The Padres have released designated hitter Nelson Cruz, according to his transactions tracker at MLB.com. He was designated for assignment a week ago and the club was apparently unable to line up a trade in the meantime. He would have been able to elect free agency if he cleared waivers, so the Friars had little choice but to send him back to the open market.
Cruz, 43, had a lengthy run as one of the best sluggers in the game but has been far less effective over the past two years. From 2009 through 2020, he hit 395 home runs and batted .280/.350/.538 overall for a wRC+ of 137, indicating he was 37% better than the league average hitter.
He initially carried that production into 2021 as well, as he carried a batting line of .294/.370/.537 and a wRC+ of 142 through 85 games with the Twins. At that point, he was flipped to the Rays but couldn’t maintain that performance, hitting just .226/.283/.442 for a wRC+ of 95 with Tampa. He signed with the Nationals last year but couldn’t get back on track, slashing .234/.313/.337 for a wRC+ of 85. Cruz hoped that eye surgery at the end of last year would help him get back in form in 2023 but he’s just just .245/.283/.399 with the Padres, translating to a wRC+ of 85 that matches last year’s figure.
Cruz is effectively just a designated hitter at this point in his career. The last time he played the outfield was back in 2018, and even that was just four games. He played one game at first base with the Rays in 2021, playing the field for seven innings, and logged just a single inning at first for the Friars this year. With those defensive limitations, he needs to hit to justify his roster spot and hasn’t been able to do so for a couple of years now.
The Padres and Cruz agreed to a $1MM salary in the offseason, with just under half of that still to be paid out. It seems no club was willing to take that on, so the Padres will remain on the hook for it by releasing him. That will allow any of the 29 other clubs to bring him aboard while paying him just the prorated league minimum, with that amount subtracted from what the Friars pay. As mentioned, he has been struggling since the middle of 2021, but perhaps some club is willing to take a shot on his previous track record, especially since the financial risk would be essentially nonexistent.