Jul 31, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz (17) hits a home run in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Oakland Athletics A Surprise Suitor For Free Agent Nelson Cruz

The Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are not surprisingly among the teams in pursuit of Texas Rangers’ free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The surprise is that the Oakland Athletics are also in the chase, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

The A’s once had Nelson Cruz, but let him go and he’s come back hurt them at times as a Ranger. Years ago, when Cruz was a teenage prospect, Billy Beane swapped utility infielder Jorge Velandia to the New York Mets to get Cruz.

Cruz never made it to the big leagues for Oakland before he was traded along with Justin Lehr to the Milwaukee Brewers in December 2004 for the immortal Keith Ginter, who came to the A’s and forgot how to hit … he was just .161/.234/.263 in 156 plate appearances for Oakland in 2005, with three homers and 25 RBI before he was sent to the minor leagues at age 29, never to return.

Cruz, meanwhile, was part sent along with Carlos Lee to the Rangers at the trading deadline in 2006.

It took awhile for Cruz to find his footing in the big leagues, but he broke out in 2009 with a 33-home run season and an All-Star berth.

He was an All-Star again last season, hitting 27 homers in a suspension-shortened campaign. He’s probably most well known for being a one-man wrecking crew in the 2011 American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, when he was 8-for-22 with six homers and 13 RBI in Texas’ six-game victory.

He’s a lifetime .268/.327/.495 hitter who strikes out a lot, but he would be the big bat Beane would like to add this winter.

He would give the A’s flexibility, if nothing else. If they stand pat, Cruz could become part of a four-outfielder/DH rotation with Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick. Or they could sign Cruz and look to deal Cespedes for pitching.

In his career, Cruz has been OK against Oakland, hitting .233/.285/.405 with 12 homers and 51 RBI in 95 games and 382 plate appearances. He’s been pretty bad at O.co Coliseum, where he is a lifetime .192/.248/.352 hitter in 202 plate appearances and 50 games, with six homers and 28 RBI.

How about against the rest of the AL West? Well, since you asked, here are his numbers against the other three divisional rivals (he’s never faced the Rangers):

vs. Houston Astros 33 138 12 32 .323/.370/.638
vs. Los Angeles Angels 106 418 25 69 .292/.345/.531
vs. Seattle Mariners 100 386 20 51 .262/.326/.496

Statistics from baseball-reference.com

The A’s have a reputation for being bargain hunters and chasing Cruz, who would cost Oakland its 28th overall choice in next June’s draft as well as the accompanying draft slot money because Cruz turned down Texas’ one-year, $14. 1 million qualifying offer.

But Beane chased Adrian Beltre when the slugging third baseman left the Boston Red Sox after the 2010 season, when he offered Beltre five years and $65 million before he was outbid by Texas (five years, $80 million with a vesting option for a sixth year at another $16 million).

Oakland wants a right-handed bat after declining Chris Young’s option, but this is a move few anticipated.

The only question: Did the Phillies giving Marlon Byrd two years and $16 million set the market for Cruz out of the A’s reach?

We shall see.

Tags: Free Agency MLB Nelson Cruz Oakland Athletics

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