The San Diego Padres should sign free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz after the MLB lockout ends
If the San Diego Padres can’t find someone willing to take on the remainder of Eric Hosmer’s overpriced contract, they should sign Nelson Cruz.
Frankly, they should sign Cruz either way.
The re-implementation of the Universal DH opens up the entire National League to Cruz, giving the free agent more options (and the Padres more competition for him). But according to The Athletic (subscription required), Cruz has been on the Padres’ minds for the better part of a year. Before the 2021 trade deadline, they sent people to watch him hit and field while they discussed trading Hosmer. The Twins traded Cruz to the Rays instead, and the Padres didn’t trade Hosmer, but they expressed interest again when Cruz became a free agent at the end of the season.
The free-agent slugger will turn 42 on July 1, but that shouldn’t stop the Padres from targeting him when the lockout ends. It certainly won’t stop a bevy of other NL teams desperate to add a DH who’s hit between 32-44 home runs each year since 2014 (shortened 2020 season excluded).
Since his first full MLB season in 2009, Cruz has 1,773 hits in 1,706 games and has averaged 31 doubles, 41 home runs, 91 runs scored, and 110 RBI per 162 games. He hit 32 home runs in 140 games last year, which would have been the second-most on the Padres roster behind Tatis’ 42; Hosmer hit 12.
Hosmer has a .264/.323/.415 line and .738 OPS since signing with the Padres ahead of the 2018 season. Whereas he hit 25 home runs in back-to-back seasons and won a Silver Slugger and four Gold Gloves before leaving the Kansas City Royals, he’s only had one 20+ HR season since coming to San Diego and hasn’t added any new trophies to his case. Instead, he set new career-highs in strikeouts in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019.
It’s unlikely that Cruz would ever really replace Hosmer at first base, though he could sub in for him on occasion. But with the Universal DH, Cruz doesn’t have to play defense to solve the Hosmer problem; he can fill a new role in the Padres lineup and supplement Hosmer’s lack of offensive production.
Nelson Cruz could provide the leadership the Padres clubhouse desperately needs
Cruz is a seven-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, and former ALCS MVP, but eventually, Father Time comes everyone. Cruz struggled after being traded to the Rays, hitting .226/.283/.442 with a .725 OPS over 55 games in Tampa, compared to his .294/.370/.537 line and .907 OPS in 85 games before the Twins traded him. Most notable is that he struck out 63 times with each team, despite playing 30 more games with the Twins.
So yes, in terms of on-field production, the Padres would be gambling a bit if they signed Cruz. However, the veteran brings something else to the table that the San Diego squad is sorely lacking: leadership. Cruz is beloved and respected around the league. He has 17 seasons under his belt, as well as several postseason appearances, including 12 World Series games. The leadership and experience he offers are unquantifiable and would likely prove invaluable.