Nationals slugger Nelson Cruz tells Jessica Camerato of MLB.com that he will undergo surgery on his left eye at the end of October due to some inflammation that is blocking his vision (Twitter links). He expects to resume baseball activities in 6-8 weeks, which should give him plenty of time to be ready for Spring Training.
“Vision is everything for hitters,” Cruz says. “But the good thing is, it can be fixed.” Going into more detail, he says: “You can only see clearly with the right eye. When I close this one, it’s not clear. I need my eyes to be sharp, to be able to see the ball, especially see spins.” Cruz then adds that he estimates the issue has been affecting him for the past year and a half, though it got worse recently.
The estimated timeline that Cruz provides is an interesting one, as that aligns with his downturn at the plate. He was an above-average hitter for 14 straight years from 2008 to 2021, though he tailed off in the second half of last year. He began the year with the Twins and hit .294/.370/.537 for a wRC+ of 142. In July, he was traded to the Rays for Joe Ryan, Drew Strotman and Calvin Faucher. Unfortunately for Tampa, Cruz’s production fell off almost immediately and he ended up hitting .226/.283/.442 as a Ray for a wRC+ of 95.
Despite that sluggish finish to the season, the rebuilding Nationals gave Cruz a one-year, $15MM deal plus a mutual option. The Nats didn’t really have designs on competing but likely hoped for Cruz to act as a mentor to younger players and then play well enough to be flipped for prospects midseason. Leading up to the trade deadline, there were some rumors that the Mets were interested, but a deal for Cruz never came together, likely due to his subpar performance this year. His batting line for the season is .234/.313/.337 for a wRC+ of 85.
Going into the offseason, Cruz is destined for the open market since mutual options are almost never picked up by both sides. This news about his eye will make his free agency an interesting case to watch. On the one hand, he is now 42 years old and has been below-average at the plate for over a year. He’s strictly a designated hitter at this point, meaning that he holds no value for teams if he can’t produce at the plate. However, if it’s true that the eye issue was holding him back, it’s possible that he could return to being a feared slugger like he was in the first few months of last season. He’ll have the next few months to find out which clubs are willing to take a chance on him.