SARASOTA, Fla. - Nelson Cruz walked into his introductory press conference and spotted eight of his new Baltimore Orioles teammates already there.
Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Tommy Hunter, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, Darren O'Day and Matt Wieters stood in the back of the room to welcome Cruz.
It was symbolically important because Markakis had long been calling for stiffer penalties for drug offenders in baseball. Cruz was suspended for 50 games in 2013 due to his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
"That means they care about their teammates," Cruz said. "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."
Cruz signed a one-year, $8 million contract Monday. Had he accepted a one-year qualifying offer from the Texas Rangers, he would have made $14.1 million. He has no regrets about leaving Texas and settling for much less on the open market.
"I don't think I have to prove anything. 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 the World Series," Cruz said.
When free agency began, Cruz said that the Orioles were on his short list, but it took until training camp opened for him to sign.
Not only were teams put off by the draft pick they'd have to surrender, but also by Cruz's involvement in Biogenesis. It cost Cruz a 50-game suspension in 2013. He says it's in the past.
"No doubt," he said. "Whatever happened in the past, I look to move forward and have a great year with the Baltimore Orioles."
His new team would accept a year much like Cruz has had for the last five, when he's hit at least 22 home runs and driven in at least 76 runs.
With a power-laden lineup, the 33-year-old Cruz is going to be well protected.
"Every time you play the Orioles, the presence of the hitter, that always sticks out in your mind. 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,"
Manager Buck Showalter, who had Cruz as a young player in 2006, hasn't decided if he'll be an outfielder or designated hitter.
"Nelson is going to get his at-bats and we try to keep everybody in the flow. We're not going to have somebody get pigeonholed in one spot," Showalter said. "That's the thing with Nelson. I have a lot of respect for what he's accomplished on both sides of the baseball and we'd be foolish not to take advantage of that, so we're going to keep everybody in the flow and see how the club shakes out."
Baltimore executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette signed pitchers Suk-min Yoon and Ubaldo Jimenez as well as Cruz in the past eight days. After all the talk of a dispiriting winter, the spring has become exciting for the Orioles.
We've been steadily putting our team together," Duquette said. "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. We're always looking, but I don't anticipate any players of this caliber soon, but we're always looking around.
NOTES: Non-roster infielder Alexi Casilla strained his right hamstring on Tuesday. ... Brian Matusz will travel to Philadelphia on Monday to have a wart removed from the middle finger of his left hand. It's the same procedure he had in 2011. Matusz does not expect to miss any time. ... Non-roster first baseman Chris Marrero is out with a strained oblique muscle. ... Outfielder Quintin Berry is out with back spasms. ... Showalter isn't sure when Jimenez will make their first appearance. ...Baltimore plays its first intra-squad game on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. They'll play about eight innings. On Thursday, they'll play four of five. ... The first spring game is Friday at Port Charlotte against Toronto.