Padres Sign Nelson Cruz To One-Year Deal

Jan. 23: Cruz passed his physical in the Dominican Republic and the Padres formally announced the contract on Monday.

Jan. 11: The Padres and slugger Nelson Cruz are in agreement on a one-year deal. The deal is pending a physical but the client of Primo Sports Group is slated to receive a $1MM guarantee.

Once Cruz gets into a game, it will be the 19th straight season for the veteran, who will turn 43 in July. He’s long been one of the most consistent sluggers in the league but he’s coming off a down season. From 2008 to 2021, he hit 434 home runs, the most of anyone in the majors in that time. His batting line over that stretch was .280/.350/.536 for a wRC+ of 136, indicating he was 36% better than league average in that time.

However, the most recent part of his career has been a different story. After being traded from the Twins to the Rays at the deadline in 2021, his production slipped. He hit just .226/.283/.442 after the deal for a wRC+ of 95. He signed a one-year, $15MM deal with the Nationals for 2022 and tried to get back on track but actually fell further. He hit .234/.313/.337 last year, finishing with a wRC+ of 85.

As the season was winding down, Cruz told reporters that he was going to undergo eye surgery, since he had been dealing some inflammation that was blocking his vision. He said that it had been affecting him for about a year and a half, which lines up with the period in which his production cratered. Assuming the operation was a success, it’s possible that he could get back to his previous levels of production. But given that he’s old by professional athlete standards, it’s possible that typical age decline could also be a factor.

There’s certainly some risk involved, but it seems to be one that Padres’ president of baseball operations A.J. Preller is willing to take. Preller has shown a tendency to give chances to players he previously employed when he was with the Rangers and Cruz fits that bill. He was a Ranger from 2006 to 2013, the time when he broke out and had some of his best seasons. If the gamble pays off, it will add a potent bat to a San Diego lineup that is already quite dangerous.

Cruz is strictly a designated hitter at this point in his career, having taking the field only once in the past four seasons, which was seven innings of first base action for the Rays in 2021. It’s possible that Cruz and the left-handed hitting Matt Carpenter could platoon in the designated hitter role, but Carpenter is also capable of playing some first base and outfield, giving manager Bob Melvin some ability to get them both into the lineup, if he’s so inclined.

Financially, the Padres have shot their payroll up to new heights this winter. Roster Resource calculates their spending at $250MM, which would easily be a franchise record. The figures at Cot’s Baseball Contracts have their previous high at $211MM, which was last year. Perhaps more importantly, the club is set to be a luxury tax payor for a third straight season, having also paid the competitive balance tax in 2021 and 2022. Roster Resource pegs their CBT number at $267MM, well beyond the $233MM base threshold and the second $253MM threshold. As a third-time payor in the second tax bracket, they’re currently slated for a 62% tax on any extra spending. If they go beyond the third line, which is $273MM, the rate jumps all the way to 95% and their top pick in the 2024 draft would be dropped by ten slots.

Héctor Gómez of Z101 Digital first reported the two sides were in agreement on a one-year deal. Robert Murray of FanSided first reported the $1MM salary.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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