Nelson Cruz stood up in Texas' clubhouse and apologized to the Rangers, telling them why he accepted a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball rather than appeal and try to stay on the field now.
"It's disappointing, but at the same time, we all love Nelson, and we're going to support him through this," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He's serving the suspension like he should, and we're going to help him go on with this."
While teammates wouldn't discuss specifically what Cruz told them, they uniformly expressed support for their top slugger who will miss the rest of the regular season for the playoff-contending Rangers.
Cruz was among 13 players disciplined Monday by Major League Baseball for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performing-enhancing drugs.
The All-Star right fielder didn't speak publicly, but acknowledged in a statement that he made "an error in judgment" in the wake of a gastrointestinal infection from November 2011 through January 2012. He said the illness wasn't properly diagnosed at first and he lost 40 pounds before getting proper treatment.
"Just weeks before I was to report to spring training in 2012, I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play," Cruz said. "Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error. I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse."
He provided no other specifics, including what he might have taken.
That happened around the same time the Rangers were fresh off their second consecutive World Series appearance, and Cruz signed a $16 million, two-year contract to avoid salary arbitration. He was MVP of the 2011 AL championship series.
The 50-game suspension corresponds with the last 50 games of the regular season for Texas, which is trying to get into the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. The 33-year-old Cruz, who can be a free agent after this season, would be eligible to play in the post-season if the Rangers make it.
The suspension will cost Cruz $2,732,240 US in salary for the rest of this season and the possibility of earning another $500,000 in potential performance bonuses based on plate appearances that are no longer attainable.
General manager Jon Daniels said the team would be "open-minded" to Cruz returning for the playoffs.
"Assuming that there's no other information that we're not yet aware of and if his teammates welcome him back, and Nellie handles this well, which I expect he probably will, then we're open to it," Daniels said.
Manager Ron Washington said Cruz would "unequivocally" be accepted back for the playoffs by his teammates.
"That's the love we've got in that clubhouse," said Washington, who described the day as emotional. "That don't mean that they've accepted it, but I wouldn't expect anything else."
Cruz is batting .269 with a team-high 27 home runs and 76 RBIs in 108 games this season. He homered three times in his last seven games, when the Rangers went 6-1 to cut their deficit behind AL West-leading Oakland from six games to 2 ½ games.
"It goes without saying we're not going to replace Nelson's production with any one player, whether that's internally or via a trade," Daniels said on a conference call. "We're going to be creative"
Daniels also reiterated a statement issued earlier by the team expressing its disappointment in Cruz for violating MLB's drug policy and its full support of "efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game."
The non-waiver trade deadline passed last week without the Rangers being able to add a right-handed hitter to potentially help fill his absence.
The Rangers recalled outfielder Engel Beltre from Triple-A Round Rock and selected the contract of outfielder Joey Butler from the same team. They also designated infielder Adam Rosales for assignment, three days after adding him on a waiver claim from Oakland.
David Murphy took Cruz's regular spot in right field Monday night in the series opener against the Los Angeles Angels. Washington is considering a four-person platoon to fill the outfield — with Beltre and Murphy in against right-handed pitchers, while Gentry and Butler, who is looking to make his major league debut, would play against lefties.
Cruz had never been linked to performance-ending drugs before he was among the players targeted by MLB in a scandal that started last January with a Miami New Times story about Biogenesis.
After his name showed up in that report, attorneys for Cruz issued a statement denying the allegations. When Cruz arrived at spring training in February he said it was "shocking" and "depressing" to have his name connected with Biogenesis.
In his statement Monday, Cruz expressed thanks "for the unwavering support of my family, friends, and teammates during this difficult time. I look forward to regaining the trust and respect of the Rangers organization, my teammates, and the great Rangers' fans, and I am grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team for the playoffs."
Cruz has replaced agents Sam and Seth Levinson with Adam Katz, the representative Daniels said contacted him Sunday night with the player's decision to accept the penalty.
The Rangers got Cruz in a six-player deal with Carlos Lee from Milwaukee in July 2006. Cruz's first full major league season was 2009, when he was an All-Star and hit a career-high 33 homers.
"It's sad. You obviously didn't expect anything like that to happen, but nobody is perfect," said Derek Holland, the team's union rep. "Everybody makes a mistake, and once he gets back, we'll be waiting for him. We've just got to take care of what we've got to do now, and that's go get the West."