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Twins Blogosphere


Twins Hope to Replicate Success of Torii, Thome With Cruz

Over the winter the Minnesota Twins both needed and had the opportunity to improve. With payroll flexibility and roster gaps, there was a need for an infusion of talent. The lineup was targeted with the most aggressive decisions, and the one with the most impact may end up being in the form of a 38-year-old veteran. Older than his new manager, Nelson Cruz joins the Twins on a $14 million pact with hopes that his boomstick propels the offense forward. It’s a move we’ve seen in Twins Territory previously, but this has more potential to work out better than the last.
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Fan favorite, and longtime Twins great, Torii Hunter was brought back by Terry Ryan prior to the 2015 season. He was playing that year at the age of 39 and coming off just a .765 OPS. Despite no longer being a good defensive outfielder, the front office ponied up for $10 million and he played 139 games in his final year. As expected, the production sagged further, and the OPS ended up at just .702 on the season. 83 wins were accomplished, and Hunter’s impact was felt most within the clubhouse. If judging this by motivational impact, the contract was a win.

Back in 2010, the Ryan regime went the way of a 39-year-old yet again. This time recently inducted Hall of Famer Jim Thome found himself joining one of his longtime rivals. 2009 saw Thome post an .847 OPS and hit 23 longballs. His first year in Minnesota was incredible, owning a 1.039 OPS and earning MVP votes for the first time since 2006. He’d then go on to join the 600-home run club in a Minnesota uniform the following year and did so with an .827 OPS across 71 games. Thome was a leader on one good team, and one bad one, but there was clearly plenty left in the tank as well. Paid just $4.5 million after making $13 million in his final year with the White Sox, this was larceny for the Twins.

So where does that leave Nelson Cruz, and the expectations for what he can bring in 2019?

From the get-go we can count out any sort of defensive effort. Cruz hasn’t been a regular fielder in years, and given his offensive prowess, that’s a plenty fine stipulation. He’s a year removed from a .924 OPS, and since 2013 his 230 homers rank first in all of baseball. Cruz has surpassed the 40-home run plateau in three of the past five seasons, while hitting 39 and 37 in the other two. In 2016 Brian Dozier hit 42 dingers for the Twins, but the only other player to surpass the 40 mark is Harmon Killebrew.

It’s certainly fair to note that there’s risk relying on Nelson’s offense. After all, he’s 38 and his .850 OPS in 2018 was roughly a 75-point drop from the year prior. He’s a strong on-base contributor, and while there’s a strikeout potential, it isn’t close to danger territory. Last season Cruz posted his worst fWAR (2.5) since 2013, and we already know the overall package is completely reliant on plate production.

In looking at the numbers, somewhat of a rebound seems possible. Outside of completely hitting an age cliff, Cruz has many things still going in his favor. The 42.3% hard hit rate last season was a career high, and there’s room for a better BABIP with the ground ball rate jumping up to 44% (a 4% increase over 2017). Cruz has owned a consistent swing profile for roughly six years now though, and he’s coming to a park with a much more batter friendly left field line.
Attached Image: CruzChart.JPG
A marriage between these two parties seemed destined from the onset, and the eventual deal is much more about production then it is nostalgia. I’d still imagine Cruz will be plenty beneficial to players like Miguel Sano in the clubhouse (assuming he has willing observers), but there’s reason to think he can pace this lineup. ZiPS projects Cruz for a .266/.348/.500 line with 30 longballs this season. I’d argue that’s reflective of his slide in 2018 and take the over on almost all of that.

Nelson Cruz isn’t the Hall of Famer that Jim Thome was, but I think he could have a similar impact for the Twins in 2019. Reaching the 400-homer run plateau (he’s currently 40 shy) and raking in the middle of Rocco Baldelli’s lineup are good bets. Torii Hunter was fun, and his dance parties helped to spark a looseness that elevated a Twins squad. Jim Thome was on a 94-win team that grabbed a division title, and that seems like a much more fun outcome this time around.

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10 Comments

I actually think this is the best DH strategy.

