With just under a week to go before the 2021 MLB trade deadline, the Twins front office turned on the hot stove by trading designated hitter Nelson Cruz to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 41-year-old Cruz spent the last two and a half seasons with the Twins, amassing an incredible .984 OPS, 76 homers and 191 RBI in just 258 games. He was also a leader in the clubhouse and a ‘dad’ to Miguel Sano.
In return, Minnesota received pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman from Tampa Bay, who were ranked 10th and 17th on the Rays MLB prospect pipeline, respectively. Both are right-handed starters who have spent the season in AAA-Durham, and could potentially be in the back of the Twins’ rotation going into next season. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Minnesota General Manager Thad Levine and President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey moved quickly on the deal, due in part to the “return being better than they envisioned.”
While Ryan and Strotman will begin their time in the Twins organization with AAA-St. Paul, Falvey says that both pitchers are just about MLB ready. Ryan is currently on Team USA for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, but amassed 75 strikeouts in 57 innings and a .079 WHIP with Durham in 2021. Strotman is 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in AAA this season, although he’s been privy to walking his opponents at a 3.4/per 9 inning clip, and a 1.52 WHIP.
While it made business sense to deal Cruz, and the Twins’ 2021 season likely all but over, not many were sure the Twins were going to make the move – including Cruz himself.
“It was shocking. Even if you’re expecting something like this, you’re never prepared for this,” Cruz said about the trade during a press conference shortly before he was slated to start for the Twins on July 22nd.
But even with the struggles that the Twins have had this season, Cruz knows that the trade wasn’t personal.
“At the end of the day, we know that we love each other and we have a really good relationship,” said Cruz of Levine earlier in 2021, whom he also played under with the Texas Rangers.
Aside from perhaps ending his career with a World Series ring on the Rays, there may be some intrigue for Cruz to return to Minnesota. This upcoming week, the Twins have to very much set the tone for what kind of club they want going into 2022 – either by asserting this season was a fluke, or to start a rebuild of sorts.
While the extension talks with pitcher Jose Berrios have been stagnant, the Twins don’t seem particularly keen on moving him over the next week. They still have him under club control for one more season, at an arbitration-level price. At this point Minnesota seems to be retooling for one more title shot in 2022, unless of course another team decides to pay a king’s ransom for a player like Berrios.
After a failed attempt over the offseason at getting some reliable veteran pitching presence, such as the likes of recently DFA’d Matt Shoemaker, it’s a smart trade by the Twins front office to get some young pitching ready for the taste of the big leagues next year instead. So why not trade a rental player for said pitching that also has a good chance of coming back?
“[Minnesota] is part of my family,” Cruz said. “I’ve got a lot of friends that I love like family… Everything that I’ve been through the last three years, it really touched me… We’ll see what happens next year.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz arrives back at Target Field come winter. Meanwhile, we’ll wait and see how else Levine and Falvey bolster the roster for next year with other expiring contracts over the next week.
Well played, Thad and Derek.
(Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn)