Nelson Cruz may not be finished with his career in Major League Baseball, but he has already amassed career statistics that give him a strong case to one day be forever enshrined in the sport’s Hall of Fame. The designated hitter is currently entering his 18th season in the league. He has played for the Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, and Tampa Bay Rays.
The majority of Cruz’s career was played with the Rangers. He has surprisingly seen tremendous success in the latter half of his career also. Now a free agent, the 41-year-old right fielder, and current designated hitter should have no problem signing with a team once the lockout between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association ends.
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The New York Mets signed Cruz, then an outfielder, as an international free agent back in 1998. He first made his MLB debut with the Brewers in 2005. After playing in only eight games during the 2005 season, the Brewers decided to trade Cruz to the Rangers in 2006. Cruz bounced around between the majors and the minors while in Texas, but ultimately after the 2008 season, he was in the majors to stay. In his age-28 season in 2009, Cruz made his first All-Star Game. He would again make the All-Star Game for the Rangers in 2013. Across eight seasons in Texas, Cruz compiled a respectable .268 batting average, a .823 OPS, 157 home runs, and a 12.1 total WAR. At this point, Cruz was not truly on track to one day be considered a Hall of Famer.
To make matters worse, Cruz was suspended for 50 games in 2013 after violating the league’s drug policy. His connection to the Biogenesis scandal is a detriment too. He sat out the remainder of that season and signed a one-year deal with the Orioles for the 2014 campaign. Coming off of a drug suspension, this was a critical year for Cruz to show that he could truly play cleanly at the MLB level. All he did was slug a league-leading 40 home runs, drive in 108 RBIs, collect a .859 OPS, and get named to his third All-Star Game.
The Boomstick Emerges
This was only the beginning of the legend of Cruz, or “Boomstick”, as he is commonly referred to. Cruz signed a four-year deal with the Mariners after the 2014 season. He continued to perform at this high level of success. During his tenure in Seattle, Cruz mashed 163 home runs, finished with a .284 batting average, had an OPS of .908, was named to three All-Star Games, won two Silver Sluggers, and compiled a combined WAR of 17.1.
Cruz then moved on to the Twins in 2019, and despite being 38, began to hit for an even higher average. He finished the 2019 season with a .311 batting average and still managed to hit 41 home runs. Across three seasons between the Twins and Rays after a midseason trade, Cruz won two more Silver Sluggers and was named to yet another All-Star Game.
Cruz’s unforeseen resurgence has certainly put him into the conversation of one day being a Hall of Famer. Entering the 2022 season, he is just 51 home runs away from the unofficial 500 home run benchmark. His notable career stats and accolades consist of 449 home runs, 1,238 RBIs, and a 42.4 WAR. His career batting average of .277, and the seven All-Star Game selections, four Silver Sluggers, and 2011 American League Championship Series MVP are impressive too.
Before the steroid scandal began in baseball, every single player to accumulate 500 career home runs was later elected to the Hall of Fame. Cruz’s best shot at making it to Cooperstown will be to finish with over 500 home runs in his career. This is certainly doable, seeing as Cruz smacked 32 home runs in 2021. Even if he only hits 25 home runs a season, this will only take two years to accomplish. With the output Cruz has been producing, he should have no trouble finding a job for two more seasons. For what it is worth, Cruz has been one of the best-designated hitters in MLB for the last decade.
The glaring argument against Cruz is his involvement with the 2013 Biogenesis scandal. The Hall of Fame voters have been very harsh on steroid and PED users the past few years. The results of this year’s ballot will show if they finally allow known users into the Hall of Fame. Or if the precedent has been set to bar them.
Strictly statistically speaking, Cruz may be closing in on the benchmark home run total for the Hall of Fame. However, his career WAR is substantially lower than that of current Hall of Famers. The average WAR for current Hall of Fame hitters is 67. This means Cruz would need to increase his WAR by about 15-25 points to truly be in consideration. With a career average WAR of 3.6 per year, this would mean Cruz must continue performing at his current level for four to five more years.
While to no real fault of his own, Cruz has been a true example of a late bloomer in MLB. His career did not really get underway until he was 28 years old. Despite the impressive home run totals, he has not had the time to accrue other important Hall of Fame noteworthy statistics.
The best thing that Cruz has going for his Hall of Fame hopes is that he is still performing at a high level. If he retired today, odds are he would not be elected to Cooperstown. Aside from the drug scandal, Cruz has had a very impressive career in not that long of a time frame. That being said, the closer he gets to 500 home runs and the more he can increase his WAR, the better his odds will be to one day make the Hall of Fame.
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