Long before he became one of the league’s top sluggers and a postseason hero Nelson Cruz was passed over by every team in baseball, including the Rangers. His journey to playoff stardom is pretty remarkable, actually.
Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old by the Mets in 1998. Two years later they traded him to the A’s for journeyman backup infielder Jorge Velandia.
He spent four years in Oakland’s minor-league system, emerging as a good prospect, at which point the A’s traded Cruz to the Brewers for Keith Ginter. He spent two years in Milwaukee’s system, making his big-league debut in September of 2005, but then the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in a six-player swap that included Carlos Lee and Francisco Cordero as the big names.
Cruz played 41 games with the Rangers in 2006 and another 96 games in 2007, but hit just .231 with a .664 OPS. In the spring of 2008 he was out of minor-league options and the Rangers didn’t want to keep Cruz on the Opening Day roster, so they designated him for assignment, dropped him from the 40-man roster, and placed him on waivers.
Any of the other 29 teams could have claimed him for $20,000 … but they didn’t. Cruz passed through waivers unclaimed, at which point the Rangers assigned him to Triple-A for the first five months of the 2008 season. He finally earned a call-up in late August and went on to hit .330 with seven homers and a 1.030 OPS in 31 games down the stretch, forcing his way into the Rangers’ plans.
And the rest is history, as Cruz has hit .283 with 91 homers and an .885 OPS in 391 regular season games and .281 with 10 homers and a 1.027 OPS in 24 playoff games for the Rangers since going unclaimed and making his way back from Triple-A in late 2008.
Cruz didn’t make his big-league debut until age 25 and didn’t become a regular in the majors until age 28, but his minor-league performance was screaming out for opportunities before then. He didn’t thrive immediately in the majors, but Cruz hit .313 with 87 homers and a .996 OPS in 326 total games at Triple-A. He just needed an extended chance to prove those Triple-A numbers were no fluke and it took three trades and all 30 teams deciding he wasn’t worth a roster spot before that happened.
Last week Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart revealed that he was interested in signing free agent reliever Tyler Clippard and now Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the two sides have “made progress toward a deal.”
Piecoro notes that by trading Aaron Hill and his remaining contract to the Brewers the Diamondbacks created a bit of payroll flexibility that they could use to sign Clippard.
Clippard has a long history of excellent work as both a setup man and closer, but his raw stuff and secondary numbers have declined even though his ERA remained very good at 2.92 last season for the A’s and Mets. His strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 8.1 per nine innings, which is drop of about 25 percent from 2009-2014.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com just reported that Yulieski Gurriel & Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who are brothers, reportedly defected and will be seeking MLB deals. There aren’t any details yet, but Sanchez will be updating with a full story that we’ll link here when he has it. UPDATE: Here it is.
Yulieski is a 31-year old third baseman and, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler he was the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. He was one of the Cuban players who was permitted to play in Japan recently, and he just put up a .305/.349/.536 season with 11 homers in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars and has continued to rake in Cuba. He is likely major league ready right this instant. He’d be an unrestricted free agent given his age and team’s signing him would not be subject to international bonus pool limits.
Lourdes is only 22 years old. He’s hit .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances and Badler thinks he has 20-homer potential in the majors one day. He’s currently a shortstop, but is probably destined for a corner. He is young enough to where he would be subject to bonus pool limits. Several teams have already exceeded those limits for the current signing period, limiting the number of teams who could sign him. If, however, it takes MLB a long time to clear him as a free agent — and with immigration issues and the like, that’s very possible — he may not be eligible to be signed until next year, which could bring some other teams into the fold.
Right-hander Craig Stammen, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, is expected to sign with the Indians.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Indians “hope to finalize a deal” with Stammen today, adding veteran depth to the bullpen. It’ll likely be a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Stammen missed nearly all of last season following elbow surgery and the Nationals non-tendered him, but he’s scheduled to be ready for spring training. After struggling as a starter early in his career he’s posted a 3.02 ERA in 280 innings out of the bullpen, so if healthy it’d be a nice addition for Cleveland.
For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.
This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.
This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.
As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.