Cron’s proof is in the trade
Move to Rays justifies ex-Angel’s belief he could be everyday player.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — C.J. Cron said all the right things about how excited he was to return with his new Rays team this weekend to Anaheim, where he spent his first four seasons playing for the Angels.
How the Angels were the group that gave him the chance to fulfill his dream after making him a firstround draft pick in 2011.
How he got to meet and work alongside so many good people, including superstar teammates Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. How he enjoyed the atmosphere at Angel Stadium and having family nearby.
And most right of all, that he wished he would have gotten the opportunity to play more.
“I think every player wants the opportunity to prove themselves and prove they can play every day,” Cron said before Thursday’s game with the Angels. “There were definitely stretches where I thought that I did pretty well whenever somebody got hurt for the month, two months, when I got to play every day, but I guess it just wasn’t enough. So they decided to go a different way, and that was their decision.”
That different way is what led to Cron, 28, being traded to the Rays, which has worked out well given how he has produced with the chance to play pretty much every day at either DH or first base. We’ll get back to that production in a few paragraphs.
To clarify, Cron is not suggesting he should have played ahead of Pujols, the future Cooperstowner whose spot in the lineup at either first or DH was going to be predicated on his health, leaving Cron in essence competing for time at whichever spot Pujols wasn’t playing, at least when Cron wasn’t being sent back to Triple A.
“Obviously (Pujols) is going to play over me every day of the week, and deservedly so,” Cron said. “But that wasn’t the reason why I didn’t play every day.”
His point is more about not getting a better opportunity where or when Pujols wasn’t playing, and he has one.
When Cron was sitting or being sent back to the minors (twice in 2014, ’16 and ’17), the Angels were giving at-bats at first and/or DH to the likes of Jefry Marte, Ji-Man Choi and Luis Valbuena, and looking at other options given manager Mike Scioscia’s known preference for veterans.
Yet when Cron got the opportunity, he seemed to produce, and somewhat consistently, despite the constant shuttling and sporadic playing time.
He had eight homers in his first 40 games as a 2014 rookie and 11 total, with a .256 average and .739 OPS over three stints in the majors. Then over the past three seasons, he had 16 homers each time, with averages/OPS of .262/.739, .278/.792 (in a careerhigh 116 games, with a six-week disabled-list stint for a broken hand) and .248/.741, though he did strike out a lot.
The Rays were aware of what he had done and intrigued by what he could do with regular playing time. And with the Angels having even more of a logjam this spring in needing to get DH at-bats for two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani and with Cron out of options, the Rays made a move. In a buy-low deal, they gave up just Class A infielder Luis Rengifo, whom they’d gotten from Seattle last year in a spare-parts trade of Ryan Garton and Mike Marjama.
The Feb. 17 trade for Cron was overshadowed by the stunning decision to designate for assignment 2017 All-Star Corey Dicker- son, a move the Rays calculated rightly in that it spurred trade talks leading to a deal with the Pirates, but wrongly given how much negative reaction it drew, including in their clubhouse.
But even in getting so little back — just Class A infielder Tristan Gray while eating most of released reliever Daniel Hudson’s $5.5 million salary, and seeing Dickerson do well in Pittsburgh (.318, 5 homers, .870 OPS entering Thursday) — the Rays saw Cron, who made $2.3 million to Dickerson’s $5.95 million and was a year further from free agency, as the actual return.
And he has been quite a hit. Cron walked into Angel Stadium on Thursday after lunch with Trout and Kole Calhoun not knowing where the visiting clubhouse was, but leading the Rays with 10 homers and an .861 OPS, plus a healthy .289 average and a 22-game streak of reaching base.
Though his mates have been giving him good-natured ribbing about his return, and he wasn’t sure how he’d feel, he should be pretty proud of what he has done with the opportunity he never got in Anaheim — combining the comfort of knowing he’s going to be in the lineup (and definitely in the majors), the confidence to make the necessary adjustments without consequence, and the talent to produce at a high level.
His takeaway on his time with the Angels?
“I wish I could have played a little bit more, but it was good while it lasted.”
C.J. Cron entered Thursday leading the Rays with 10 home runs and hitting .289.
C.J. Cron, showing support for the Lightning, came to the Rays in a low-risk February trade.