Nothing is going to be given to Ronald Guzman at the end of Texas Rangers spring training.
If he doesn’t perform worth a darn in the Cactus League season, which started Sunday with him as the starting first baseman, he could very well be designated for assignment and see his time with the Rangers end.
They signed him nearly 10 years ago.
But he has insurance. He’s out of minor-league options, and the Rangers don’t want to risk losing him the way they risked losing Nelson Cruz 13 years ago.
Cruz is the Rangers’ poster boy for late bloomers, and the way he survived his DFA to become an elite power hitter still resonates with the Rangers.
And, it turns out, produced a hilarious story.
The Rangers asked Cruz at the end of 2008 if he would have any interest ... pitching.
Jon Daniels, then the general manager and now president of baseball operations, recalled that Sunday morning.
The logic was that the Rangers didn’t want to lose Cruz, who hadn’t hit yet but had a cannon of an arm from right field. Maybe a position switch could serve as a way for the Rangers to work around the DFA.
So, by God, the Rangers we’re going to feel him out. There was some resistance from manager Ron Washington, outfield coach Gary Pettis and Cruz.
“Wash was like, ‘I’m not asking him to pitch,’” Daniels said. “Gary Pettis was like, ‘I’m not going to ask him.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’ll ask him.’
“So we’re in the meeting where we tell him that he’s probably not going to make the club ,and I say, ‘Hey, Nellie, there’s been some discussion. You’ve got a great arm. You’re a talented dude. You’re out of options. We don’t want to lose you on waivers. Are you willing to to pitch?’
“He kind of looked at me sideways and was like, ‘Absolutely not.’”
The rest is history. Cruz cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple A Oklahoma City, where he found the right hitting progression and cleared his mind to become the runaway winner of the Pacific Coast League MVP.
Promoted in September, Cruz never looked back.
“We got fortunate that he cleared waivers, but that’s definitely a lesson there,” Daniels said.
Guzman’s situation isn’t all that different than Cruz’s 13 years ago.
He’s coming off a Dominican Winter League MVP and possibly received an offseason wake-up call when the Rangers acquired Nate Lowe from Tampa Bay and said it was their intention for him to be the first baseman in 2021.
Guzman knows where he stands. If he and Lowe both hit, Guzman wants to be able to give manager Chris Woodward another option.
To that end, Guzman has been getting reps and shagging in the outfield.
“He’s playing it pretty well, quite frankly,” Daniels said.
And the Cruz DFA remains relevant today.
“Similarly pedigreed guys, guys who have had success,” Daniels said. “And I think something clicked for Nellie. I think it clicked for Nellie when he went down to Triple A that year. We certainly don’t want to get to that point with with Ronald, and to his credit, I think he’s showing some signs of having hit that point on his own over the winter and I’m look forward to seeing here in camp.”