Six-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger award winner Nelson Cruz is hitting the free agency market once again.
Cruz, on the back of two big years with the Minnesota Twins, is one of the premier position player free agents. Age doesn’t seem to be slowing him down. The former Texas Rangers slugger has been a truly elite hitter over the last few seasons. His two campaigns with the Twins have both returned wRC+ of over 160.
Uncertainty over the universal DH harms Cruz’s market. General managers in the National League cannot really evaluate their roster before a decision is made on the designated hitter. It might not matter, of course, as there’s reportedly mutual interest between Cruz and the Twins, who have paid him $26 million over his two seasons. However, looking for a two-year deal could make those negotiations trickier.
The hitters close to Cruz – Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Christian Yelich to name a few – are better all-round players, but when it comes to pure hitting production, Cruz is as good as it gets. He would be the best hitter in 29 of MLB’s 30 line-ups. Front offices might be cautious about ageing players, and spending could be low with COVID-19’s financial impact and uncertainty over crowds, but giving Cruz a two-year deal is definitely justifiable.
How much money is another question. Another two years and $26 million would be a decent return, though Cruz is likely angling for something closer to $30 million. In a league where versatility is increasingly valued, where front offices want the DH spot open to rest players, Cruz’s limitations have a major impact on his earning potential.
Cruz landing spots in free agency
The decision on the DH in the National League will determine Cruz’s market. If the universal DH is confirmed, Cruz should have an array of suitors. The Twins are motivated to force through a deal before a decision on the DH, but he would be smart to wait it out.
Minnesota is the most obvious landing spot. There’s a need, Cruz has clearly enjoyed his time there, and the Twins are hoping to compete. Swapping AL Central teams and joining the Chicago White Sox could make sense too, though they may want to keep their DH spot open for Eloy Jimenez (one of the worst outfield defenders in baseball) and Jose Abreu.
The Athletics, Angels, Tigers, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox are all set at DH. A case can be made for the Toronto Blue Jays, but they might prioritise positional flexibility. Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays get in the market for Cruz, a player they have been linked with in the past.
Away from Minnesota, only a couple of American League teams can reasonably be expected to show interest. There’s a swathe of National League teams who could commit to a two-year deal – the Atlanta Braves are a clear option if Marcell Ozuna leaves, the Washington Nationals could splash the cash to get another elite bat in their line-up after losing Rendon and Bryce Harper. The Padres could upgrade from Mitch Moreland.
Cruz is a far better player than the level of excitement surrounding his free agency suggests. Where he ends up will be significant – it would be a huge loss for the Twins if he signs elsewhere.