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  • Three Things to Like (and Hate) about the Nelson Cruz Trade


    John Bonnes

    Do not go gentle into that good night. Trade, trade amidst the dying of the light.

    I won't apologize to Dylan because he would hate that, but the sentiment rings true in a crappy baseball season. It's tempting to hold on timidly, wishing against one's fate. But what good is that? Better to meet it head-on, even if it means trading away Nelson Cruz. There is plenty to like about the deal and plenty not to like, and we're going to unpack both. And because it was Martini Cart Night at my condo complex, and because the whole crummy season should have been Martini Cart Night across Twins Territory, we're not going to be sticklers about the ordering of this list.

    Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    #3 Reason to Like This Deal – The Timing
    Congrats, Minnesota. You're kind of a big deal. Your team just made the biggest trade of the trade deadline so far because Cruz was the best bat on the trade market. That market was a bit limited, given that he can't play in the National League, but he was still the big dog.

    And believe it or not, the question you should be asking was, "Why did they make the deal so early?" The Twins have been out of the postseason race for a month, but often a deal like this is not made until a day or two before the deadline. Sometimes it's not made until the afternoon of the trade deadline. Seeing a deal come together a week early suggests one of two things, both positive for the Twins:

    1. They got an offer they could not refuse. That's good news.
    2. They gave "buyers" a deadline for their best deal.

    I suspect the latter. The Twins looked at the market and decided to push the first domino. They still have at least Michael Pineda, Andrelton Simmons, and Hansel Robles to move, and they want to start fielding offers.

    It also might be that they saw teams waiting on making offers for someone like Cubs' third baseman Kris Bryant until Cruz had found a landing spot. That's important because the Twins are likely trying to move Josh Donaldson. That's more difficult until Bryant is traded, since Bryant doesn't have $50M attached to him as Donaldson does.

    So even if the Twins insisted on the timing, it's a ploy that suits their needs.

    #3 Reason to Hate This Deal - Beware the Rays
    The Rays have earned the title of the Smartest Team in Any Deal. It's happened over and over, even when the names involved were premier players like Blake Snell or Chris Archer. It's hard to win a trade with the Rays.

    That said, the last deal the Twins made with the Rays has turned out great. Before the 2018 season, the Rays traded Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for prospect Jermaine Palacio. Odorizzi only had one good year with the Twins – but it was a terrific year, posting a 3.51 ERA in 2019 and resurrecting his career.

    Meanwhile, Palacios is back in the Twins organization. He's playing at AA-Witchita this year. He's 24 years old and having a breakout season, posting a 782 OPS as a shortstop after leaving the Rays' farm system. So, at the very least, the Twins weren't fleeced in that deal.

    #2 – Reason to Like the Deal – The Twins NAILED a Need
    Was the Twins' starting pitching the biggest reason for this year's disappointing season? Maybe not. But it's within the top four for sure, and feel free to debate the order in the comments. (Your candidates: starting pitching, injuries, [insert your favorite rant here], Alex Colome).

    But if the Twins want to take advantage of the competitive window they have from 2022-2024, they need major-league ready (and preferably cost-controlled) pitching. That's precisely what they got in this trade.

    The Twins only have two starting pitchers returning next year – Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios. This year's backup plans - Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe – have been injured. So have all three of the top pitching prospects in the organization: Jhoan Duran, Matt Canterino, and Jordan Balozovic. Plus, the Twins likely have only about $40M to spend on the free agent market next year.  

    Getting back cost-controlled but solid major league pitching is no easy task in Major League Baseball. Looking at the other players the Twins could trade, very few could field that return. Nelson Cruz was their best (and maybe last) chance to do so, and they pulled it off.

    #2 Reason to Hate It – Nelly's Gone
    Losing Nelson Cruz sucks. He was a perfect fit for this team, and the team ended up being a perfect fit for him. Even though he played for the Twins from when he was 38 to 41 years old, he posted the highest OPS (984) of his career for any team. Read that again. Texas (823 OPS) and Seattle (908 OPS) revere him. But Cruz never played better for any team – unless he does so for the Rays. And I hope he does. Kick some ass, Nelly.

    Plus, of course, the whole leadership thing. Cruz was the MVP for both full seasons he played for the Twins, and while his performance certainly justified it, it was his teammates' testimonials that made that choice a no-doubter. He doesn't call attention to himself with histrionics or conspicuous public displays. He just led. The media didn't hear that from Cruz. They learned about it from his teammates. That's how you know it was real. Which brings us to the best reason to dislike this trade...

