Report: Nelson Cruz to sign with Nationals, journey to the NL alongside DH role

The designated hitter is coming to the National League, and so is the position’s contemporary standard-bearer — Nelson Cruz.

The 41-year-old Cruz has agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with the Washington Nationals, per the Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. The deal includes a mutual option for 2023.

Well-traveled and uber-respected, Cruz had his market of suitors expanded by the universal DH in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement. Still in pursuit of his first World Series ring after two close calls with the Texas Rangers in 2011 and 2012, the most eyebrow-raising part of the deal is not his role, but the team he chose to sign with. The Nationals have one of the game's best players in Juan Soto, but embarked on a rebuilding effort at the trade deadline when they shipped Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

What seemed like the twilight of Cruz’s career when he departed Texas for Baltimore in 2014 has turned into a glorious second act. He has bashed 292 homers in those eight seasons, and clocked an OPS at least 30% better than the league average hitter in every campaign. Overall, he’s now at 449 homers, probably two seasons from the 500-homer club and a better shot at Cooperstown.

Despite his advancing age, Cruz has remained largely healthy. To each team he joins — a list that has most recently included the Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays — he brings a sense of veteran gravitas, mentorship and his own personal staff whose helpful influence is respected around the game.

Alongside Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, Cruz was one of the top DH options on the market when the lockout ended. Waiting out the labor situation allowed him to consider NL teams.

Cruz's 17-year career started in the NL, but only briefly. He played eight games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 before they traded him to the Rangers alongside Carlos Lee in a deal that sent back Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. He's played in the AL ever since.

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 07:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning during Game 1 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday, October 7, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 07: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning during Game 1 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday, October 7, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)