Outfielder Nelson Cruz looks on from the dugout before the start… (Cary Edmondson / USA TODAY…)
SARASOTA, FLA. — On the surface, the pending deal for former Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz seems like a simple case of the Orioles deftly working the back end of the free agent market to get a solid designated hitter at a very reasonable price.
Of course, there is nothing simple about it. The arrival of an established power guy with decent right-left splits could impact the fortunes of several other hitters on the Orioles roster, and the presence of one of the players disciplined in the notorious Biogenesis performance enhancing drug scandal is certain to generate some mixed feelings in the clubhouse.
Throw in the other implications of Dan Duquette's sudden burst of high-profile front office activity over the past week and the still-unabated national speculation about the club's supposed interest in the remaining free agents on the market, and Orioles spring training camp suddenly feels like the center of the baseball universe.
It all seemed so counter-intuitive before the news broke early Saturday that the team had chosen Cruz over fellow free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales and signed him to a modest one-year, $8 million contract.
The Orioles, after all, had already traded Danny Valencia for a new left fielder (David Lough) and signed veteran Delmon Young to compete for the right-handed DH role.
They had also just spent $50 million and given up their first-round draft pick to sign starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, increasing the payroll to almost $100 million.
Give Duquette credit for predicting the offseason endgame and getting the players he needed under favorable terms, but the signing of a player with Cruz's baggage will not come without some risk to the Orioles' greatly improved image.
Remember, this is the same Orioles franchise that suffered the national disgrace of Rafael Palmeiro's positive steroid test in 2005 and the inclusion of several former members of the team in the 2007 Mitchell Report on the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs throughout baseball.
That fog of steroid suspicion eventually lifted and was replaced in the public consciousness over the past couple of years by the militantly anti-steroid positions of right fielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Chris Davis.
Markakis said on Saturday that his very public advocacy of tougher penalties for PED users will not change, but he also said he does not think Cruz will have any trouble fitting into the close-knit Orioles clubhouse.
"I wouldn't think so,'' Markakis said. "That's everyone's personal decision on how they feel about somebody. Everybody has got their own views and their own ways of looking at things. But ultimately when we we are all under one roof, we are a team. So we are going to welcome him just like anyone else."
It's not like he'll be a complete stranger. He has played for manager Buck Showalter and alongside Davis and several other Orioles over the course of his eight-year career.
Showalter takes great pride in the strong team chemistry that has been created over the past two seasons, so he doesn't take lightly anything that could possibly impact it.
"Obviously these aren't isolated cases, so it is something I've thought about,'' Showalter said. "I think in every case, you can't throw a blanket over all of them but we have a tendency to … It is something that every manager and coach and potential teammate thinks about."
He is familiar with Cruz and clearly likes the fact that Cruz chose the Orioles even though he reportedly got a much better offer from the Seattle Mariners.
Pitcher Tommy Hunter, who played in parts of four seasons with Cruz in Texas, said he will put a charge in an Orioles lineup that already was one of the most potent in either league.
"He's a very good baseball player,'' Hunter said. "I think his bat will be a tremendous help. He's a power bat, and who wouldn't like that on your team?"
If Cruz performs, the questions about his past will melt away a lot faster than the frustration that built up during all those cold winter months when it appeared that the front office might not do anything significant to upgrade the team.
Duquette concedes that it would have been preferable to make some high-profile acquisitions sooner, but he feels that his determination to be patient put the club in a stronger bargaining position as the offseason drew to a close.
"If we were able to sign some of these major players earlier in the offseason, of course that would have generated a little bit more enthusiasm in the market,'' Duquette said. "But the fact is that we are continuing to address these things, and we have basically done what we told people we were going to do to prepare our team to have another competitive season."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.