    #1 Reason to Hate It – And He Ain't Coming Back
    Sometimes you have to leave the past behind, and I suspect the Twins recognize that. Cruz will turn 42 years old next year, and that presents a significant risk. They also have younger bats, like Brent Rooker and maybe even Mitch Garver or Luis Arraez, that they would like to try as a designated hitter. Plus, he will likely cost any team over $10M to sign, and we've already covered the potential payroll squeeze that awaits this team.

    It's not impossible. The Twins love him, clearly. Cruz loves them right back. So never say never. But this season revealed so many leaks in the Twins' ship that I'll be surprised if they expend resources to bring Nellie back for one more year. It would have been nice to have him around a few more months, given that reality. 

    #1 Reason to Like The Trade – They Did Pretty Good
    If you screw up the players you get back, none of it means a damn thing. We won't know for sure about these guys until their Twins' careers are over, but there are some things to be excited about with the players the Twins got in return.

    The lesser (right now) of the two prospects is Drew Strotman. It's worth noting that he's the higher draft pick of the two, so he was not always second fiddle. He's also on the Rays' 40-man roster, which is a negative to his value in terms of roster management, but shows just how impressed the Rays were with him just last year. He has a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider, and added an impressive cutter last year to complete the package.

    That potential hasn't been displayed yet this year in AAA. He's had decent results (3.39 ERA) but is walking way too many batters. But he's also just 24 years old, and this is his first taste of AAA after skipping AA altogether.

    The more intriguing prospect is Joe Ryan. He wasn't particularly near a top 100 prospect in preseason rankings, but it'll be interesting to see if that has changed given his performance this year in AAA. Tallying 75K in 57 IP, with just ten walks and a 0.789(!) WHIP, can change expectations.

    His profile is funky enough to either cast doubt or raise eyebrows. He has a mid-90s fastball that batters have trouble picking up due to his delivery. The COVID year allowed him to work with the Rays coaching staff on his secondary offerings, which seem to have improved. Plus, he is a bit of a free spirit, based on this profile of his development in Sports Illustrated.

    If Twins fans want a preview of him, check out the US Olympic Baseball team. He's on it. Or make your way to CHS Field in St. Paul in August. Or maybe you won't need to cross the river. He might be ready for a trial at Target Field before the year is over.

    The Twins did reasonably well in their first move of the trade deadline season. They made a solid and aggressive move at a good time, getting quality players and filling a need. It also sets them up nicely for more moves before the July 30th deadline.

    But yeah, it's a shame it had to come to this. And the team will need to wait and see if their move turns out as well as they hope.

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    If basically the only real downside to a trade is "We had to give up an old player who was unlikely to be on the team next year and he's a really good dude"...then it's a pretty good trade. Look, I love Nelson Cruz as much as anyone, but we got two AAA pitchers that are considered to be good prospects from an organization that has a deep minor league system and a great reputation for developing pitching.

    The hate levels are low. The like levels are high.

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    First thanks for the great write up. Honestly I am surprised the FO was able to get two Pitchers similar to Winder\Balazovich for 2 months of Cruz.  That is 12 years of control for 2 months of Cruz assuming they don't resign him and Faucher keeps his WHIP at 2.00.  Getting a prospect back that ranks 6th in our system and another at 12th is a very good get for a rental and struggling pitcher at AA.

    I think this is a great move for the Rays as well.  They didn't give up anything at the top of their farm system and they didn't take any chances on missing out on the best bat at the deadline assuming the Rangers don't shop Gallo.  They paid a heavy price giving up two arms that were close to MLB ready but I really think Cruz can help push them over the top and would love to see them win the WS.

    With this haul will the Twins stand pat?  They wanted something similar for Berrios but it seemed like teams were reluctant to part with pitching that was close to MLB ready.  Or now that they have that will they be more inclined to trade Jose for players that are slightly further away?  

    Anyway I am happy with what they were able to get for Cruz but I will miss him.  I can't remember a player who came in and fit so well with the players the fans and community in such a short time.  He will be Sorley missed but he does get a chance to chase that long awaited ring.

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    It's a good deal for the Twins but the new pitchers are most likely #5, back of the rotation types, if that. Still, I like that we got AAA pitchers that will make the majors in this deal.

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    I'm disappointed.  IMHO these mid season trades detract from the team concept of baseball.  I never favored the Yankees method of buying your way to a Championship.  Your team should be made up of your opening day roster or come from your farm system for the entity of the season..  Nelson Cruz is a professionals professional, a leader, and a great man.  He deserved better, and so did Twins fans.

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    4 minutes ago, ToeJoe said:

    I'm disappointed.  IMHO these mid season trades detract from the team concept of baseball.  I never favored the Yankees method of buying your way to a Championship.  Your team should be made up of your opening day roster or come from your farm system for the entity of the season..  Nelson Cruz is a professionals professional, a leader, and a great man.  He deserved better, and so did Twins fans.

    Except for the fact that trades have always been a part of baseball.  Free Agency has changed how teams approach some trades, but it's still a huge part of it's lore and tradition.

    Yes, I'm bummed that he's gone from the roster but this is a part of the game.  You can't truly follow baseball as a whole unless you accept all parts of it.  Don't get me wrong, I understand your POV (I still hate the Johan Santana trade 😉) but this isn't really the "Yankees way".  A team with a deep farm system gave up two promising prospects for a feared bat that they can insert into the middle of their lineup.  This has been the way since the first leagues formed at the dawn of baseball.

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    15 minutes ago, ToeJoe said:

    I'm disappointed.  IMHO these mid season trades detract from the team concept of baseball.  I never favored the Yankees method of buying your way to a Championship.  Your team should be made up of your opening day roster or come from your farm system for the entity of the season..  Nelson Cruz is a professionals professional, a leader, and a great man.  He deserved better, and so did Twins fans.

    How is life in the 1940's?

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    Ryan was the #98 prospect in baseball prior to the 2020 season according to mlb. Then the pandemic started, and he has come back strong again this year. Maybe he fell off the rankings because Tampa is so loaded? Who's to say. But he seems like as good a bet as any prospect to stick in a rotation, and if that's the case it's a homerun trade. 

    Wish Cruz well though, no doubt. Would love to find a way to have him back playing again, or at minimum in a roving instructor type role at some point like Hunter, Cuddyer, Hawkins et al.

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    22 minutes ago, gunnarthor said:

    It's a good deal for the Twins but the new pitchers are most likely #5, back of the rotation types, if that. Still, I like that we got AAA pitchers that will make the majors in this deal.

    Yeah but I think #5 starter\shut down reliever is their floor and #3 starter is their ceiling so it depends on how you want to look at it.  Both players had been mentioned either being or close to being top 100 prospects so both are very talented pitchers. 

    I get the reluctance as I don't love the K rate for Strotman and his WHIP right now does not lend itself to MLB success but I believe most articles stated he needed more time to develop but the pitches/stuff is there.  I guess we will see if that is true or not fairly soon. Obviously the Twins think he will improve on his control or would have asked for someone else.  I also don't love the wild card delivery for Ryan although his K rates speaks for itself and with that low WHIP he sure looks like the real deal.  I mean if that stuff does carry over to MLB I have to believe he looks like a top of the rotation starter to me.  There just isn't anyone to compare him too though so no way to know how his stuff will play in MLB.

    I see your concerns but IMO you could stand to go glass half full or at least acknowledge the upside they both have instead of downplaying it.

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    What I like about this trade is it helps to possibly build the rotation next year and at least add 1 back of the rotation arm assuming they don't trade Berrios.  Now they can go into next year with Berrios, Maeda, (Free Agent?), One of these guys and possibly another internal arm and have some additional young arms waiting.  So this trade may signal they are holding off on Berrios deal and are actually building for next year and not tearing it down.

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    33 minutes ago, ToeJoe said:

    I'm disappointed.  IMHO these mid season trades detract from the team concept of baseball.  I never favored the Yankees method of buying your way to a Championship.  Your team should be made up of your opening day roster or come from your farm system for the entity of the season..  Nelson Cruz is a professionals professional, a leader, and a great man.  He deserved better, and so did Twins fans.

    Nelson Cruz did deserve better, and the Twins gave him better by sending him to a legitimate World Series contender.  

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    Only time will tell how this trade works out. On paper it looks good. However, paper can't show the little things like clubhouse leadership that this club needs that the veteran Cruz gave. I will really miss Nellie and will be pulling for the Rays to win it all. Next season we can all see if these if either of these 2 pitchers are able to help the big club take the next step. 

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    8 minutes ago, Loosey said:

    Nelson Cruz did deserve better, and the Twins gave him better by sending him to a legitimate World Series contender.  

    Exactly this. This is what good organizations do for their players. I have to imagine they sat down with Nelly and asked him where he'd like to go, or not go, and did what they could to get him to one of the teams he wanted to go to while also bringing back some legit arms. As big of a bummer as it is to lose him (I was at the game last night so wished they'd had waited a day so I could see him 1 last time in a Twins uni) from a fans perspective, the team did right by him. Give him a shot at the ring he deserves.

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    Ah, the "business" of major league baseball. While ownership tries to keep fans interested as they try to minimize their investment, the fans are expected to understand that this is, afterall, a business. So, yep, they do this to their fans. The rest of the year gets duller and duller. A reason I went to the ballpark was to watch Cruz. Cruz (and a Twins minor league pitcher) to the Rays for a couple AAA pitchers?  Joe Ryan attended California State University/Stanislaus. He's 4-3 for AAA Durham, with a 3.63 ERA. That's impressive stuff, eh!  Drew Strotman also has a WOW factor track record. Drafted in the 4th round in 2017, he's also in AAA with a 7-2 record and a 3.39 ERA. Yep. WOW. I can easily understand why the Twins pursued this excellent exchange with the Rays. Instead of building for next season, the emphasis now is 2023 or 2024.  And that's assuming one of the minor league prospects pans out. I haven't had the courage to look at teh pitcher the Twins gave up. Cruz was about as sure a thing as possible for the next year or two or more. And for many reasons beyond his hitting, as we all know. Moving Donaldson to DH is a downgrade times two. But I'm growing accustomed to watching how Twins leadership squandered the 2019 club and continues to make confounding decisions. This means they are losing me, as a fan. 

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    7 minutes ago, Grasslander said:

    Ah, the "business" of major league baseball. While ownership tries to keep fans interested as they try to minimize their investment, the fans are expected to understand that this is, afterall, a business. So, yep, they do this to their fans. The rest of the year gets duller and duller. A reason I went to the ballpark was to watch Cruz. Cruz (and a Twins minor league pitcher) to the Rays for a couple AAA pitchers?  Joe Ryan attended California State University/Stanislaus. He's 4-3 for AAA Durham, with a 3.63 ERA. That's impressive stuff, eh!  Drew Strotman also has a WOW factor track record. Drafted in the 4th round in 2017, he's also in AAA with a 7-2 record and a 3.39 ERA. Yep. WOW. I can easily understand why the Twins pursued this excellent exchange with the Rays. Instead of building for next season, the emphasis now is 2023 or 2024.  And that's assuming one of the minor league prospects pans out. I haven't had the courage to look at teh pitcher the Twins gave up. Cruz was about as sure a thing as possible for the next year or two or more. And for many reasons beyond his hitting, as we all know. Moving Donaldson to DH is a downgrade times two. But I'm growing accustomed to watching how Twins leadership squandered the 2019 club and continues to make confounding decisions. This means they are losing me, as a fan. 

    Nelson Cruz's contract is up after this year, therefore holding onto him does nothing to build the team for next year.  The Twins are allowed to sign him to a new contract this offseason as well.  Making a trade for two pitchers having success in AAA actually is building for next year.  You know what's not building for next year?  Hanging on to a 41 year old on an expiring contract so he can hit 15 more home runs for a team that's going to lose 90 games.

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    Trading Cruz was inevitable. The return was probably better than we could have hoped for. MLB.com puts Ryan at #6 and Strotman #13 in their ranking of the Twins prospects.  That will change after the recent draft picks are added in, but it still seems like a healthy return for 2.5 months of Cruz in a lost season for the Twins.

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    2 hours ago, gunnarthor said:

    It's a good deal for the Twins but the new pitchers are most likely #5, back of the rotation types, if that. Still, I like that we got AAA pitchers that will make the majors in this deal.

    Can't be worse than the # 5 back of  the rotation types that they've been running out there since, basically, the advent of the 5 man rotation....

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    Why not try to re-sign Cruz when his contract expires? Why assume you will lose him? He liked it here. Give him a chance to stay. Was that ever a consideration?  Retain his value by acknowledging it. The Twins are always looking to the future, looking for prospects to replace established players.  The future. The future.  Tampa Bay is another deep pockets team, right?  Maybe Cruz will end up back on our side for next year? Maybe Twins management loaned him to our manager's pals in Tampa....Ah, the business of baseball.  

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    Just now, Grasslander said:

    Why not try to re-sign Cruz when his contract expires? Why assume you will lose him? He liked it here. Give him a chance to stay. Was that ever a consideration?  Retain his value by acknowledging it. The Twins are always looking to the future, looking for prospects to replace established players.  The future. The future.  Tampa Bay is another deep pockets team, right?  Maybe Cruz will end up back on our side for next year? Maybe Twins management loaned him to our manager's pals in Tampa....Ah, the business of baseball.  

