Nelson Cruz going to the Washington Nationals on a one-year, $15 million contract is a bit of a surprising twist after rumors throughout Sunday that his likely destination was the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Diego Padres, so the signing leads to two questions:
1. What do the Nationals, a team that currently doesn’t look like a viable contender in the National League East, want with a 41-year-old designated hitter — 42 on July 1 — who hit .221/.279 /.438 in the second half in 2021?
2. Does the signing mean they have more moves to come to improve a team that went 65-97 last year — and now no longer has Max Scherzer?
As for the first question, Cruz did finish the 2021 season with 32 home runs with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays while batting .265/.334/.497, so his overall production remained very good. Still, that second-half declines is certainly worrisome, especially for a player his age, and perhaps the initial sign that Father Time is finally catching up to Cruz. If he does remain productive, however, Cruz gives the Nationals a good chance to have better-than-average numbers from the DH position: The majority of National League teams will probably end up rotating players through the DH slot, and recently we’ve seen a lot of American League teams struggle at the position due to a refusal to sign a full-time DH. Second, if Cruz is hitting and the Nationals are out of the playoff race, he is valuable trade bait. The Twins picked up a very good starting pitching prospect in Joe Ryan when they traded Cruz to the Rays, and the Nationals would look to do the same.