A month ago I wrote about Nelson Cruz’s free agency, and in that article I discussed that although he is still a very good hitter, his age and lack of position would limit the number of sensible landing destinations. He just signed a one-year, $14.3 million deal with the Minnesota Twins, with a $12 million team option for 2020.
Of course, and as often happens, Cruz lands with a team that I did not forecast as an option. At least I was not too far off with the contract. Truth be told, I thought long and hard about including the Twins on that list, but obviously I decided against it. Even before C.J. Cron signed, I thought they would want to keep the designated hitter slot open for Miguel Sanó. Moreover, I didn’t believe that the Twins were competitive enough to make so much as a modest splash in free agency. They were an improbable playoff team in 2017, but fell below .500 in the historically weak AL Central last season.
It would have been ludicrous to sign Cruz for anything close to his last contract, but this deal seems reasonable for the Twins, especially in light of the fact that they just unloaded Joe Mauer’s contract off the books.
It’s low risk, high reward. Their chances for making the playoffs are low in what is shaping up to be an AL Wild Card race to see who gets to play the Coin Flip game in Boston or New York. This of course, is contingent on how Cleveland manages the rest of the offseason, and who, if anyone, they decide to trade in their prime.
According to the projections at FanGraphs, the Angels are projected to be the second Wild Card team with 84 wins. The runner-ups are the A’s with 82 wins and the Twins with 80 wins, and those projections likely do not figure in the Cruz signing. There is a scenario where one could envision the Twins sneaking into the playoffs if everything breaks right, and I am not just talking about the Wild Card. The Cleveland Indians are currently much better than anybody else in the division and are the heavy favorites to win it again, but the operative word there is “currently.” They already lost Michael Brantley to free agency, and they are rumored to be looking to offload the salary of Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer, even though they absolutely can afford them and so much more. If Cleveland undergoes a bunch of unnecessary cost-cutting measures this winter, they might no longer be a lock to win the division. Still likely, yes, but far from a sure thing.
The Twins will most likely make Cruz the full-time DH and slot Cron in at first base. I would say that this makes the Twins a better team offensively by a couple of wins, but I am concerned that they will have no place to put Sanó if he becomes unplayable at third base, though I suppose if he does not hit much better than he did in 2018, then the point is moot.
Cleveland is not going to unload so much salary that the Twins can compete with them right now as is. Currently, the Twins’ payroll is not much more than $100 million, and they do not have any onerous long term deals on the books. In fact, unless I am mistaken, they do not have any guaranteed contracts for after 2019! They can absolutely afford to spend more in free agency. Dallas Keuchel would make a nice addition to their starting rotation, for example.
Adding Nelson Cruz is a great follow-up to the signing of Jonathan Schoop, but they can’t stop there if they truly want to be contenders in 2019. The Twins will need to do more if they want to give themselves a serious shot at making the playoffs next year.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.