While some will find the 2021 season to have ended in bitter disappointment or outright failure, I will be playing devils advocate and say that it didn't. Was I extremely sad the next morning after scrolling Twitter and seeing clip after clip of that fly ball from Kiké Hernandez land in the glove of Austin Meadows and his best attempt at the throw... oh that painful throw, home, only to see it go wide right sending the Red Sox charging onto the field in celebration, and the camera pans to Lowe and company in the dugout looking defeated after the uplifting events that had happened the inning prior? I sure was, but in my years as a Rays fan the one thing I have learned was dwelling on the past for too long, good or bad, will fill you with a feeling of dread or negativity for what lies ahead, and that is what I will be discussing today. What. Lies. Ahead.
Looking to Free Agency 2021, I think the grizzled veteran fans know what to expect and in this post I will be will be discussing whether or not I think resigning the big deadline acquisition Nelson Cruz would be A. Realistic and B. Be a good signing for this team for 2022, so lets get started.
Nelson Cruz. Acquired in a surprising and ambitious deadline deal by Neander and Co. from the Minnesota Twins in a four player deal that sent RHP Prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman to the Twins, yielding DH Nelson Cruz and RHP Calvin Faucher in return.
Looking at the Twins side of the deal for a bit, they very much got good value for an expiring contract, I personally was very high on Joe Ryan, while he seems to be struggling on the surface and on paper, if you take a deeper look that isn't the case. Ryan had an above average K/9 of 10.13 over 26.1 IP and in those 26.1 IP in the MLB he had a BABIP of .197, a FIP of 3.43 and an ERA of 4.36, if we want to look at his expected stats, he had an xERA of 2.99 and an xFIP of 3.73, a lot of numbers, but looking at the stats he had control over he was very much a good pitcher coming out of the bullpen for the Twins.
Now do I expect Ryan to eventually become a starter? Short answer No. Long answer, an opener, maybe? He definitely has a place in this league, but in my opinion it is as a Mid to Setup guy and for an expiring Nelson Cruz, getting a bullpen piece like that for a few years to come seems like a decent deal!
Now Looking at Strotman, I am going to simply list his stats as he is a 24 year old minor leaguer still and move on.
Over 12 Starts, 54.1 IP, a 7 K/9, 5 BB/9, .329 BABIP, 7.33 ERA and 5.75 FIP in AAA. The jury is definitely still out on Strotman as he is still only 24 and coming off of Tommy John, he has the tools to succeed as a Major League starter but if the Twins will continue to trend his development, recovery and overall progression in an upward direction is yet to be discovered.
Now looking over at the Rays side of the deal, the first player I want to discuss from their end is not Nelson, rather RHP Calvin Faucher.
After the trade Faucher started with the Rays AA Affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, in his time with the Biscuits he only made 2 appearances and had 4.2 IP, he struck out 4 in 4.2 IP and had a 1.69 WHIP so it seems the organization definitely thought he should be in AAA and that's where he spent the rest of the season. In AAA, Faucher, over 11 appearances and 21.1 IP, had an ERA of 1.77, WHIP of 1.03, BABIP of .289 and FIP of 2.89, on top of all that opposition bats had an AVG of .194 against him.
Looking at his K/9 and BB/9 they were 11.51 and 3.1 respectively. Seeing as he was widely regarded as a throw-in to this trade I would not be shocked to see him get MLB innings if he continues to pitch like this. (As I type this imagine my shock hearing he was added to the 40 man!) His arsenal is very "Rays-Like" Mid to Upper 90s fastball with a high spin rate breaking ball that can be used to catch hitters that aren't expecting it. I am calling it right now, we will see him pitch some MLB innings in 2022.
Okay...the big fish, the moment you have been waiting for, Nelson Cruz.
I will be the first one to admit that I was very much underwhelmed with the on-field performance of Nelly.
With the Rays he slashed .226/.283/.442 , not great, but not terrible. Looking at the advanced stats he had a .302 wOBA, OPS of .725, and a wRC+ of 96. I wanted to take a look at his home and away splits only with the Rays because I had a feeling that as with a lot of others, he was "Trop'd".
Home: AVG .211 | OBP .270 | SLG .333 | OPS .603 | wOBA .250| wRC+ 66
Away: AVG .236 | OBP .292 |SLG .520 | OPS .812 | wOBA .339 | wRC+ 115
Looking at just purely statistics, he was "Trop'd" as Willy Adames was, the dome giveth and the dome taketh away.
Not everything is on the field though, and a huge example of this is the mentorship Cruz imparted with our wonderkid, Wander Franco. Pre Nelson in 88 plate appearances he slashed .200/.261/.363 with a .624 OPS, .269 wOBA and 74 wRC+.
Post Nelson trade? An other worldly .323/.382/.502 with an .884 OPS .379 wOBA and 148 wRC+ as a rookie, I don't know if it was all due to the mentorship of Nelson Cruz but I will for sure attribute some of that to it.
Some Rays fans may be disappointed with the outcome of this deal, especially if Strotman and Ryan pan out to be decent MLB pitchers, but looking deeper this trade was not only pivotal to the development of what I consider the future of this franchise, but it also sent a message "We will do what it takes to win". Do I think Nelson should be resigned at a 14m cap hit? No that just isn't feasible. Do I think Nelson should be a part of the 2022 team on a cheaper deal if he so chooses? Yes I do, I think what he brought to the locker room was a huge factor in the winning of 100 games.
If Cruz moves on for 2022 and you see him start mashing again, do not be upset or angry, be happy he came here and imparted his knowledge on this team, and was willing to give his all, as well as do not be surprised that hitting in the trop was a tough challenge for yet another hitter. I am grateful for Erik Neander and Co. for making this deal, and I look forward to what lies ahead. #RaysUP