Soto helps recruit Cruz to Nationals: 'Let's do something special'

March 17th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A phone conversation with All-Star slugger Juan Soto rang true to Nelson Cruz.

“'Come here. Let's do something special. Let's win,'" Cruz summarized.

On Thursday, Cruz was announced as the newest member of the Nationals on a one-year contract. The deal is worth $12 million, with a $16 million mutual option for 2023, a source told's Mark Feinsand.

Cruz, 41, enters his 18th Major League campaign ranked third among active players in home runs (449), and he is the leader in dingers (292) since the start of the 2014 season. Since making his debut on Sept. 17, 2005, Cruz has accumulated a career slash line of .277/.346/.527 with an .873 OPS for the Brewers, Rangers, Orioles, Mariners, Twins and Rays. He has earned seven American League All-Star selections ('09, '13-15, ‘17-18, ‘21), four AL Silver Slugger Awards (‘15, ‘17, ‘19-20) and ‘11 AL Championship Series MVP honors with Texas.

“When you see a guy like that, it’s just amazing,” Soto said. “You’re just seeing a Hall of Fame player.”

Cruz has made his mark with his bat and his presence. Last season, he received the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award for character and community involvement as well as the Twins’ Bob Allison Award for on- and off-field leadership, even though he was traded to the Rays in July. Cruz sets an example all players can learn from, an invaluable asset to the continually growing leadership of 23-year-old Soto.

“I love to help,” Cruz said. “Any way that I can reach a guy -- it doesn’t necessarily have to be a position player, it could be a pitcher -- anything that I see on or off the field, I love to help.”

That approach was exhibited hours into Cruz’s first day of camp with the Nationals. Cruz noticed Erick Fedde was tipping a pitch during his at-bat in live batting practice, and he approached Fedde to relay what he saw. It was a small glimpse into why manager Dave Martinez is encouraging players to study Cruz’s daily approach to the game.

“It’s going to be really good having him around, because he does pay attention to the details like that,” said Martinez.

Cruz received offers from other teams before the lockout, and he wanted to wait for the ruling on the universal designated hitter before deciding. The Nationals, he said, were “always there.” Among the factors, Cruz was drawn to the balance of veterans and young talent, to playing for Martinez and to hitting alongside Soto.

“At the end of the day, I think I made the right call,” Cruz said.

And about that call between Cruz and Soto: It was clear then that goals and outlooks could align.

“[I told him] that we’re a really good group, that we stick together, that we’re going through everything together -- it doesn’t matter if it’s going good or bad. We try not to be selfish,” Soto said.

“He was the same way, he said he was on the same page.”