Twins

The Twins Don't Need To Bring Back Nelson Cruz

Photo Credit: David Dermer (USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Twins fans should have fond memories of Nelson Cruz. His arrival in 2019 transformed the Twins into the Bomba Squad on the field and created a 24-inch nightmare for concession workers off it. Cruz has the highest OPS in team history, and his leadership helped engineer back-to-back American League Central championships.

Cruz’s tenure in Minnesota ended when they traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays last July, but he is now a free agent. His availability is enough for some fans to dream of a reunion, but it’s best if the Twins let someone else take the risk.

Like we mentioned, Cruz had a monstrous impact on the Twins. There will always be a spot for you in the lineup when you have an OPS higher than Harmon Killebrew in a Twins uniform. But this isn’t about what Cruz brings to the field. It’s about where the Twins are off it.

When Cruz was signed, the Twins were looking to become division contenders. With a young nucleus of players coming up, he was the missing piece to offer more protection in the lineup, and several stars benefitted.

It’s hard to imagine that Jorge Polanco becomes an All-Star shortstop without Cruz in the lineup. The same is true for Max Kepler, who hit a career-high .252 and smashed 36 homers in 2019. Even Miguel Sanó eluded his all-or-nothing ways to post a monster season hitting behind Cruz.

In a lot of ways, Cruz was Minnesota’s version of Reggie Jackson. He was the straw that stirred the drink.

But last year, the Kool-Aid went sour. The Twins offense still produced plenty of power, ranking fifth in the majors in home runs. However, they couldn’t produce the same rallies that made them dangerous on a nightly basis. This was especially true in April when the entire team seemed to be thrown off by a COVID outbreak in the clubhouse.

With the Twins unable to consistently perform at the plate, they couldn’t bail out their pitching staff and were out of contention before the calendar turned to June.

It’s easy to believe that Cruz’s presence could help in that process, but the final two months paint another picture. Josh Donaldson and Sanó stepped up in a big way, and the Twins were a .500 team mainly due to the poor performance of the pitching staff. Even the return of Byron Buxton helped as he’s developed the type of power that made Cruz a star in Minnesota.

But it’s how the team is constructed next season that may make Cruz the odd man out. The Twins have plenty of quality hitters on the roster, and more could be on the way. Although they may decide to trade a player or two to add pitching, guys like Alex Kirilloff, Jose Miranda, and Trevor Larnach could benefit from having the designated hitter spot open.

This is especially true in the infield, where Donaldson’s calves have become a ticking time bomb. Set to turn 36 in December, Donaldson probably can’t play third base every day and may need to use the designated hitter spot to stay in the lineup. That becomes more difficult when Cruz can’t play in the field, potentially leaving the Twins in a challenging situation.

There’s also the fact that Cruz wasn’t the same player when he got to Tampa Bay. Cruz hit just .226/.283/.442 with 13 homers in 55 games with the Rays. While that could be due to a battle with COVID-19, it could also have to do with his age.

Twins fans have been dreading the worst with Cruz over the past couple of seasons, but they were lucky enough never to see the side effects of Father Time. That could drive his price down in free agency, but enough teams will look at a player who has smashed 30 or more bombs over his last seven full seasons and give him a lucrative one-year deal. This becomes even more complicated if the National League adopts the designated hitter in the new collective bargaining agreement.

It brings up an interesting question for Twins fans. Would you rather give Cruz a one-year deal north of $10 million? Or would you instead use that money to get a bonafide starting pitcher?

With all five spots in the rotation up for grabs, it seems like a no-brainer to upgrade the pitching staff. In a market where players will be looking for short-term deals, using that money to sweeten the pot for Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, or another high-upside arm may be better than upgrading a lineup that will be okay if they don’t bring Cruz back.

It’s also wise to use that money on a younger position player with more upside. The Twins will be looking to upgrade at the shortstop position, and with several big names on the market, it would make more sense to sign someone like Carlos Correa or Javy Báez, who could be more of a long-term acquisition.

Twins fans will always have the Bomba Squad and the effects of Cruz’s clubhouse presence during his three seasons in Minnesota. But everything runs its course. For the Twins to move on, they have to officially say goodbye.

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Photo Credit: David Dermer (USA TODAY Sports)

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