It wouldn’t be deadline season without teams getting creative. Both ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand report that at least a pair of NL clubs has explored the possibility of acquiring Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Passan notes that Cruz “is game” to play the field in the event of a trade.
It’d be tough for a team to trust Cruz in the field much after he hasn’t suited up for an inning of defense since 2018. He’s only logged 54 innings with a glove since 2016. That said, Cruz is the best pure hitter on the market this summer, having slashed an excellent .294/.370/.537 with 19 home runs, 13 doubles and even a triple. He’d still be able to DH in any remaining interleague games at AL parks and could also do so during World Series play, should an acquiring team advance that far. Cruz is playing the season on a one-year, $13MM deal and would be owed about $4.54MM of that sum post-trade deadline.
Neither Passan nor Feinsand lists specific teams, but from a purely speculative standpoint, any of the Padres, Braves or Giants seem like long-shot possibilities to at least consider the idea. Darren Wolfson of 1500 SKOR North in Minneapolis tweets that both the Braves and Dodgers had some interest last offseason, though many NL clubs spent much of the winter expecting that a universal DH would eventually be implemented.
San Diego general manager A.J. Preller has held an affinity for former Rangers players since taking the reins with the Friars, and he’s spoken of improving his lineup’s consistency this summer. Putting Cruz in an outfield corner would achieve that, albeit at the cost of a quite a bit of defense. There’s been no hard connection between the two parties, but the idea of an outside-the-box Cruz/Padres matchup has made sense for awhile now.
The Braves, meanwhile, are without Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna; Cruz wouldn’t break the bank in terms of prospects and would give Atlanta a much-needed middle of the order presence. Given their rangy options elsewhere in the outfield, perhaps the Braves feel they could cover some of Cruz’s lack of range.
Over in San Francisco, the Giants have gotten just a .217/.291/.396 batting line from their left fielders in 2021. They were recently reported to be a “key” team in the Starling Marte market, but Cruz would be another rental bat who’d give the lineup some extra thump. Cruz roaming the outfield at the cavernous Oracle Park seems particularly treacherous, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an improvement he’d be over their current left-field production.
There are other possible fits, of course. The Cardinals have been struggling to find outfield production for a few years now. The Nationals are currently without Kyle Schwarber and have been looking at Josh Bell as an option in left field recently. It feels like we can never rule out the Dodgers doing anything that’s unorthodox and/or unexpected.
Really, one could make the argument that any contender or fringe contender is improved enough by Cruz’s bat to offset the defensive hit. Teams could get creative by only playing Cruz on the grass when heavy ground-ball and/or strikeout pitchers are on the mound. He could be frequently lifted for mid- or late-inning defensive replacements, and teams could experiment with four-outfielder shifts in certain favorable matchups. Cruz also has more than 8000 career innings in the outfield; at least with regard to balls hit in his general vicinity, he could be expected to make routine plays.
At the end of the day, it still seems likelier that whenever Cruz is moved, it’s to an American League club. But the Cruz-to-the-NL rumblings serve as a reminder that there are very few possibilities we should rule out entirely over the next eight days. Today’s front offices will be looking at all kinds of off-the-wall scenarios — particularly with so many teams still unsure as to how they’ll approach the trade deadline.