One of the most imminent moves of the trade deadline happened on Thursday when the Minnesota Twins traded Nelson Cruz to the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s a lost season for the Twins, so it made sense to trade the 41-year-old to a contender in order to restock their pitching and make a move in 2022.
The return looks good, but fans can’t be certain that they’ve gotten two potential starters out of the deal. The Rays stay relevant by winning trades, so it’s only natural to think how this deal could go wrong.
However, there’s reason to believe that the Twins may have come away unscathed in their deal with the devil. Joe Ryan was dominant in the Rays organization in 2019, leading the minor leagues in strikeouts with 183 in 123.2 innings. Although he lost a year of development due to the pandemic, Ryan has continued to pitch well, going 4-3 with a 3.63 ERA for Triple-A Durham this season.
While Ryan was ranked 10th on MLB Pipeline’s list of Rays prospects, Drew Strotman was ranked 17th. However, he offers a similar floor thanks to a strong fastball. Strotman has gone 7-2 with a 3.86 ERA at Triple-A this season but his control needs a little work.
Although they acknowledge that both players have flaws, the Twins believe that Strotman and Ryan are close to being ready for the majors. That’s great news for a team that needs starters in the worst way. However, any trade with the Rays has to come with some trepidation.
A list of Tampa Bay’s best trades in franchise history tells us one thing: They love to deal prospects. And when they make a trade, they rarely wind up on the wrong side of history.
The Twins should know this all too well. Back in 2007, the Twins traded Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eddie Morlan in exchange for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. The Twins got a headcase in Young while the Rays got the foundation of a team that would win the American League Pennant the following season.
The Rays also have a way of acquiring players only to find a way to turn them into more talent. Garza declined after his first couple of seasons with the Rays, so he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with Zachary Rosscup and Fernando Perez for Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer.
What appeared to be loose change at the time of the transaction turned out to be a big victory for Tampa. Archer became one of the game’s best young hurlers and was one of MLB’s most coveted trade chips. When the time was right, the Rays cashed in again, sending Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, adding key elements for another World Series team.
Here’s another example. Randy Arozarena appears to be another find by Tampa’s scouting department. The Rays acquired Jose Martinez and Arozarena in a deal that sent top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to the St. Louis Cardinals before last season, and. Arozarena went bonkers for the Rays last October.
Looking up and down the list, the Rays have consistently fleeced Major League Baseball. In 2004, the Rays turned Victor Zambrano into Scott Kazmir. In 2006, the Rays turned Aubrey Huff into Ben Zobrist. In 2012, the Rays acquired James Shields for Wil Myers and flipped him to the Padres two years later.
As the kids say, “They don’t miss.”
So there’s reason to be optimistic about what the Twins got in return for Cruz. If Cruz re-signs with the Twins this offseason, there’s an even bigger reason to think that they could have won this trade. But the Rays know what they’re doing, so don’t be surprised if Cruz helps them win a title and neither player becomes a superstar. It’s the nature of dealing with the devil.