When any modern baseball fan thinks of the term "designated hitter", 43-year-old Nelson Cruz is going to be one of the first names to come to mind nine times out of 10. Cruz, one of the most fearsome sluggers of his time, was recently designated for assignment by the Padres after a so-so start to his 2023 campaign.
While the DH is beginning to show the first legitimate signs of aging throughout his 19-year big league career, there's still reason to believe that he could be an asset for a Toronto Blue Jays team that could certainly use a bit more thump in the lineup.
In 49 games this year for the scuffling Padres, "Nelly" has five home runs with 23 RBI, a .245 average, .681 OPS and 89 OPS+. None of these numbers jump off the page and make you say "oh yeah, the Blue Jays need this guy", but perhaps another established veteran with some serious home run pop would be a huge help to the Jays.
Let's check out some pros and cons of the Blue Jays pursuing Nelson Cruz.
- For starters, Cruz brings a powerful bat from the right side, something the Blue Jays have in Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but not consistently from many other spots in the lineup. Ross Atkins and Co. made such a huge effort to make the lineup more left-handed-heavy and now rely on Kevin Kiermaier, Daulton Varsho and Brandon Belt to provide a spark on a day-to-day basis. Obviously players like Matt Chapman, George Springer and Danny Jansen are going to run into home runs in their own right, but an addition like Cruz would add even more thump to a team that could use it.
- As previously stated, Cruz is in his 19th season in Major League Baseball, which is an incredible accomplishment in itself. The former Texas Rangers star comes with a ton of postseason experience as well, which will be of extreme importance to a Blue Jays club looking to make a run in the second half of the season. Cruz has made the playoffs seven different times in his career and has a total of 18 home runs with a .979 OPS in 50 games in his postseason career.
- Lastly, why the hell not? It's worth noting that Cruz is playing out a one-year, $1 million contract, which is dirt cheap. The seven-time All-Star could be brought aboard by the Jays and cut loose at practically no cost if he fails to produce for the club. He is also friends with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and served as the Dominican Republic's GM in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, where he chose Guerrero to join the club. Again, he's cheap, has pop in his bat and has a ton of postseason experience, what's not to like?
- At 43-years-old, Cruz is already on the wrong side of 30 and the wrong side of 40. While his bat was statistically above-average as recently as 2021, he had a bit of a power outage last year that has seemingly continued into this year. His eye at the plate has slowly been deteriorating as well over the years, so strikeouts will come aplenty, but the hope is that the home runs will, too.
- Easily the biggest argument against bringing Cruz aboard is his defensive prowess, or lack thereof. He is very, very limited to designated hitter and cannot be trusted to play any position on the field, which would limit the Blue Jays a bit when they try to find ways to squeeze Belt, Guerrero and Cruz all into one lineup. To give you an idea of Cruz's defensive abilities, he has not played a single inning in the outfield (his position by trade) since 2018 when he played just four games in right field. He made one seven-inning appearance for the Rays at first base in 2021 and played one inning there for the Padres this year, but other than that, nada. Belt can't play the outfield, Cruz can't play the outfield, and Guerrero is going to stick at first base. There may have to be some shuffling in the everyday lineup to get everyone the playing time they deserve.
Ultimately, there's no right or wrong answer as to whether the Blue Jays should pursue Nelson Cruz or not. The team feels like it's a spark or two away from catching fire, so perhaps a proven veteran with some pop could help move things along?