The Tampa Bay Rays have made a rare trade deadline splash, acquiring 41-year old Designated Hitter Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins.
Typically trades for position players mid-season do not net strong returns, but the Rays are sending two Triple-A starting pitchers to get the deal done, including Olympics bound Joe Ryan and the 40-man rostered Drew Strotman, who had to be protected from the Rule-5 draft last offseason.
In desperate need of a quality right handed bat, the Rays could have gone in many directions. With baseball’s best farm system, all the chips could have been pushed in for one of baseball’s top flight hitters like Jose Ramirez. The Rays also could have thrown their hat into the sure-to-come bidding war for Kris Bryant. The Rays chose not to wait, and flexed that farm system muscle by offering the Twins two quality starting pitchers for the future in return of an energizing hitter.
By spending both prospect capital and cash — Cruz is owed at least $5 million for the rest of the season, a sizeable sum for Tampa Bay — the Rays pick up a designated hitter who does not need to be platooned, a plus when much of the Rays roster plays in a time-share.
Cruz does not offer much in the way of defense — although one person told me he’s always carrying the appropriate gloves should he need to play first, second, or the outfield. Instead he brings one of baseball’s best bats, with a 141 wRC+ on the season and 19 homers already accumulated.
Don’t let his age fool you. Among major league hitters, Nelson Cruz is in the 98th percentile for Max Exit Velocity, 95th for Avg Exit Velocity, 94th in HardHit%, 93rd in xwOBA, 92nd in xSLG, 86th in Barrel%, and 70th in strikeouts. He’s simply one of the best, and has already spoken about playing in 2022 when his contract is up.
From an outside perspective, one national level evaluator told me this seems like a perfectly reasonable deal, as both sides are sure to be thrilled. The Minnesota Twins add a pitcher that pleases each side of the front office, with scouts sure to be celebrating Joe Ryan’s “invisible” fastball, while the R&D shop celebrates Strotman’s plus spin rates. The Rays will miss neither in 2021, and still have top flight starters in the minors to come.
Rounding out the deal for the Rays is Calvin Faucher, a big arm that utilizes a but of deception to get things done... although he hasn’t yet. Through 19 games at the Double-A level, Faucher has a 27% strikeout rate and a 7-run ERA. Nevertheless, Faucher is a type of pitcher the Rays have had success with over the last few years, and was the piece that evened the scales for Erik Neander and company.