Two Triple-A right-handers who ranked among the better prospects in the Rays’ pitching-rich system might sound like a steep price for a rental hitter, even one as gifted as Nelson Cruz. But, as always, the Rays have more pitching coming. According to major-league sources, they jumped on Cruz eight days before the trade deadline, in part, because they sensed pressure from other clubs, including a most surprising suitor — the Padres.
Cruz, 41, has not played a defensive position since 2018, but the Padres wanted him even though, as a National League team, they play without a DH. Multiple Padres players reached out to Cruz to relay the team’s interest in the past week, and Padres officials had inquired about Cruz’s past practice of taking grounders at first and second base, sources said.
The Padres, while not the only NL team to express interest in Cruz, made the most serious push of those clubs, according to an official with knowledge of the discussions. Cruz, who has played only outfield in his 17-year major-league career, would have been used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. The Padres have only four road games left against AL clubs, limiting the extent of Cruz’s DH opportunities.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller, however, was familiar with Cruz from their days with the Rangers, and saw the chance for a major upgrade to his bench. The Rays, valuing Cruz not just for his offensive ability but also for his clubhouse presence, moved quickly to complete the deal on Thursday rather than risk getting out-bid.