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Nelson Cruz: coveted 40-year-old free agent

Nelson Cruz is still a productive player, but with no DH in the National League, his options are limited. 

Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Nelson Cruz doesn’t seem to really age. He’s been a productive, consistent player going back over a decade. At the age of 40, Cruz has suited-up for five teams over his 15 year career, and he’s been productive for each of those teams.

Entering the 2019 season, the Twins signed Nellie to a two-year deal, where he posted all-star numbers totalling 6.3 fWAR in 173 games between a full 2019 and a COVID-shortened 2020. His 2020 walk rate ended up being his best since 2008, and his isolated slugging in both years with the Twins were career-highs.

Cruz settled-in beautifully in his new home in Minnesota. In two seasons, he posted an impressive slash line of .308/.394/.626, and he masked 57 home runs in only 173 games. He finished in the top-ten in MVP voting both years, at ages 39 and 40, respectively.

While he has yet to hit the downside slope of the aging curve, at this point of his career, Cruz is a one-dimensional player. He’s no longer the speedy baserunner nor speedy outfielder he once was, and at this point in his career, he’s basically confined to starting at the designated hitter slot, which will limit his free agency options.

Though it’s mid-December, MLB has yet to publicly announce whether or not the National League will play with the designated hitter, though just this week there are reports circulating that the National League will forego adding the DH for at least another season. With a free agency class that includes several bat-first or bat-only players, including Cruz, Adam Duvall, Marcell Ozuna, and Kyle Schwarber, it’s not a surprise the hot-stove has yet to be effectively turned-on.

At Cruz’ age, it’s unreasonable to think he’s going to be lining himself up for a multi-year, hundred-million dollar deal, but a one-year contract with an option or something similar is likely where he lands. It’s doubtful he’d sign a contract before the league announces whether or not the National League will use a DH, simply because the number of suitors will either be doubled or cut-in-half.

Cruz has been linked with several teams this offseason, including staying in Minnesota, which frankly, is probably the more obvious place for him to land, especially considering his publicly-expressed desire to stay in Minnesota. In September, Cruz said that he’d like a multi-year deal in Minnesota.

here’s not really much of a rush to sign, so don’t expect Cruz to land anywhere before it’s clear whether or not the DH will be in both leagues. The teams that could use a bat-first DH type player like him include the Twins, the White Sox, and perhaps the Blue Jays in the AL (provided Toronto wanted to upgrade from Rowdy Tellez). In the NL, the Braves could use another bat as could the Giants.

Regardless of where he lands, Cruz will be a productive player at the plate, and hopefully can keep-up the firepower he’s shown as a slugger in his late-30s and early-40s. He’s a fun player to watch, and will impact any offense positively.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano