Don’t get me wrong, I remember Thome’s time with the Twins fondly. His first season, the year Target Field opened, the slugger that tormented Minnesota for all those years put up a 1.039 OPS across 108 games. A year later he’d record his 600th career home run, only further cementing his place in Cooperstown. Thome was adopted as the Twins lumberjack, and his power played in the role perfectly.
When Thome was dealt however, it was clear this was the beginning of the end. Not only did the Twins stink, but he’d lost over 200 points on his OPS from the year prior and sending him to a mediocre Cleveland club was about a proper sendoff as much as it was an asset acquisition. He’d make stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore during 2012, but the end came just 58 games into his season.
At the end of the day, Thome was an integral part of a very good 2010 club, but then watched as the age counter flipped to 40 and Father Time proved undefeated yet again.
Enter Minnesota’s current designated hitter. Nelson Cruz has now played 247 games in a Twins uniform. That’s roughly 50 games more than Thome, but Cruz went through the shortened 2020 season stunting that growing total. He was the unquestioned leader of the Bomba Squad, a club that hit a Major League record 307 dingers. Despite playing for the organization between ages 38-41, he’s compiled a .307/.389/.607 slash line and 75 homers across that stretch. Age notwithstanding, he’s been among baseball’s best in his latest years.
When Derek Falvey ultimately deals Cruz later this month, it will feel different as well. He’s not going back to Seattle or Texas. This isn’t a sendoff and Cruz isn’t riding off into the sunset. Two likely landing spots include the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays. Minnesota will be looking to maximize value, and Cruz will be counted upon as a lineup fixture. This is a true asset, no longer a privilege for Minnesota to enjoy because the 2021 season fell flat.
It’d be silly to assume that Cruz will continue this level of production for another decade. Even another couple of years would be unprecedented. What he’s doing now though, is something that any contending team needing a designated hitter should covet. That makes his market limited in that half the league is then cut in half again, but you can bet that suitors will fight for his services.
There’s also not going to be a reunion tour. Minnesota and Cruz’s camp played a staring contest this winter. Neither wanted to blink first, but a return always seemed to be the best fit for both sides. As the Twins head into 2022 with uncertainty, the luxury of a big money designated hitter doesn’t seem reasonable. On top of that, we won’t know the direction chosen by the front office until July 31 comes and goes with Taylor Rogers, Jose Berrios, and Josh Donaldson still wearing Twins threads.
When the dust settles on this eventual move the Twins will have dealt one of the best power hitters ever to wear a Minnesota uniform. While Cruz’s time was ultimately brief, the impact (and especially that felt in 2019) will be talked about for years to come. Nelson was a late blooming player that never stopped getting better, has continued to impart wisdom on the game’s next generation, and his absence will sting more than just a bad team shedding moveable parts.