After a report from MLB Trade Rumors surfaced, it got the wheels turning in regard to a potential fit between the Chicago Cubs and Nelson Cruz. Cruz has been an elite hitter into his 40s. Finally, he had a down year at the plate in 2022. For the season, he slashed .234/.313/.337 with 10 HRs and 64 RBIs. That mark is down from his career slash of .274/.344/.515, so it looked like time was finally starting to catch up with the long-time slugger.
However, as the MLBTR article states, Cruz was experiencing an issue with his eye that caused him to have blurry vision and an inability to pick up the spin on the ball. That makes perfect sense for a guy that has always hit for both average and power, and the two have always coincided for him; therefore, it's worth discussing Cruz as a viable designated hitter option again.
Cruz's HRs/RBIs over the last 9 seasons:
- 2014: 40 HRs/108 RBIs
- 2015: 44 HRs/93 RBIs
- 2016: 43 HRs/103 RBIs
- 2017: 39 HRs/119 RBIs
- 2018: 37 HRs/97 RBIs
- 2019: 41 HRs/108 RBIs
- 2020: 16 HRs/33 RBIs (Pandemic year)
- 2021: 32 HRs/86 RBIs
- 2022: 10 HRs/64 RBIs (eye issue)
Therefore, if his eye was hindering his ability at the plate, given the track record, I'm comfortable landing Cruz on a one-year deal if he says he is good to go now. Let's take a better look at his splits. Some of the numbers pop out at you. Even at age 42, against left-handed pitchers, Cruz still slashes .295/.382/.557/149 wRC+, including a .262 ISO and .393 wOBA. Against righties, .267/.329/.499/122 wRC+, .233 ISO, .354 wOBA.
Cruz is strictly a DH candidate at this point in his career but still proves to be one of the best out there. He is a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger recipient. He owns an 8.9% BB rate and a 22.7% strikeout rate. Contract-wise, he'll land in the $10-12M range after a down year that an eye issue can't completely eradicate. There still isn't much reason to believe his offensive production will fall off the face of the Earth at any moment.
Finding a fit for him becomes the trickier part. The offseason is still ongoing, the trade market is just starting to heat up, and more deals will come about before players report for camp. The Cubs are considered a team with the resources to pull off a trade. Therefore, there's no rush for any team to sign Cruz, nor is Cruz in a hurry to pick up his next deal, as the aforementioned article states.
If the Cubs don't pull off a trade for a hitter, then the idea of landing Cruz becomes much more realistic for a team that needs more pop in its lineup. He can undoubtedly DH against lefties, with Patrick Wisdom at 3B. Then you have Eric Hosmer and Matt Mervis taking the lion's share of at-bats between 1B and DH against right-handed pitchers.