    The Twins have just as much chance to sign him in the off-season as they did 3 days ago.  He will be a free agent at the end of the season and every team will have a shot at signing him.  That doesn't change anything really.  However, he will be 42 next year and will likely command $10M+ again.  As great as he is at some point the bottom will fall out.  And I would personally be fine if that happened while he was a Twin on a 1 year deal.

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    1 hour ago, Grasslander said:

    Ah, the "business" of major league baseball. While ownership tries to keep fans interested as they try to minimize their investment, the fans are expected to understand that this is, afterall, a business. So, yep, they do this to their fans. The rest of the year gets duller and duller. A reason I went to the ballpark was to watch Cruz. Cruz (and a Twins minor league pitcher) to the Rays for a couple AAA pitchers?  Joe Ryan attended California State University/Stanislaus. He's 4-3 for AAA Durham, with a 3.63 ERA. That's impressive stuff, eh!  Drew Strotman also has a WOW factor track record. Drafted in the 4th round in 2017, he's also in AAA with a 7-2 record and a 3.39 ERA. Yep. WOW. I can easily understand why the Twins pursued this excellent exchange with the Rays. Instead of building for next season, the emphasis now is 2023 or 2024.  And that's assuming one of the minor league prospects pans out. I haven't had the courage to look at teh pitcher the Twins gave up. Cruz was about as sure a thing as possible for the next year or two or more. And for many reasons beyond his hitting, as we all know. Moving Donaldson to DH is a downgrade times two. But I'm growing accustomed to watching how Twins leadership squandered the 2019 club and continues to make confounding decisions. This means they are losing me, as a fan. 

    stripes lighten GIF

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    "It's hard to win a trade with the Rays." - I absolutely HATE statements like this.  Why is it so important to "win" a trade?  Why can't a trade work out well for BOTH teams?  

    Okay, with that off my chest, now about the article.  The three reasons to love it far outweigh the reasons to hate it - all three "love it" are about improving the team while two of the three "hate it" are about emotion.  Yes, Nellie was loved by all but there is a point where that player will not be back.  What's the difference if it is now, October, or 2022?  C'mon, we'll get over it.  Geez, I hated the way the Twins dumped their most iconic player way back in 1974 and guess what?  We all survived as well as the team.  That will happen with this trade as well.  

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    Quote

    His profile is funky enough to either cast doubt or raise eyebrows. He has a mid-90s fastball that batters have trouble picking up due to his delivery. The COVID year allowed him to work with the Rays coaching staff on his secondary offerings, which seem to have improved. Plus, he is a bit of a free spirit...

    So Diet Mike Clevinger?

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    I'm going to have to do a little research on the concept of a "deceptive fastball." I hear that term bandied about, but I don't understand it in a major league context. Seems like the only thing that a straight fastball can do to deceive a big-league hitter is to be incredibly fast.

    Good trade. I hope. Though I'm afraid the Rays will turn the AA pitcher they got from us into some kind of an ace.

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    3 hours ago, ToeJoe said:

    I'm disappointed.  IMHO these mid season trades detract from the team concept of baseball.  I never favored the Yankees method of buying your way to a Championship.  Your team should be made up of your opening day roster or come from your farm system for the entity of the season..  Nelson Cruz is a professionals professional, a leader, and a great man.  He deserved better, and so did Twins fans.

    I agree.  That is why if I was President-Governor-Mayor-Dog Catcher and Judge Judy all rolled into one, I would eliminate free agency altogether.  Keep arbitration for a fair wage for the players, but the team that drafts, gives a signing bonus, grooms, and ultimately produces a major league player should reap the benefits of that for the long haul.  And the fans benefit just as much, when they can actually follow a team of players they know and watched come up.Trades will always be a part of the game, but buying a team ends the concept of it being a game, and the fans become the ultimate losers.

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    16 minutes ago, Mark G said:

    I agree.  That is why if I was President-Governor-Mayor-Dog Catcher and Judge Judy all rolled into one, I would eliminate free agency altogether.  Keep arbitration for a fair wage for the players, but the team that drafts, gives a signing bonus, grooms, and ultimately produces a major league player should reap the benefits of that for the long haul.  And the fans benefit just as much, when they can actually follow a team of players they know and watched come up.Trades will always be a part of the game, but buying a team ends the concept of it being a game, and the fans become the ultimate losers.

    So you're saying... "Bring back indentured servitude"? 😉

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