Why the Twins Shouldn't Re-Sign Nelson Cruz
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsNelson Cruz has been an enigma in the twilight of his baseball career putting up MVP level seasons long past his prime. It’s easy to believe that Cruz will simply hit forever. Unfortunately that just isn’t the case. At 40, another season like the two we’ve seen from Cruz recently would be quite literally historic. Projection systems for 2021 reflect this.
Cruz Steamer: .256/.344/.490, 114 wRC+, 1.2 WAR
Steamer has under-projected Cruz every year for awhile now due to his age. This year looks a bit different however, as in 2020 we started to see some red flags that often arise right before the bottom drops out on an aging player. Cruz’s average plummeted almost .100 points in the second half, his OBP and Slugging saw similar declines.
The reality is that his first half 1.122 OPS would never hold, and his second half .842 mark is still plenty respectable. That being said, his strikeout rate also increased by 8% as the shortened season went on and his K% finished at his worst mark since the dawn of Statcast in 2015. His average exit velocity also was his lowest since the metric was measured in 2015.
Hitters typically age out of baseball in the same way, they just can’t make contact with certain pitches anymore. Then all it takes is a scouting report and the league to adjust and all of a sudden a hitter with decades of success lacks the physical ability to adjust back. Admittedly this is no sure thing with Cruz who’s beaten father time over and over. Perhaps his ailing knee was to blame at season's end and he has another stellar year in him.
If this were last winter, giving Cruz a chance to make good one more season might be worth the risk. However, this season there are financial limitations and more importantly other improvements that can be made on the roster with readily available candidates to pivot to.
Javy Baez Steamer:.255/.298/.471, 94 wRC+, 2.2 WAR
Trevor Story Steamer: .276/.346/.528, 109 wRC+, 3.8 WAR
Marcus Semien: .253/.336/.436, 103 wRC+, 3.0 WAR
Shortstop is a spot the Twins are rumored to be exploring replacements for, and there’s no shortage of options on the market. All are likely in the same price range as a 40-year-old Nelson Cruz and would likely upgrade the premier shortstop position both defensively and offensively. It also solves the Twins utility problem by improving upon the 2020 Marwin/Adrianza performance with Polanco/Arraez. Baez and Story would cost more than money, but the recent Francisco Lindor trade goes to show just how cheap these one-year shortstops can be on the trade market.
None of these options have quite the offensive projections Cruz has, but they also carry defensive value and don’t carry the risk of their production dropping off to career ending levels such as Cruz. It’s also easy to imagine a scenario where the Twins rotate Garver/Sano/Rooker/Kirilloff into the DH spot and get well above league average production.
What it all comes down to is this: The Twins likely won’t spend on both Cruz and an impact shortstop addition. If they do, it will surely stop them from appropriately addressing the rotation and bullpen needs. Spending on Cruz brings significant risk, and the likeliest outcome may be a good season that can be replicated in the DH spot by players already on the team. Adding a bigtime shortstop won’t break the bank or cost the farm system much, and will almost surely be an upgrade at two positions.
For a Twins team with several needs this offseason, it may be wise to make the move that addresses multiple positions and brings less risk. Cruz for $16 million could easily become a sunken cost a month into the season. A similar price for Baez/Story/Semien gives a surefire contender a floor on their investment, and for that reason, The Twins should avoid re-signing Nelson Cruz.
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