Everybody knew Nelson Cruz was getting traded as the Minnesota Twins approached the trade deadline. They were well out of the division race, and Cruz had given them nearly three years of elite production and helped transform the Twins into the Bomba Squad.
A 41-year-old who everyone knows is going to be traded doesn’t command much on the market. Even with Cruz’s production, the Twins would be lucky to get a contributor, let alone a lower-level prospect that could make the trade worthwhile.
Instead, they got Joe Ryan.
Nobody could have imagined that Ryan would be this good to start his major league career. Ryan has been perfect in 10 of the 12 innings he has pitched, and he hasn’t allowed a run in 11 of those 12 innings. In his second start, Ryan took a perfect game into the seventh inning.
Even if this is not the pitcher Ryan is going to be, the Twins got a steal for a 41-year-old designated hitter. But the bigger question is how the Twins were able to pull off this heist.
The first thing to consider is Cruz’s production. Unlike most aging players, Cruz is hitting like he was in the prime of his career. Since 2014, Cruz’s 290 home runs were the most among all major leaguers. This came during his age 33-40 seasons.
The next closest player was Nolan Arenado, who hit 255 home runs in that time frame. He did so during his age 23-30 seasons. Behind him were Mike Trout (248) and J.D. Martinez (239) who also posted these numbers during a significant portion of their 20s.
The numbers become more impressive when you go into other statistics. Cruz ranked seventh in slugging percentage (.553), and 11th in OPS (.914) over the past seven seasons, making him a professional hitter.
In other words, the Twins had what the Rays wanted. A small market team doesn’t have the resources to acquire Javy Báez, Kris Bryant, or any other big bats traded at the deadline. Instead, they look to buy high using their excellent minor league depth to acquire a player and move on the following winter.
Cruz not only fit what the Rays were looking for on the field but his financial numbers matched what they wanted off of it. Cruz was owed approximately $5 million at the time of the deal, making him an affordable alternative.
Of course, there aren’t many 41-year-olds on affordable deals who could help a team. The Rays were also in a situation where if they didn’t trade for Cruz, they could have wound up empty-handed.
Remember how things played out for the Twins throughout the 2000s? They had several teams capable of making a World Series run but never parted with their top prospects. They made the assumption that those players would become key pieces of the future and marched into the playoffs playing Nick Punto at second base or having Joe Mays as a third starter.
Considering the situation, Tampa Bay was willing to throw Ryan into the deal. He was dominant throughout his time in the Rays organization, going 15-8 with a 2.67 ERA and a 13.0 K/9 ratio. The overall numbers looked great but there were several red flags that made him a lesser prospect.
At 25 years old, Ryan could have been considered a pitcher on the fringe of the minor leagues. His low-90s fastball could have been another factor, although it plays up when he’s on the mound. With no sign of a secondary pitch, Ryan looked like a pitcher that could be destined for the bullpen and was expendable in the trade.
Even more impressive? Ryan wasn’t the only prospect in the deal. The Twins also acquired Drew Strotman, who could be on his way to the majors. He’s struggled with his control since landing in the Twins system, he’s also an advanced age prospect who could be a back-end or depth starter.
The Rays upped their offer because it put them ahead of other teams that were interested in trading for Cruz. The Twins played the system perfectly and could have at least one long-term starter to show for it.