morning. Baltimore, quiet all winter, has had three news conferences in a week, and the addition of Cruz makes the O's lineup deeper, their chances at making the playoffs greater. And by the accounts of those who have already played with Cruz, their new teammate is first and foremost a winner, a "puppy" the last time Showalter had him in his dugout but one that had a tremendous upside.
"He made us look smart," Showalter said of those early evaluations in Texas. "That was an easy evaluation. I'm real proud of the way he's evolved not only as a player, but as a person and teammate. The one common denominator when you talk to people about Nelson is about his relationship with his teammates and his city. This is one of the most popular players in Texas.
"He's a real sincere guy. It's one of those things where he'll show you, not talk about it. That part of the equation we felt real good about. And any time you've got first-hand knowledge of a guy, the way he conducts himself, you feel real good about that part. The only thing you want to have challenge guys is the game itself, and he has a way of making his teammates better by the way he treats them."
Cruz, seen primarily as the team's designated hitter, will also see time in the outfield and allow Showalter to better rest some of his regulars and rotate the DH spot occasionally with other position players. A veteran of nine seasons in the Majors, Cruz is a two-time All-Star and former American League Championship Series MVP (in 2011 with the Rangers), with 157 career homers and 489 RBIs. In 109 games last season, Cruz batted .266 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs, and he declined the Rangers' qualifying offer of $14.1 million this winter, opting to test the free-agent market instead.
Cruz's one-year pact with Baltimore, an $8 million base salary that can reach nearly $9 million with incentives, is a significant bargain, and he was asked if the market drop was a reason for extra motivation in 2014.
"I don't think I have to prove anything," Cruz said. "It was a frustrating process, but I'm happy for the decision that I made. I'm really excited for the opportunity. I like challenges, and I think it's going to be a great challenge for me. Hopefully, I do my best and I look for [us to play in] the World Series."
Cruz also made it clear that there won't be a repeat absence in 2014. As a previous offender, his next suspension if tested positive for PEDs would be 100 games.
"Whatever happened in the past," he said, "I look to move forward and have a great year with the Baltimore Orioles."
Where exactly does Cruz fit in? The right-handed power bat will likely bat fifth, after Adam Jones and Chris Davis, with his presence giving Showalter an opportunity to toy with several looks and split up the left-handed and right-handed hitters in a manner that would make it difficult for the opposition to play matchup.
"Every time you play the Orioles, the presence of the hitter, that always sticks out in your mind," Cruz said. "Hopefully I come in and do my job. Like I said, I'm excited about this opportunity. I'm going to be in a great ballpark in a great division. I like the challenge, and I like to compete, so this is the best atmosphere I've been in."
Cruz, who could put up big numbers at the hitter-friendly Camden Yards, joins pitchers Suk-min Yoon and Ubaldo Jimenez as recent acquisitions, and Duquette was asked if there could be yet another news conference on the horizon.
"We've been steadily putting our team together. We signed a couple of pitchers, which we said we were going to do, and we said we were looking for a bat in the middle of our lineup, and Nelson can fill that role," Duquette said. "We're always looking, but I don't anticipate any players of this caliber soon, but we're always looking around.
"We're glad to have Nelson. Nelson is a proven slugger. He's one of the few guys who has hit over 20 home runs over the last five years, and you heard from his former team [about] what a great teammate he is. He's a real solid addition to our team both personally and by what he brings on the field."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.