Designated hitter Nelson Cruz is now a free agent after being released by the Padres earlier this week. The Blue Jays are looking for some more offense and have shown some interest in him, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.
Cruz, 43, has a long track record of success in his lengthy career, having launched 464 home runs while playing for the Brewers, Rangers, Orioles, Mariners, Twins, Rays, Nationals and Padres. However, his results have tapered off in recent years. He was still hitting well as recently as the first half of 2021, when he slashed .294/.370/.537 for a wRC+ of 142 with the Twins. But after he was dealt to the Rays, he hit just .226/.283/.442 for a wRC+ of 95 and hasn’t bounced back since. Between the Nationals last year and the Padres this year, he hit .237/.306/.352, 85 wRC+.
Despite that diminished production of late, it’s understandable why the Jays might be willing to take a shot on a bounceback. The right-handed hitter has generally fared better with the platoon advantage in his career, hitting .292/.378/.550 against lefties compared to .266/.329/.499 otherwise. He hasn’t hit well against either side here in 2023 but was fairly effective against southpaws last year, batting .248/.345/.383 for a wRC+ of 106.
The Blue Jays have been an above-average offensive club overall this year, with their collective batting line at .259/.326/.415, 107 wRC+. But against lefties, that line drops to .257/.325/.375 and a 96 wRC+. If the club feels Cruz can still contribute in that capacity, perhaps he could take the short side of a platoon. Cruz hasn’t played the outfield since since 2018 and only has eight career innings at first base, so he’s essentially only an option for the DH slot at this point of his career.
The Jays’ primary designated hitter is lefty Brandon Belt, who is hitting just .167/.250/.167 against southpaws this year. When the club has faced a lefty, they’ve generally given the start to either Alejandro Kirk or Danny Jansen, depending on who’s catching. Neither is an ideal platoon made for Belt right now. Jansen has reverse splits for his career, hitting just .189/.285/.391 against lefties, with an even worse showing this year. Kirk has hit southpaws well in his career but is struggling this year, batting just .208/.316/.229 against them.
Cruz is making a salary of $1MM this year, which the Padres remain on the hook for now that he’s been released. That means that the Blue Jays, or any club, could sign him and pay him only the prorated league minimum salary with that amount subtracted from what the Padres pay. With the trade deadline now two weeks away, Cruz could be given a bit of a window to see how he fares. If he can get back to anywhere near his previous form, it would be a nice buy-low move. If he can’t, he can be easily jettisoned at no financial cost and replaced with a deadline pickup of some kind.