It was a warm October night in Arlington, TX on October 10, 2011 when Nelson Cruz stepped up to the plate in the 11th-inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. Two-minutes later on a 1-2 count, the Texas Rangers outfielder hit one of the biggest home runs in franchise history — a walk-off grand slam off of Detroit Tigers reliever Ryan Perry to give his team a 2-0 lead in the series.
Five years earlier however, Cruz was a Milwaukee Brewer — until he wasn’t. The 26-year old prospect was thrown into a trade that sent him to Texas on July 28, 2006.
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The Rangers’ faithful will forever refer to it as the “Nelson Cruz trade”, but 15 years ago, it was actually the “Carlos Lee trade”.
Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin dealt Lee and Cruz to the Rangers in exchange for closer Francisco Cordero, minor-league hurler Julian Cordero and outfielders Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench.
Lee was one of the premium names available at that year’s trade deadline. In 102 games with the Brewers, the then 30-year old hit 28 home runs, while posting an OPS of .896.
The slugger was set to become a free agent after the 2006 campaign. And after hitting an additional nine home runs, while driving in 35 runs with Texas to wrap up the season, Lee did in fact hit the open market that winter.
An early blockbuster trade in the front-office career of then Texas Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels
15 years ago, Jon Daniels was not only a rookie general manager, but the youngest ever to occupy the position in the history of the league.
Even though Lee was considered the primary asset in the deal for Daniels, acquiring Cruz put an exclamation point on a trade that the rest of Texas’ brass must have felt good about.
The Texas Rangers were one game under .500 at the time of the deal. Nonetheless, the trade was made and represents one of the regrets the Brewers’ general manager has to this day.
“If I look back at it, I maybe could have made that deal without throwing Cruz in it,” Melvin told MLB.com in 2016 when asked about the trade. “I look back on that one.”
Nelson Cruz flipped the script in Arlington
Cruz appeared in six games for the Brewers before making his way to Arlington. The then 26-year old had already been traded twice in his career, and still had yet to hit his first big-league home run.
But in Texas, the script flipped for Cruz.
By 2009, the outfielder was an American League All-Star, given full-time duties by manager Ron Washington and hitting in the heart of the Rangers’ order.
July 28, 2021 marks the 15th year anniversary of the Cruz trade to Texas. Currently playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, the former Rangers outfielder and designated hitter will always be known as one of the substantial pieces that Daniels’ acquired early in his front-office career.
In the spirit of trade season, let’s hope we can find the next great Texas Rangers player at this year;s deadline.