Padres make 1-year deal with veteran slugger Cruz official

January 23rd, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bob Melvin penciled in 13 names at designated hitter in the starting lineup last season. This year, San Diego is looking to rely heavily on just two veterans.

The Padres on Monday announced a one-year deal for 2023 with veteran . The 42-year-old slugger gives the Padres a right-handed-hitting DH complement to lefty-swinging Matt Carpenter, who signed a one-year deal last month. Cruz's contract is worth $1 million, a club source said. 

Cruz is poised to surpass Rickey Henderson as the oldest non-pitcher in Padres history. Henderson was 42 years, 286 days old on Oct. 7, 2001, when he collected career hit No. 3,000 in Tony Gwynn’s final MLB game. Cruz could match Henderson on April 13, when the Padres open a home series against the Brewers -- the club he made his MLB debut for in 2005.

(Relief pitcher Jesse Orosco is the oldest player in Padres history, at 46 years, 90 days, in 2003.)

For years, Cruz held Father Time at bay more effectively than almost any player in baseball history. A late bloomer who didn’t establish himself in the Majors until his late 20s, Cruz made up for lost time by bashing 292 home runs from ages 33-40 -- more than anyone other than Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Babe Ruth. He also earned five of his seven career All-Star selections in that time, as well as all four of his Silver Slugger Awards.

But things didn't go so smoothly in 2022, when Cruz turned 42 at midseason, making him MLB’s second-oldest hitter behind Albert Pujols. Cruz signed a one-year deal to provide the Nationals with middle-of-the-order thump and veteran leadership out of the DH spot, but things never really clicked offensively. In 124 games, Cruz hit just 10 home runs and batted .234/.313/.337, leaving him with a below-average OPS+ (90) for the first time since 2007.

It was a particularly tough second half for Cruz, who batted a mere .208/.290/.274 with three homers over his final 64 games as Washington sputtered to a last-place finish in the NL East.

Yet Cruz’s track record prior to 2022 still makes him an intriguing bat, even as he is limited strictly to DH duties. (His only action in the field since 2018 was seven innings at first base in ’21.) From 2019-21, he posted a .936 OPS, while his 89 homers tied for third in the Majors.

Padres general manager A.J. Preller knows Cruz from their time together with the Rangers. At the very least, Preller is counting on a veteran DH platoon to improve production at the position. The Padres’ revolving door at DH was midpack among MLB teams, slashing .238/.324/.394 with 21 home runs.

Should Cruz make the adjustments necessary to have a bounce-back season, Melvin would have more lineup flexibility to use the 37-year-old Carpenter in the field (presumably at first base) on days the manager wants both veterans in the lineup.

Originally signed by the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 1998, Cruz will be entering his 19th MLB season in 2023. His 459 career homers rank 39th on the all-time list, and he’ll enter 2023 second among active hitters, behind only Miguel Cabrera (507).