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The latest Cruz free-agent rumors

MLB.com

Although he is approaching his 40s and spends most of his time at designated hitter these days, Nelson Cruz is still one of the top sluggers in the game and should draw plenty of interest on the free-agent market this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the veteran.

Although he is approaching his 40s and spends most of his time at designated hitter these days, Nelson Cruz is still one of the top sluggers in the game and should draw plenty of interest on the free-agent market this offseason.

Below you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the veteran.

Will Astros still target Cruz?
Dec. 17: With reports that Houston is nearing a two-year deal with Michael Brantley, what does that mean for its possible pursuit of Nelson Cruz?

The prevailing thought with regard to Cruz is that his market is limited by two very key factors. One, he's pretty much a full-time designated hitter at this stage of his career, so it's almost a certainty that only American League teams would be in play. And two, he's 38, so it's more likely that contending clubs would be interested, since he could fit their window to win now.

The first reason above is why just about every Cruz-related rumor so far has linked him to teams like the Rangers, White Sox, Twins, Rays and Astros. The second reason above is why the Rays and Astros -- two teams certainly ready to contend right away in 2019 -- might make the most sense of all.

If the Brantley deal is completed, he is likely to see time in left field, first base and DH for the Astros, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. That doesn't necessarily block Houston from going after Cruz. And indeed, USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reports the Astros are still pursuing Cruz even after the Brantley agreement.

Tyler White still looks like the Astros' leading candidate to DH. While he had an impressive late-2018 showing (.879 OPS across August and September), Cruz's power -- he has averaged over 40 homers with a 145 OPS+ the past five seasons -- would provide an upgrade to a lineup that was still good last year but took a step back after a historic '17.

Beyond that, Brantley and Cruz offer completely different offensive skill sets, with the former being a contact-oriented gap-to-gap hitter and the latter being a pure slugger. MLB.com's David Adler covered just this topic, writing: "As great as the Astros have been, two of the things their offense could use most are a prototypical masher and a reliably productive designated hitter. Or, to put it another way, one of the things the Astros' offense could most use is Cruz.

"In both 2017 and '18, the DH spot was not Houston's strength. Carlos Beltran was the team's primary DH in '17, and he posted a 77 Weighted Runs Created Plus in that role -- 100 is MLB-average production, so Beltran was 23 percent below average as a DH. This past season, Evan Gattis had the most at-bats at DH, and he had a 99 wRC+. For '19, the Astros' best current option looks like Tyler White, who was excellent in limited DH games in August and September. But White is no Cruz.

"Cruz's wRC+ in 144 games as a DH in 2018 was 134. In 155 games at DH in '17, it was 147. Combined over the two seasons, Cruz posted a 141 wRC+ at the DH position."

Tweet from @BNightengale: The #Astros still have interest in signing Nelson Cruz, too

Houston eyeing Brantley, Cruz
Dec. 15: The rotation arguably remains the Astros' biggest area of need, but the club is reportedly looking into offensive upgrades as well. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Houston is talking to free agents Michael Brantley and Nelson Cruz and may try to sign both of them.

Houston is open to trading Josh Reddick, but Rosenthal reports that the club "developed little traction" when trying to move him earlier this offseason. Reddick, who is owed $13 million in each of the next two seasons, posted a .718 OPS in 2018. A Reddick trade would allow the team to fit both Brantley and top prospect Kyle Tucker (No. 5 overall, per MLB Pipeline), though Rosenthal notes that the concern of blocking Tucker won't necessarily prevent Houston from signing Brantley or even offering the 31-year-old a three-year deal.

As for Cruz, Rosenthal writes that "the Astros likely envision [the 38-year-old] as the kind of veteran stabilizer Carlos Beltran was during their run to the 2017 World Series title." Houston has an obvious opening at designated hitter, with Evan Gattis joining Cruz and Brantley on the free-agent market.

Are Rays out on Cruz?
Dec. 13: The Rays have been mentioned repeatedly in recent days as one of the teams after free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz for his right-handed power bat. Is that still the case?

Tampa Bay acquired Yandy Diaz from the Indians as part of a three-team deal also involving the Mariners that was completed Thursday afternoon and sent first baseman Carlos Santana to Cleveland and Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle. That could impact the Rays' pursuit of Cruz.

Despite underwhelming slugging numbers in his brief MLB career, Diaz -- unlike Jake Bauers, who the Rays also traded to the Indians in the deal -- is a righty hitter and offers defensive versatility at both corner infield positions.

"The key to this for us is how we feel about Yandy Diaz," Rays senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "He's a guy we've been on for a while. We really like his bat. He hasn't gotten an opportunity to show it regularly at the Major League level, just being blocked by some of the players the Indians have had. But we think there's a lot of upside there. He hits the ball to all fields, hits the ball really, really hard and has the chance to drive the ball more as he continues to mature as a hitter. ... And the fact that he's a right-handed hitter is a really good fit for our roster."

Indeed, the 27-year-old also has shown a knack for making hard contact in his young big league career, suggesting perhaps that he could be a late-blooming power hitter once given regular playing time, which escaped him in Cleveland. To wit, Diaz's average exit velocity of 92.1 mph last season was the 25th highest of all players with at least 50 batted balls in 2018.

If this trade does, in fact, take the Rays out of the running for Cruz, the veteran slugger's most likely destinations would appear to be the Twins, White Sox and possibly the Astros.

