Nelson Cruz has a lot to play for in 2013, especially now that his name was included in the MLB’s latest round of PED allegations.

The league hasn’t reprimanded any of the players named in the report yet, and Rangers GM Jon Daniels says he expects Nellie in right field to begin the season.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even if the 32-year-old does clear his name, it’s a safe bet this dark cloud will follow him most of the season. Baseball’s shameful past with steroids makes these allegations difficult to shake, even for the innocent.

How Cruz will respond is a valid question. Will he still have a stellar season despite the uncomfortable spotlight? There are a few reasons to believe he will.

First of all, Nellie is a free agent at the end of this season. The lure of a big payday is almost always motivation for a professional athlete to step things up. We see it every year.

New hitting coach Dave Magadan’s arrival is also a possible sign of good things to come. Perhaps Cruz will benefit more than anyone from the former Red Sox coach’s hitting expertise.

Additionally, Nelson wouldn’t be the first player to post a solid season on the heels of an alleged steroid scandal. Ryan Braun faced immense scrutiny when he tested positive for PEDs in late 2011, but the former NL MVP managed to overturn the ruling and finished the following season second in MVP voting. 

Cruz will get his first bit of action since the allegations when he suits up for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. It’s not spring training, but it’s still an early chance for fans to watch him play.

Texas needs Nellie right now—badly. They’ve already lost a great deal of punch in their lineup and cannot afford another casualty.

By his own standards, last season was a down year, but he still hit 24 homers and drove in 90 runs. Imagine if he bounces back and plays like the guy who helped carry the team to the World Series in 2011.   

It’s a big season for the Rangers, and for Cruz as well. There are a lot of questions at the moment and few answers. The season starting will help, and it can’t get here soon enough.

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