Twins Need to Cruz Above the Line
Image courtesy of © Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsIn coming up with his 3.0 fWAR total, Steamer has Cruz slated for a .282/.361/.533 slash line with 36 homers and 104 RBI. For a guy who’s played a grand total of nine games in the field since 2016, it’s his bat that will solely carry the production. The numbers projected for Cruz are right on par with fair expectations. Despite him being 38 years-old, there’s little indication that a steep decline is about to set in. His batted ball profile is still at an elite level, and Target Field is a stadium even more friendly to his approach at the dish.
What I’m getting at here isn’t where Nelson Cruz winds up, but instead how the rest of his teammates fare in comparison to his projected production.
Last season Paul Molitor’s Twins had two players surpass the 3.0 fWAR mark. Eddie Rosario finished with a 3.4 fWAR and Jose Berrios ended with a 3.3 fWAR. Neither Miguel Sano or Max Kepler has surpassed the 3.0 fWAR bar, and Byron Buxton’s 3.5 fWAR in 2017 seems a distant memory at the current juncture. It’s in performances from those players that this team will go, however.
There’s no denying that the Cleveland Indians have left the door open in the AL Central for 2019. They’re coming off just a 91-win season in which they got career years from Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger. It’s fair to expect sustainability from some of that elite talent, but they’ve also lost Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall, while also teasing the idea of dealing Corey Kluber. This is more of a retooling for Cleveland as they add new assets, but the immediate future leaves the division up for grabs.
Minnesota cannot simply rest on their laurels at this point, and I’d assume we’ll see at least another signing or two prior to spring training taking place. Though the bullpen is an area still needing improvement, it’s the lineup that will push this club over the top. Generating 3.0+ fWAR seasons from the likes of Sano, Buxton, or Kepler is a must. Getting that level of production out of new additions Jonathan Schoop or C.J. Cron could also be necessary. The former surpassed that plateau as an All-Star in 2017, while the later would be looking at a career year in realizing that value.
There’s nothing wrong with suggesting Nelson Cruz reach the 3.0 fWAR bar for the fifth time in the last six seasons. He was a key acquisition and the talent speaks for itself. What Minnesota can’t have happen however, is that to be the only player capable of production at that level. Seeing Rosario or Berrios take drastic steps backwards would be nearly as detrimental as watching the young trio of offensive talent flop yet again.
When signing Cruz, the front office suggested a message of immediate competition. Though there’s a option for the pact to be a two-year deal, the hope is that Cruz helps to solidify the roster, rather than to anchor it. By pairing his production with what you’d hope is already internally available, Minnesota would be looking at a best-case scenario.
It’s relatively hard to tie team production to a projected fWAR mark. However, I feel good about suggesting that if the Twins can have Cruz at the suggested level with at least three teammates producing above him, they’ll have a very good shot at winning the division when the dust settles. If that ends up not being the case, and should the writing be on the wall early in the summer, the newest asset could find himself gone almost before he ever got started.
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