Free agent Nelson Cruz is one of the best hitters on the market this offseason. While he is strictly a designated hitter at this point, the 40-year-old still mashes with the best of them.
Cruz was originally signed by the New York Mets as a non-drafted free agent in 1997. After a few years in the Dominican Summer League, the Mets traded Cruz to the Oakland Athletics where he would spend four years in their minor league system. In 2004, Cruz was traded again, this time to the Milwaukee Brewers. He made his MLB debut with the Brew Crew in September of 2005. Back in the minors to start the 2006 season, the Brewers traded Cruz to the Texas Rangers at the deadline in July of that year. Nellie would show a little pop over the next couple of years, but he didn’t get a starting job with the Rangers until 2009.
He exploded with a regular gig that year, blasting 33 HRs, stealing 20 bases, and earning his first All-Star nod. Cruz continued to prove he could hit. Even as a late bloomer, he batted .318 and hit 22 HRs as a 30-year-old in 2010 helping the Rangers win the American League Crown for the first time in their history. After a loss to the San Francisco Giants, Cruz helped the Rangers get back to the World Series in 2011 winning ALCS MVP honors. After a misplayed ball and David Freese playing hero, the St. Louis Cardinals took the Series. In 2013, Cruz was suspended for 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. That would be his last season in Texas.
Aging Like a Fine Wine
The Baltimore Orioles signed Cruz to a one-year/$8 million deal in 2014. He returned the favor by leading the AL in HRs with 40. Baltimore nevertheless decided to let Cruz walk and he signed a four-year/$57 million contract to play with the Seattle Mariners. At the time many thought going from the HR-friendly confines of Camden Yards to Safeco Field would hurt Nellie’s power numbers, especially at 34 years old. Not a chance. Boomstick would hit 163 HRs over his four years in the Pacific Northwest and drove in 425 runs for the Mariners.
Entering his age-38 season, Cruz was again looking for a job. The Minnesota Twins came knocking and signed him to a one-year deal worth $14 million. Boomstick again proved age is just a number crushing 41 HRs with a 1.031 OPS. He signed another one-year deal this past offseason for $12 million to return to the Twins and again did not disappoint as he turned 40 in July. His postseason numbers have been very good overall as well. In 46 playoff games, Cruz is slashing .288/.360/.659 and has 17 HRs with 37 RBIs.
At this point, Cruz will work on one-year deals moving forward. Although he doesn’t show signs of slowing down, no one is going to give a 40-year-old DH a long-term contract. Cruz can probably expect similar money to what he has gotten recently, between $12-$15 million.
Top Landing Spots
There really is no reason for the Twins not to bring him back. He has produced and is excellent in the clubhouse with the younger players. The veteran presence in the playoffs, although it hasn’t translated into wins, is also a big selling point as the Twins are in their playoff window. If Minnesota bumps him back up to $14 or $15 million, he would come back.
As mentioned before, the Mariners struggled to score runs this season. They finished bottom-5 in runs scored with 254 and next to last in HRs with 60. Bringing Boomstick back to where he had some of his best seasons would give Seattle a big power bat and would only cost them a one-year deal for about $15 million.
Chicago White Sox
With Edwin Encarnacion underperforming in 2020 and now gone in free agency, why not replace him with a major upgrade? Cruz would give the Sox a big bat in the middle of that lineup and would make them one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. As he has been great for the young players on the Twins, it would be a double-edged move for Chicago to steal Cruz from Minnesota and have him in their clubhouse. A move like that could very well turn the AL Central around.
Follow Johnnie Black on Twitter @jball0202
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