THE NELSON CRUZ EXPERIENCE

Rangers OF Nelson Cruz has developed into a hitting machine with a flair for the dramatic as he has shined over the past two post-seasons. When you see the big bomber post an OPS of 1.019 under the playoff/Word Series spotlight (including 6 HRs in the 2011 ALCS alone), it is hard to imagine that Cruz’ road to the bigs had so many twists and turns. Here’s a look back at the various stops and transactions for Nelson Cruz.

SIGNED BY METS, TRADED TO A’S

Born in the Dominican Republic in 1980, Cruz was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent in 1998. After three years in the Dominican Summer League, the Mets shipped Cruz to the Oakland A’s for SS Jorge Velandia. Velandia ultimately got into 174 games over eight seasons with the A’s, Padres, Mets, Rays, Jays and Indians.

Cruz climbed through the A’s system until making it to AAA Sacramento in 2004. As he got more playing time and experience, his offensive numbers steadily rose. His slash line for 2004, playing on three levels from hi-A to AAA, was .326/.390/.562. (Only 14 of those PAs came in AAA Sacramento, the major damage was pretty evenly split between hi-A and AA).

TRADED TO BREWERS

On December 16, 2004, the A’s shipped Cruz to the Milwaukee Brewers, along with P Justin Lehr, for INF Keith Ginter. Ginter played the last of his six major league season in 2005, appearing in 51 games with a .497 OPS. Lehr appeared in 39 games for the Brew Crew over 2005 and 2006, then was out of the bigs till a one-year return with the Reds in 2009.

Cruz got into 8 games with the Brewers in 2005 but he would have to wait to establish himself on the big-league level. He would move between the majors and minors for the next three seasons.

SIX-PLAYER TRADE TO RANGERS

The Brewers and Rangers made a high-profile deal at the trade deadline in 2006 that saw Cruz end up in Texas. He joined slugger Carlos Lee as they were shipped to the Rangers for RP Francisco Cordero, OF Kevin Mench, OF Laynce Nix and minor league LHP Julian Cordero. Neither side got any magic in the deal as they both finished under .500, the Brewers in fourth place in the NL Central and the  Rangers in third place in the AL West.

Lee was a hot commodity as the trade deadline approached, and he continued to mash after joining the Rangers, but he left via free agency after the season and signed a huge contract with the Houston Astros.

Cruz played played regularly with the Rangers after the trade and posted a .223/.261/.385 line over 138 PAs.

Over in the National League, Cordero was solid in 28 appearances for Milwaukee, notching 16 saves and 10.1 K/9. He was even better in 2007 but left Milwuakee as a free agent and signed with Cincinnati before the 2008 season.

Mench played 141 games for the Brewers after the trade, with pedestrian offensive numbers down the stretch in ’06 and throughout ’07. He played 51 games with Toronto in 2008 and appeared in 27 more with Washington in 2010.

Nix gave the Brewers a grand total of 30 games from 2006-2008 before going to Cincinnati as a free agent. Julian Cordero never made it past A ball.

WITH RANGERS 2007 – PRESENT

Nelson Cruz got more major league playing time in 2007 but he didn’t make the major league roster out of spring training in 2008. Now 27 and out of options, he was DFA’d by the Rangers and then cleared waivers. Cruz played in 104 games with AAA Oklahoma City before his contract was purchased by the Rangers on August 25th. It was a strong finish with the emerging power on display as Cruz posted an OPS of 1.030 over 133 PAs.

2009 would be his breakout year with 128 games in the bigs, 33 HR and a line of .260/.332/.524. Playing mostly in RF with a little time in LF and at DH, Cruz found his power stroke and was in the major leagues to stay.

Hamstring trouble limited Cruz to only 108 games  in 2010 but the power remained, with 22 HR and 78 RBI. The Rangers made the World Series for the first time and the big bat came alive as he belted 6 HR over three post-season series. During the AL playoffs, he posted two stellar OPS numbers: 1.350 in the ALDS and 1.235 in the ALCS.

On January 18, 2011, the Rangers and Cruz avoided arbitration by agreeing on a 1-year/$3.65M contract. The slugger proved to be a bargain with a solid regular season (.263/.312/.509) and another stunning post-season. A 1-15 ALDS was quickly washed away by an eight-homer performance in the ALCS and World Series. Cruz was named ALCS MVP for his .364/.440/1.273 outburst that included six home runs. He finished the  ALCS with an OPS of 1.713 and bopped two more longballs in the losing World Series effort against St. Louis.

To date, Nelson Cruz has been through the hands of the Mets, A’s and Brewers and is now established with the Rangers. While the Rangers are realizing solid returns, they DFA’d him just three seasons ago. The teams that have traded him away have received Jorge Valendia, Keith Ginter, Francisco Cordero, Julian Cordero, Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench in return. Cordero’s an accomplished major leaguer, but the Brewers got him with the rest of the package in return for shipping Carlos Lee the other way. The rest of the players listed are marginal or worse.

At age 31 and in his second year of arbitration eligibility, both Cruz and the Rangers are proving to be big winners. His production has come cheaply so far and the Rangers have enjoyed the power hitter’s hot bat as they have gone to two straight Fall Classics. Those October/November homeruns are sure to show up in Cruz’ next contract as well.

Nelson Cruz major league stats
Nelson Cruz minor league stats
2010 SBNation.com story
Wikipedia page