Nov 6: As expected, the Nationals have officially declined their 2023 Mutual Option on Nelson Cruz.
Oct 15: Talk Nats reports that the Nationals are expected to decline their half of a $16MM mutual option with righty slugger Nelson Cruz for the 2023 season, instead opting to pay him a $3MM buyout on the option. Additionally, Cruz, who had been previously reported to be undergoing eye surgery sometime this month, has undergone the procedure this past week.
Washington’s decision is no surprise after a difficult season for Cruz, who slashed just .234/.313/.337 in 507 PA in 2022, posting his first below average offensive season by measure of wRC+ since his age 26 season back in 2007. Given his age (he turned 42 this past July) and down year in 2022, it’s a fair question to wonder what sort of market he might find for his services this offseason, particularly given his inability to play the field at this stage in his career. Cruz hasn’t regularly taken the field since 2015, and hasn’t played anything other than DH since 2018, barring seven innings spent at first base in a single game for the Rays last year. It’s difficult to imagine any clear contenders wanting to lock up their DH slot with an aging bat who performed at a below-average offensive level in 2022, particularly given the number of teams who prefer to cycle their every day players through the DH slot as an opportunity to provide them extra rest.
Cruz may be able to find a market nonetheless, however. His aforementioned eye surgery provides a possible explanation for his struggles this season, and hope it can be corrected headed into 2023. Combined with his lengthy track record as an all star caliber bat and his reputation as a leader in the clubhouse, the procedure on his eye could give some teams enough confidence to offer Cruz a major league deal this offseason, though salary offers surely won’t come close to the $18MM guarantee he received with the Nationals in 2022.
Speculatively speaking, a reunion with the Brewers or the Rangers this offseason could make some sense. Both teams are in dire need of added offensive firepower this season, but with the Brewers facing a massive arbitration class in 2022, and the Rangers also in dire need of rotation reinforcements, a low-cost flier on Cruz could make more sense than a splashier, more surefire addition. Another potential fit could be found with the Guardians, who have shocked most of the baseball world by beating out the White Sox and Twins for the AL Central title and have since knocked the Rays out of the postseason and stand tied with the Yankees 2 games into the ALDS. Despite the impressive season, the Guardians have struggled offensively this year, especially when compared to other postseason clubs. Having moved on from another DH-only righty slugger in Franmil Reyes earlier this season, and sporting an extremely youthful roster, Cruz’s veteran presence and potential with the bat could make sense. Given the Guardians are a franchise that rarely has the budget space available to make impact additions, the low price tag that will likely be attached to Cruz is another reason for Cleveland to be interested in the slugger.