Ahead of their first season with a permanent universal DH, the Nationals made a big swing in free agency to address the position by signing veteran slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $15 million deal Sunday with a mutual option for 2023, according to multiple reports.
Cruz, 41, is a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger who’s been among the best power hitters in the sport for the last decade. Since his first All-Star season in 2009, no one has hit more home runs than Cruz’s 427. He’s remained a dangerous hitter even into his 40s, coming off a season in which he hit 32 homers for the Twins and Rays.
Nationals President and GM Mike Rizzo held a press conference Sunday in his first meeting with media since the MLB lockout began in early December. Before news of the Cruz signing broke, he talked about how the Nationals were planning to address the DH spot — a position new to the NL this season after being implemented by the freshly signed Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“We’re gonna see what’s out there in the market and I think that there’s the flexibility here that we have that we could bring in a DH-only type or have a hybrid at that position,” Rizzo said. “There’s different ways to attack the roster spot and the role and we’ll see what the market delivers to us to see what type of designated hitter we’re gonna use.”
The market evidently landed them Cruz, who immediately becomes the Nationals’ best form of lineup protection for young phenom Juan Soto. Cruz and Soto are both natives of the Dominican Republic; they spent some time together over the offseason, attending a charity baseball game in the DR that benefitted the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
Cruz was only the latest player to sign with the Nationals over the weekend, reportedly joining reliever Steve Cishek (one year, $1.75M) and utility infielder Ehire Adrianza (one year, $1.5M) on major-league deals. Washington also inked starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Aníbal Sánchez, outfielder Gerardo Parra and reliever Erasmo Ramírez to minor-league deals with invitations to spring training, per various outlets.