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The Twins should move on from Nelson Cruz

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Even if he has another good year left, the Twins may be better off without him

Nelson Cruz has done a lot for the Twins over the past two years. He has been a leader, he seems like a solid guy and he has posted a 1.000 OPS. His teammates love him, and I’m sure his front office does, too.

But they shouldn’t re-sign him.

I know that’s crazy talk—Cruz has been the entire lineup this past year and he didn’t show a lot of signs he was slowing down. He’s a mentor to Sano and his nap routine is cute- I get it. I think Cruz is fully capable of having another strong season at age 41.

Despite that, there are benefits to him leaving.

  • Thee team would have about 15M more in payroll flexibility, which could be allotted towards Trevor May and Tyler Clippard to keep the bullpen a strength.
  • Maybe they could keep Eddie Rosario around? Maybe not, as just typing that got a tomato thrown at my face.
  • Perhaps it would help with their catching dilemma, where Ryan Jeffers seems like he needs to play, but Mitch Garver deserves some at-bats to prove he’s more the 2019 version of himself as opposed to the automatic strikeout he was in 2020.
  • Baldelli could also rotate in guys to DH like Polanco and Kepler, who need to hit for the team to be successful, but also need to be healthy in October. This would allow for their backups, Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis, to potentially get into more games and allow the Twins to see what they have in those players.
  • And maybe on a psychological level, Miguel Sano needs to let go of his surrogate dad in Cruz and flourish on his own.

Maybe the whole Twins team needs to know they can flourish without Cruz. They started their historic offensive dominance in May 2019 with Cruz sidelined, and when he kicked it into gear by hitting all those home runs in Chicago that summer, it coincided with the rest of the team stagnating somewhat.

Cruz is a unique talent that swings the bat like a work of art, pounding out majestic home runs, respecting the opposition and saying all the correct team-centric things to the media afterward. And if anyone plays the game with zero chips on their shoulder, it’s Cruz (despite all he had to go through to get any at-bats in his 20’s). For pretty much any other team, those qualities are beneficial, but the Twins need the opposite right now. They need to be scrappier and play with a massive chip on their collective shoulders. Cruz is elegance, the Twins need ugliness. He is grace, the Twins need grit.

Add to that the fact that 41-year olds coming off of great age-40 seasons never, ever, replicate those numbers. Even legends like Hank Aaron, Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson and Carl Yastrzemski, who had great late careers, fell off in their age 41 seasons. Cruz takes care of himself, but he has 41 year old knees, hamstrings, obliques and wrists. Even if league revenues were going up, it perhaps would prove an ill-advised investment to give Cruz a new contract.

Using twinspayroll.com, you can project that, by letting Cruz go, the Twins have a few options. They could keep Rosario at 10-11M, sign May and Clippard, tender Rogers and still have a payroll about 17% less than this past year. If you filthy animals are so set on cutting Rosario, then payroll would reduce by over 25%. In that scenario, there would be about 20M available to add an Odorizzi type starter as well as a utility man to replace Marwin Gonzalez, while still staying 10% below 2020 payroll levels.

We don’t know how much of a hit the payroll will take- the last time there was a pandemic in baseball no player had yet hit 100 home runs in their career. But I do believe the Twins need to move on from Cruz. He’s been great, but the rest of the team needs to learn to love themselves without him, and let another team deal with his decline phase.

For fun, and to cast doubt on everything I have just said, here’s an article from six years ago calling the Mariner’s signing of Cruz a “booby trap” due to his age.