    • Tom Froemming likes this

Back in 2010, the Ryan regime


FWIW, Thome was under the Bill Smith regime...

 

FWIW, Thome was under the Bill Smith regime...

Same guy, no?

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Ted Schwerzler
Mar 08 2019 09:09 AM

 

FWIW, Thome was under the Bill Smith regime...

I guess I view Smith as Ryan's fill in and "regime" defined those tied to him. But yes, that's accurate.

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Tom Froemming
Mar 08 2019 11:18 AM

 

I actually think this is the best DH strategy.

Agreed. Just go out and get the most dangerous bat you can on a one-year commitment every offseason. There's obviously health concerns with guys of his age, but at the same time it's pretty easy to fill in at DH should your main guy miss time. 

    • ashbury, Twins33, Doomtints and 1 other like this

 

Agreed. Just go out and get the most dangerous bat you can on a one-year commitment every offseason. There's obviously health concerns with guys of his age, but at the same time it's pretty easy to fill in at DH should your main guy miss time. 

 

Right. The DH role exists, and that role is solely to hit the ball. Nothing else.

 

Journalists scoff when a team signs a player to DH only, bemoaning how this hurts the team by not having a person who can play defense. They completely miss the fact that the DH position is not defense, it was never designed as a roster spot to give your regulars a breather.

 

In the rare instance when a team has used the DH slot as it was designed -- with a hitting specialist -- it has accomplished the goal of boosting their offense without affecting their defense.

 

The AL still hasn't figured out how to DH, and heck it wouldn't surprise me if the NL figures it out first once they get it. Imagine a company hiring a VP and someone bemoaning that the VP doesn't work the tech support help line, therefore this VP is somehow a detriment to the company.......

    • Original Whizzinator likes this
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Channing1964
Mar 08 2019 11:39 AM

Right. The DH role exists, and that role is solely to hit the ball. Nothing else.

Journalists scoff when a team signs a player to DH only, bemoaning how this hurts the team by not having a person who can play defense. They completely miss the fact that the DH position is not defense, it was never designed as a roster spot to give your regulars a breather.

In the rare instance when a team has used the DH slot as it was designed -- with a hitting specialist -- it has accomplished the goal of boosting their offense without affecting their defense.

The AL still hasn't figured out how to DH, and heck it wouldn't surprise me if the NL figures it out first once they get it. Imagine a company hiring a VP and someone bemoaning that the VP doesn't work the tech support help line, therefore this VP is somehow a detriment to the company.......

I absolutely agree that not every team in the AL uses their Dh to the best advantage but it always amazes me how in interleague play the NL teams seem to never use it as a weapon when they can. Batting their Dh in the 9 spot so as not to disrupt their precious lineup. Imagine thats why they can't seem to win the World Series lately. You cant win the title if you dont plan on stealing one on the road. IMO.

I sure hope he is better on the field than Hunter, and it would be great he is close to the clubhouse guy he was.

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LA VIkes Fan
Mar 09 2019 03:06 PM

It's fine to have a ful time DH if you have versitile reserves. Today's 25 man roster only has room for two bat only 1B/DH types and then only if you have reserves that can competently man multiple positions. Cruz works when you have guys like Marwin Gonzalez, Cave, Astudillo, Adrianza and Torreyes for bench spots.

 

The guys who get left out are the #3 1B/DH types, #3 catcher only types or bat first guys that can only play LF or 3B. Bringing in Cruz proabaly means we can't keep Austin or Duda on the 25 man roster unless there's an injury. No problem there; Cruz is a major upgrade on those two. Duda will go to another team and Austin will go on waivers - hard to say if he'll get claimed.  

    • ashbury likes this

Agreed. Just go out and get the most dangerous bat you can on a one-year commitment every offseason. There's obviously health concerns with guys of his age, but at the same time it's pretty easy to fill in at DH should your main guy miss time.


There are 30 teams, 15 with the DH. I don't think you can count on getting a dangerous bat every offseason on a one-year commitment. Some years you'll get Nelson Cruz, some years Logan Morrison, some years not even that.

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