On Thursday night, teams that lost star players in free agency over the winter got the chance to make up for those departures by using the draft picks they received as compensation to select what they one day hope will be more than adequate replacements.
While those teams are just tonight securing their future, some of them have already had an up-close look at their recent past. This week the Texas Rangers became the most recent club to welcome back a player they lost in free agency when Nelson Cruz, an early AL MVP candidate, returned to Arlington as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Cruz’s homecoming has actually been a rare occurrence over the first-third of the season. Among the top 25 free agents in Ben Reiter’s offseason list of the best players on the open market, 13 were position players and only four of those have visited their most recent teams: Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson. Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann,Jhonny Peralta and Jarrod Saltalamacchia won’t face their former clubs on the road this year. Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli both re-signed with the Red Sox. Kendrys Morales remains a free agent. And Carlos Beltran was injured when the Yankees traveled to St. Louis to play a Cardinals team that Beltran helped reach the World Series last October. Only Marlon Byrd, whose Phillies will visit Pittsburgh next month, is still scheduled to return to his former stomping grounds, and Byrd spent less than two months with the Pirates last year after an August trade from the Mets.
Here’s a look back at how the four players who did go home again have fared in their returns.
Old Team: Yankees
New Team: Mariners (10 years, $240 million)
Cano opened eyes not only with his contract, tied for the third-largest in baseball history, but with the fact that it came from the Mariners, not the Yankees team he had spent his first nine seasons with. Cano’s season has been odd. He’s batting .330, second best in the American League, but he has hit just two home runs.
In a delicious bit of irony, New York fans booed Cano when he returned to the Bronx on April 29 for what was supposed to be a three-game series. Rain forced the cancellation of the middle game, which was made up on Monday, and while Cano’s numbers in those three contests -- 3-for-12, all singles, three RBIs, two runs, two strikeouts and two walks – weren’t particularly impressive, he did help Seattle take all three games in Yankee Stadium.
Old Team: Rangers
New Team: Orioles (one year, $ million contract)
Rangers fans memorably gave Cruz a standing ovation when the slugger returned to the lineup last year after serving his 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but the team wasn’t nearly as interested in showing him the love. Texas let him walk, and after remaining unsigned until after spring training started, Cruz eventually settled for a short deal with Baltimore.
All he has done since is lead the major leagues in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases and the AL in OPS. Cruz has given the Rangers a flash of what it is missing – and, given the season-ending injury to Prince Fielder, could desperately use – by going 4-for-9 in his first two games back, including a home run and three RBI while helping his new club beat his old one twice. He went 0-for-4 in the series finale on Thursday as the Rangers won 8-6.
Old Team: Red Sox
New Team: Yankees (seven years, $153 million)
Ellsbury is hardly the first Boston star to bolt for the Bronx (see Boggs, Wade; and Damon, Johnny) and although he’s hitting .286/.355/.410, his departure may not be hurting the offensively-challenged Red Sox as much as might be expected, as SI’s Tom Verducci detailed earlier this week.
It didn’t take long for the Fenway Park faithful to get another look at the man who helped them win two World Series titles. The Yankees traveled to Beantown on April 22 for a three-game series and left with two wins. Ellsbury certainly did his part, going 5-for-15, with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in those three games. New York has six more games scheduled at Fenway this season, three to open August and three more to close the regular season, but both teams have work to do if that last series is to matter; the Yankees entered play on Thursday six games out in the division and the Red Sox are 8 ½ out.
Old Team: Yankees
New Team: Mets (four years, $60 million)
During his four seasons in the Bronx, critics harped that Granderson had become little more than a home run hitter who took advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. As proof they pointed to his .247 batting average and .337 OBP from 2011-13, though he did 108 home runs in those three seasons.
After an injury-plagued 2014 in which he played just 61 games, batting .229 with seven homers, Granderson left for the crosstown Mets. He has continued his decline at age 33, batting .217 with six homers. The high point of his season to date came when he went back to Yankee Stadium in mid-May and helped the Mets take the first two games of the Subway Series by displaying his old power stroke. Granderson homered in each game while going 4-for-8 with five RBIs and two walks.