The Padres signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal, according to reports.
Even with the signing of Matt Carpenter and Adam Engel in recent weeks, it was clear the Padres needed another bat or two. The Padres addressed this on Wednesday, reportedly signing Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal.
Veteran slugger Nelson Cruz and the San Diego Padres are in agreement on a one-year, $1 million contract, sources tell ESPN. Cruz, 42, is entering his 19th season and should get ample DH at-bats. He'll also serve as GM of the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2023
The price point is the important part here. The Padres are signing Cruz for $1 million, which is far lower than most expected for Cruz’s services. The original rumors were closer to $4 or 5 million.
The elephant in the room is Cruz’s age, 42. Sure, Father Time is undefeated. Plus, Cruz did not exactly set the world on fire with another All-Star year in 2022. He hit .234 with 10 home runs, and a 90 OPS+ in 124 games for the Nationals.
That’s a far cry from his heyday in the mid-2010s, when he was averaging north of 35 homers every season. For six straight seasons, from 2014 to 2019, he hit at least 37 home runs. Last year broke a nine-year streak of an OPS of at least .830.
He’s a seven-time All-Star, being selected as recently as 2021.
It’s fair to wonder if the Padres signed him two years too late.
That being said, Cruz could still be valuable. The Padres did not sign him to play every day in the outfield or even be the designated hitter for 150 games. There is a clear plan for a platoon at DH between Cruz and Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter typically hits right-handers well, with an .847 career OPS as a lefty. Cruz, as a right-handed slugger, has a career .939 OPS against lefties. Even with his struggles and injuries last year, he managed a respectable .727 OPS against southpaws in 2022 alone.
Despite his age, some of his peripherals still look like a player who has some juice left in the tank. His average exit velocity last season ranked in the 84th percentile. His hard hit rate is in the 81st percentile. He still has serviceable plate discipline, ranking in the 67th percentile in walk rate.
While the Padres did not sign the 40-homer, 100-RBI Cruz of yesteryear, he adds value as a power bat against lefties and can come off the bench and threaten to leave the yard. Additionally, Cruz has 459 home runs. It will be fun to watch him creep closer to the immortalizing mark of 500.
Plus, by all accounts, Cruz is well-respected in every locker room he has been in and looked up to by younger Dominican players. The Padres have three younger stars from the Dominican Republic or of Dominican descent that could lean on Cruz’s leadership in Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. It could only help to have such a well-liked, well-traveled player like Cruz in the Padres’ vibrant clubhouse.
As a side note, Cruz is also familiar with the trials and tribulations of one who has been suspended for something regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs, like Tatis. In 2013, Cruz was suspended for 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis baseball scandal.
He came out the other side better than ever, with the majority of his best seasons coming post-suspension. Perhaps he can help the 24-year-old superstar through the most trying time of his professional career, and to come out of it even better.
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.