Padres lose Nelson Cruz bidding war to familiar enemy

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 07: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a solo homerun in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 07, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 07: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a solo homerun in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 07, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /
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San Diego Padres lose Nelson Cruz bidding war to Washington Nationals

It could be better, but it also could be much worse.

The San Diego Padres lost the Nelson Cruz bidding war, thankfully not to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But for the second time in the last year, the Padres have been sniped by the Washington Nationals. First, in the Max Scherzer trade talks ahead of the 2021 trade deadline, and now, by the Nationals swooping in and signing Cruz.

On Sunday afternoon, reports had the Padres and Dodgers as the final contenders for the 41-year-old free agent slugger. But by late Sunday night, the tables turned. According to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Nationals will pay Cruz $12M in 2022, with a $16M mutual option or $3M buyout for 2023.

Why would Nelson Cruz sign with the Nationals instead of the Padres?

This deal is all about strategy for both sides. Cruz gets a hefty paycheck and the chance to play for a contender.

No, not the Nationals, who are in no position to contend themselves; they’ll likely trade Cruz to a contender midseason for a solid return. Their farm system is one of the lowest-ranked in baseball, and they held a fire sale at last year’s deadline, which included sending Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles, and Kyle Schwarber to Boston, both deep postseason teams. This setup would be a repeat of 2021 for Cruz, as his longtime team, the Minnesota Twins, dealt him to the contending Tampa Bay Rays last summer.

Assuming that’s how Cruz’s deal works in DC, the Padres could theoretically still scoop him up this season. They certainly have the kind of bountiful farm system to make a deal with the Nationals.

Oh well, at least he’s not a Dodger.

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