As we head into the second half of the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Twins seem focused on improving their pitching staff. They have ties to relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, both of whom could serve as a late-inning fireman or as the closer. The offense seems to be set after the additions of C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, but then this interesting tidbit was fired through the Internet that the Twins were in on Nelson Cruz.
If you said that the Twins and Rays would be the last two teams in on Cruz, you’d be lying. The hulking DH is coming off an impressive four-year run with the Seattle Mariners where he hit .284/.362/.546 (147 wRC+) with an average of 40 home runs per season. Though he’ll turn 39 years old at the beginning of July, Cruz hit .256/.342/.509 (134 wRC+) with 37 HR last season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Many teams could use his offense, but his lack of defensive value limits his suitors to American League teams. Although that original report suggests the Rays and Twins are the only two teams still in on Cruz, Jon Morosi reports that Cruz’s agent said that other teams are still under consideration as well.
Success in 2019 is especially dependent on the rebounds of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. Even with the additions of Cron and Schoop, this team appears to be lacking the ability to get on base as they’ll need to also replace Joe Mauer and Robbie Grossman. The newcomers should blast plenty of home runs, but with career OBPs of .311 and .294, Cron and Schoop won’t be getting on anywhere as often as Mauer’s .351 or Grossman’s .367 from last season. Looking at OBPs from 2018, Jorge Polanco’s was the highest among projected 2019 starters (.345) and then there’s Eddie Rosario at .323. (Depending on your opinion of Mitch Garver’s playing time, he checks in at .335.)
Not only does Cruz hit for power, but he also does an excellent job of getting on base. No, we should not be proposing that he should hit leadoff, but he’d be on base more frequently for the big boppers that are already slotted into the lineup.
Speaking of which, there are a couple players that would be hurt by the presence of Cruz. Cron and Tyler Austin are redundant on the roster and the addition of Cruz would most likely push Cron to full-time first baseman while Austin would be designated for assignment. This also would likely affect Willians Astudillo and/or LaMonte Wade, a 24-year old minor league outfielder with a career .391 OBP that was just added to the 40-man roster this offseason and could be considered as the next Grossman. Both would probably start the season in the minors, though each would have first dibs on tickets to Minnesota should the need arise.
The past couple seasons were dominated by the Cleveland Indians, but now the AL Central door is opening as they’re letting several key players leave via free agency and are also reportedly interested in dealing DH Edwin Encarnacion and either of ace starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. If the goal is to get to the playoffs, the Twins should be doing whatever it takes to improve the roster and I see them getting closer to that goal with the addition of Cruz. National writer Bob Nightengale gets it, or at least is reporting that the Twins get it. He, along with Cron and Schoop would add a reasonable 70 HR to the roster. (The Steamer projections on FanGraphs are predicting a total of 82 HR between the three players.) With money to throw around and Cruz likely not requiring more than a two-year contract, the Twins could easily sign him without risking anything long-term and would still have money to fill their other roster holes. I feel signing Cruz would be a good acquisition for the Twins and with a few pitching improvements, it would show that the Twins are intending on being serious contenders in 2019.