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The art of second chances
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - What's the price of forgiveness?

Well, let's do the math. Nelson Cruz, fresh off a 50-game performance enhancing drug ban, was hoping for a contract in the neighborhood of four years and $75 million this past offseason. On Monday, he settled for a one-year deal worth $8 million.

So, pretty much the same thing.

By cheating, Cruz may have cost himself $67 million. We could get into semantics and say that Cruz was never worth $75 million in the first place, but that's getting away from the point. The point is that Cruz's "mistake" cost him a boatload of cash and probably damaged his reputation forever.

But it's not all bad for Cruz.

Think about it. Lance Armstrong got banned for life when details about his doping reached the cycling community. Cruz is the fourth-highest paid player on an Orioles team that has a chance to win the AL East.

Maybe Cruz didn't get as much money as he wanted but at least he got a second chance. Pete Rose is still waiting for his, and he'll probably never get it.

The O's have forgiven Cruz for his past sins but that doesn't mean fantasy owners have to. Being skeptical of Cruz isn't just fair - it's the smartest way to approach a player in his situation.

They call them performance enhancing drugs for a reason. And after taking them, we don't know who the real Cruz is.

Would Cruz have hit 27 HR on his own last season or was that the juice talking? Because steroids were involved, we'll never know for sure what elements of Cruz's 2013 season were accomplished on his own god-given talent.

What we do know is that second chances have often produced mixed results in the major leagues. Take Carlos Ruiz, for example.

Chooch was cruising in 2012. A .274 lifetime hitter, the Phillies catcher finished the season with a .325 average and 16 home runs. Ruiz's previous career-high in homers was nine.

But, as life has taught us, when it looks too good to be true, that's usually because it is. MLB finally connected the dots and suspended Ruiz 25 games. Ruiz's batting averaged dropped by 57 points the following season while his slugging percentage fell from .540 to a pitiful .368.

Speaking of drop-offs, Melky Cabrera's production jumped off a cliff after he got busted for PEDs in 2012. With the help of performance enhancers, Cabrera was able to hit .346 for the Giants en route to the All-Star Game MVP award. The next season in Toronto, Cabrera became a singles hitter, mashing just three homers in 344 at bats. His OPS shrank to .682, a 224-point drop-off from the year before.

While Cabrera and Ruiz never recovered after their run-ins with the steroid police, Marlon Byrd took his 50-game punishment in stride.

Whatever Byrd was using in 2012 clearly wasn't working. He couldn't hit a lick in either of his two stops that season (.270 AVG in 34 games for the Red Sox, .070 in 13 games with the Cubs). But then he turned the corner in 2013, bruising his way to 24 HR and a .291 batting average in 147 games. The .847 OPS he hit for was the highest of his 11-year career.

Bartolo Colon was on his way to becoming one of the pleasant surprises of the 2012 season (he was leading the Oakland pitching staff with a 3.43 ERA) before a failed drug test resulted in a 50-game ban. Instead of blacklisting the pudgy right-hander, the A's gave Colon a chance to redeem himself in 2013. He responded by having one of his best years ever.

The 40-year-old went 18-6 with a sparkling 2.65 ERA in 190 1/3 innings. Manager Bob Melvin was so impressed by Colon's turnaround that he gave him the ball for Oakland's first playoff game against the Tigers.

The reason Colon was able to succeed was because he played with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to prove his critics wrong. He wanted to show them that he could still be effective even without chemical enhancement.

And guess what? He did just that.

Now Cruz will have a chance to do the same. The question is, do you believe in him?




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.


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