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.
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.
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."
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.
That seems to throw a little cold water on an earlier report that Minnesota and Tampa Bay are the two front-runners for Cruz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What might be the exact date Cruz signs?
Dec. 4: Given the limited needs in the designated hitter market, his 38 years of age and the throng of other coveted players available in this year's loaded free-agent class, the market for Cruz may take some time to manifest.
In a detailed post for Cut4, Jordan Shusterman of Cespedes Family BBQ looks back at the top 50 free agents of each of the last 10 seasons and created a speculative formula for dates that each free agent will sign.
He lists Cruz for Jan. 14.
"This is Round 3 on the open market for Cruz. Five Hot Stoves ago, he committed to the Orioles on Feb. 24, 2014, as one of the last top free agents to sign. A year later, he signed relatively early, agreeing to terms with the Mariners on Dec. 4, 2015. Look for a January signing this time around for the Boomstick -- Jan. 14, to be exact," Shusterman writes.
Cruz has been linked most prominently to the Rays, White Sox and Astros -- all of whom have needs more paramount than DH. As such, whether he signs with one of those three clubs or another, the dominos will likely need to fall before a more clear market for Cruz takes shape.
Making sense of a Cruz reunion in Texas
Dec. 3: Cruz may have played his most formative years over the last four seasons in Seattle, during which he led the Majors with 163 home runs and was a three-time All-Star, but it was in Texas where the 14-year veteran made his mark. Could a reunion with the Rangers be in the cards? MLB Network's MLB Tonight panel weighed in recently.
Cruz was originally brought up by the Mets, A's and Brewers, but he spent nearly all of his first nine years in the Majors with the Rangers, and he was a critical cog for the club in their run to back to back American League pennants in 2010-11, winning the AL Championship Series MVP Award in 2011.
"I would love to see him go home," MLB Network analyst Ron Darling said. "Remember through some of their greatest times -- I know they lost two World Series in a row -- but that team was so good, so talented, and he was a big part of that."
Cruz will turn 39 on July 1, yet he still remains an elite hitter. Over the last two seasons, Cruz has posted an .889 OPS and averaged nearly 40 homers per season while driving in 216 RBIs. Fellow analyst Tom Verducci likened Cruz to another icon who played at a high level into his 40s.
"He's like a smaller David Ortiz," Verducci said. "The impact in the clubhouse and the fact that he hits now at 38 and he'll continue to hit. It's not like it's a charity signing. He'll help the team."
According to FanGraphs' Steamer projections, Cruz is on par for a 35-homer, 2.5-WAR season. That would be a huge for a Rangers club that will need to allocate the plate appearances that would've gone to Adrian Beltre, who retired last month. Should it sign Cruz, Texas may need to get creative in how it would utilize All-Star DH Shin-Soo Choo.
Rays are "big-name hunting." Is Cruz still an option?
Dec. 1: With money to spend and a flexible roster, the typically frugal Rays are "big-name hunting" this offseason, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with team officials talking about "exploring the top shelf" and "considering high-end upgrades."
Per Topkin, the club is looking at a wide range of options, including trade targets Paul Goldschmidt, J.T. Realmuto, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner, and free agent Nathan Eovaldi.
Nelson Cruz also remains a possibility, though the Rays will need to determine if the 38-year-old represents enough of an upgrade to make it worthwhile for the club to spend its resources on him.
While Cruz produced an .850 OPS overall last season, his mark vs. right-handed pitchers was .819 (.932 vs. LHP). As Topkin notes, Cruz may not be worth adding if he's not providing a significant upgrade vs. righties, especially as a full-time designated hitter who won't be contributing value on the defensive end.
Signing Cruz would likely mean a reduced role for multiple players from the group of Austin Meadows, Jake Bauers, Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi, who all bat from the left side. Tampa Bay may be better served spending big in another area and adding a less-expensive right-handed hitter who can play the field.
Granted, Cruz belted 37 homers in 2018 and is far more accomplished than any of those players, but the Rays front office needs to consider every angle given the team's limited budget.