New York Mets News

What Could Have Been – Nelson Cruz

By Unknown author

As much as I love the Mets, the franchise has made a plethora of questionable moves over the years. While the infamous Tom Seaver trade has often been labeled as the “worst trade in Mets history,” there have also been many other minor moves here and there that I’m sure the organization wishes they could call “backsies” on. “What Could Have Been” will be an on-going series which will take a look back at these unfortunate transactions. Today, I will examine the trade that sent former Mets signee and current Texas Rangers star, Nelson Cruz, to the Oakland Athletics in 2000.

Before Nelson Cruz was swatting home runs for the Rangers, he was just an 18 year-old amateur free-agent signing by the Mets out of Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. The Mets were obviously intrigued by youngster’s raw power and speed skills, so they signed him to an amateur contract in 1998. Much to the chagrin of Mets fans everywhere, his stint with the Mets would only last two years.

In 2000, the Mets were not only in the playoff hunt, but also on the road to the World Series. They had already made a trade in July to replace the injured Rey Ordonez with veteran shortstop, Mike Bordick (the Mets traded Melvin Mora in that deal, which could very well be another “What Could Have Been”), but they weren’t done dealing. Whether or not the Mets were unimpressed with the play of backup infielders Kurt Abbott and Joe McEwing is uncertain, but nevertheless, they dealt for 25 year-old infielder, Jorge Velandia of the Oakland Athletics. In return, the A’s netted 20 year-old Nelson Cruz. Velandia did little for the Mets in 2000, recording no hits and 2 BB’s in 9 PA’s. The light-hitting infielder went on to post a dismal .164/.288/.239 line from 2001-2003 in blue and orange, eventually signing with the Atlanta Braves as a free-agent.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cruz’s first two seasons in the A’s system were more inspiring, posting a .268 BA, .289 OB, .400 SLG, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 34 R, and 18 SB in 325 PA’s. There were certainly inklings of that raw power and speed the Mets saw in the D.R., but it wasn’t until 2003 that Cruz starting coming into his own. At Single-A, Cruz posted his first 20 HR/10 SB season, despite also having a .238/.292/.430 line. However, in 2004 (in A/AA/AAA), Cruz found some plate discipline, and it resulted in a .326 BA, .390 OB, .562 SLG, 26 HR, 100 RBI, 109 R, and 16 SB season.

From 2005 to 2008, Cruz averaged a .314/.385/.597 line with 25 HR, 75 RBI, 68 R, and 15 SB per season in the minors–even featuring a 37 HR feat in 2008. He was also included in two separate trades, being paired with Justin Lehr to the Brewers for Keith Ginter in 2004, and again in 2006, this time with Carlos Lee to the Rangers for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero. Despite owning 610 PA’s in the majors from 2005 to 2008, Cruz didn’t become a full-time starter for the Rangers until 2009, when he was 28 years-old.

From 2009-2010, Cruz emerged as an elite hitter in the majors. He has averaged a .287 BA, .351 OB, .548 SLG, 28 HR, 77 RBI, 68 R, and 18 SB as a starting right-fielder for the Rangers. Although his HR total dipped from 33 to 22 HR in 2010, it was mostly due to frequent hamstring injuries he incurred throughout the season. Despite the power slide, he still managed to post a better BA (from .260 to .318), OB (from .332 to .374), and SLG (from .524 to .576) in 2010.

Even though the New York Mets outfield is set with Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan, one has to think that if Nelson Cruz was still on the Mets roster, that he’d somehow find a way to do damage.