Tweet from @MLBNetwork: We have a deal!!!Here's the scoop on the Rays, Indians & Mariners' three-team deal highlighted by Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers from @Ken_Rosenthal on #HighHeat. pic.twitter.com/pTXV4azdSu

Cruz negotiations 'progressing'
Dec. 12: Nelson Cruz's negotiations toward a free-agent contract are "progressing" on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, but a deal isn't necessarily expected to happen Wednesday.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: Nelson Cruz free-agent negotiations are "progressing," but a deal is not expected today. #Twins, #Rays and at least one more team are still involved in the talks. @MLB @MLBNetwork

The Rays and Twins, who have emerged as two of the chief suitors for Cruz in recent days, still are both involved in the talks, per Morosi. So is at least one other mystery team. Which team could that be? Besides Tampa Bay and Minnesota, other clubs that likely would be in on Cruz include the Astros and White Sox.

The Rays' reported two-year, $30 million contract with righty Charlie Morton shouldn't preclude the club from staying in the hunt for Cruz, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who says the veteran slugger "fits the Rays perfectly."

Tweet from @JeffPassan: One free agent to keep an eye on: Nelson Cruz, who fits the Rays perfectly. With a lefty-heavy lineup (Kiermaier, Meadows, Wendle, Bauers) and need for power, Rays see Cruz fitting with a short-term, high-impact deal. Cruz's history of production is leading him to seek two years.

The small-market club still has some financial resources to play with this offseason, and another short-term deal -- like the one for Morton -- makes sense for Cruz, too, especially at this stage of his career and given his limited market as a full-time designated hitter. 

Are Twins, Rays the front-runners for Cruz?
Dec. 11: Given Nelson Cruz's role as a full-time designated hitter at this stage of the 38-year-old's career, it's not surprising that the teams most linked to the slugger are in the American League. In recent days, the Rays, Twins, Astros and White Sox have emerged as the four likeliest landing spots, but is there a chance that batch of clubs has been whittled down even more?

Cruz's agent, Bryce Dixon, tells MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that there still are ongoing discussions with teams beyond the Twins and Rays.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Nelson Cruz���s agent, Bryce Dixon, tells me he���s talking with additional teams beyond the Twins and Rays. @MLB @MLBNetwork

That seems to throw a little cold water on an earlier report that Minnesota and Tampa Bay are the two front-runners for Cruz.

Tweet from @hgomez27: SOURCE: The race to sign DH Nelson Cruz is down to two teams - the #Twins and the #Rays.#ZDigital #ZDeportes @z101digital @ZDeportes

It's hard to tell, then, whether there has been any real development here. One thing does seem pretty clear, though: The number of clubs in the mix for Cruz likely can be counted on one hand.

These are the four primary suitors for Cruz
Dec. 10: Although Nelson Cruz became a free agent more than a month ago, his market doesn't seem to have changed all that much. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Rays, Astros and Twins are in on the slugger, and the White Sox possibly could be as well.

Tweet from @JonHeyman: #MNTwins are a new team in the mix for Nelson Cruz. The Goldy trade may have helped clarify things. Astros, Rays also in. White Sox possibly.

All along, those clubs have been viewed as four of the likelier suitors for the slugger, whose role as a full-time designated hitter limits the number of teams that could realistically sign him. The list became even smaller when his former team, the Mariners, opted to rebuild.

Of those suitors, the Rays have been linked to Cruz more than any other team, as the club has an opening at DH after waiving C.J. Cron (who was claimed by the Twins), seeks a right-handed slugger and can fit Cruz into its modest budget. The club has maintained a "running dialogue" with Cruz, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Tweet from @TBTimes_Rays: #Rays have maintained "running dialogue" and discussed some parameters with free-agent DH Nelson Cruz. Agent Bryce Dixon says Cruz very much interested, calls it "a perfect fit.'' BUT ... Cruz has 3-4 other teams interested, #Rays looking at other options besides a DH-only bat.

It's uncertain how aggressive Minnesota will be when it comes to Cruz, as La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the club prefers to rotate multiple players at the DH spot in 2019. Neal noted that the Twins could still pull off a surprise by signing the 38-year-old, but only if the price is right. To that end, MLB.com's Do-Hyoung Park reports there is "mutual interest" between the Twins and Cruz, who could provide a different look for an offense that hit 166 home runs (fourth fewest in the AL) in 2018.

Tweet from @dohyoungpark: According to source, there is indeed ���mutual interest��� between #MNTwins and Cruz, with DHs seeing MN as an attractive destination. Thad Levine said yesterday that Twins are comfortable with in-house options but see DH as possible way to improve/diversify lineup. https://t.co/I58mjb7myO

The Astros and the White Sox, meanwhile, also have an opening at DH, but the latter may view Cruz only as a fallback option if it can't land a bigger-name free agent.

Bowden: Rays should sign Cruz
Dec. 5: The Rays have been linked to free agent Nelson Cruz throughout the offseason as a club with money to spend, and former MLB general manager Jim Bowden writes Cruz could be a perfect fit in Tampa Bay in a column for The Athletic (subscription required). 

Bowden included Cruz to the Rays in a column listing the transactions he'd like to see completed by the end of Winter Meetings next week, suggesting a one- or two-year deal at $15 million per season for the 38-year-old slugger.

Cruz may be limited to American League clubs looking for a designated hitter, so the Rays may not have much competition to acquire him with only the Rangers, Twins and Astros among possible destinations.

Cruz's veteran presence could benefit a developing Rays team, Bowden says, and he fits their need for a middle-of-the-order bat as he's hit 37 or more home runs for five consecutive seasons.

Nelson Cruz