Just over a week ago, the talk around the American League Central was all about the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox adding talent to a roster that was already able to compete for the division. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins were taking a more patient approach. They had inquired about a few big-name free agents, but there were no signings to announce.
That was until the Twins made a splash of their own with the addition of Andrelton Simmons last week. That move not only bolstered the bottom half of the Twins lineup but also stabilized a middle infield that had been struggling immensely for years.
Although Twins’ fans welcomed the Simmons acquisition, it still felt like something was missing.
That something was Nelson Cruz.
Although Cruz is 40 years old and his performance is bound to decline at some point, he feels a little different than a guy like Torii Hunter in the twilight of his career. Cruz is solely a hitter and has somehow shown no signs of slowing down, especially after hitting .303/.397/.595 in 185 at-bats last year. He has hit 57 home runs in 173 games since arriving in Minnesota. He must like those Minnesota threads almost as much as Twins’ fans enjoy watching him wear them.
In my life, I’ve only seen two players hit three home runs in a game that I’ve been at: Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz. That alone says a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, this Twins lineup still would have been well above average without Cruz, but any time you get a chance to sign a player of his caliber, you do it. Adding a guy to the heart of the order who can hit 40 bombs and hit for a .300 average (and near .400 OBP) is a rarity, and I am thrilled the Twins were able to get it done. Worst case, it’s only a one-year commitment for a guy who has already become a fan-favorite much like Hunter was during his final year in Minnesota.
Signing him for only one year, $13 million, was simply another job well done by Derek Falvey and Thad Lavine.
Much like with Simmons, adding Cruz allows Minnesota to focus on bringing up their young core in a timely manner while not putting too much pressure on them. The Twins have some less consistent players who they don’t have to rely on as much, namely, Miguel Sano, who has benefitted from Cruz’s mentorship.
Sano will look to return to form alongside his Dominican counterpart in 2021. Cruz has essentially become a player-coach and a perennial MVP candidate in the latter half of his career. Sano and Cruz will most likely share DH duties to bring power back to a position that has been so vital to the Twins’ success since the start of the 2019 season.
I love Sano, but if he gets into one of his strikeout slumps, it is necessary to have the flexibility to replace him in the lineup.
It also gives the Twins more depth from the right side of the plate, which has become even more important after Josh Donaldson battled a calf injury last season. It also allows Sano to move to third base if Donaldson misses time. The combination of Sano, Donaldson, and Simmons — and Luis Arraez in the utility role — should allow the Twins to field a strong lineup even when one or two guys are out due to injury.
Cruz now also gets another chance to advance past the first round of the playoffs with a Twins team that should be more than ready to make a push.
Minnesota now has the lineup they need to compete for a championship, but it’s been their defense and pitching that has doomed them late in recent years. If the Twins can add one or two more of the remaining bullpen arms (Shane Greene, Alex Colome, or Mark Melancon, for example) to go alongside their new Gold Glove shortstop, watch out for this team in October.