PITTSBURGH — When Oneil Cruz underwent surgery after fracturing his left ankle on Apr. 9, the initial prognosis suggested that he could return to action at some point around early-to-mid August.
Here we are, with that timeframe already behind us, and Cruz still isn’t close to returning.
Pirates Director of Sports Medicine Todd Tomczyk informed reporters at PNC Park on Wednesday that Cruz’s rehab has “plateaued” due to general foot soreness.
While Tomczyk didn’t seem too confident Cruz could return this season for the Pirates, he also didn’t completely rule it out.
“That’s going to be challenging due to the days left on the calendar, not only the season but just how we feel when he’ll potentially re-engage in running,” Tomczyk said. “So, too tough to tell right now. But, I think we’re running out of days and we’re continuing to have discussions with Ben (Cherington) and (Derek Shelton) and (Cruz), notably. But, he remains upbeat, that’s for sure. Think you’ll continue to see him smiling. And he wants to push through this and get back to playing as soon as he can.”
Considering where the Pirates are right now combined with how valuable of a player Cruz is to the team’s future, it should be a no-brainer.
Oneil Cruz should not play again this season.
As exciting and dynamic of a player that he is, it is for those two reasons that the Pirates shouldn’t try and get him back on the field in a black and gold uniform until spring training rolls around.
After falling to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday at PNC Park, the Pirates are 57-70 and in fourth place in the National League Central. They are 13 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and are nine games behind a potential Wild Card sport.
If the Pirates were in position to be fighting for a playoff spot, maybe… MAYBE, you try and get Cruz back for however many games you can, but that’s not a reality.
Even then, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable in getting him back on the field if I was in the Pirates’ shoes with Cruz coming off of this kind of traumatic injury.
As they have been for much of the last 30 years, the Pirates are playing for the future.
Well, Cruz is a major piece of that future. The 6-foot-7 unicorn of a shortstop can do a little bit of everything. He has elite speed to pair with an elite arm. He can also hit the ball harder and further than just about anyone in the game.
The 24-year-old Cruz is far too important to the Pirates’ future to risk compromising for a short stint in the present.
As the current wave of prospects start to establish themselves at the major league level this year, the Pirates are poised to make a jump next year and start to once again contend after a lengthy rebuild.
Cruz means a heck of a lot more to those 2024 Pirates than the 2023 club, so why rush him back? Play it safe and play it smart.
It would be a tough pill to swallow for Cruz. It would be tough on those fans who want to see him back in action at PNC Park before next season.
It’s still the right move — for the future of Oneil Cruz and for the future of the Pirates.