For many, Dec. 2 represents scouring the internet on Cyber Monday, trying to find the best deal on an air fryer or a new coffee maker. For MLB teams, that date holds much more weight, as it is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Nine Twins are eligible, eight decisions are presumed locks. Then there’s C.J. Cron …
Cron’s 2019 season was defined by health, and lack thereof, as his performance was directly correlated with the status of his right thumb. Prior to his July thumb injury, Cron had a nifty .821 OPS in 331 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 112 and a solid 19.3 K%.
After the injury, though, Cron struggled mightily to the tune of a .700 OPS in 168 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 80 and a 25.6 K%. The chart below really illustrates well just how much his play was impacted by his injured thumb.
The case for bringing back Cron is betting that he can come back healthy and replicate his early season success from 2019. When healthy, Cron is an above average power hitter with solid defense and a knack for scooping up low thrown balls. With a projected arbitration salary of $7.7M and no commitment beyond the 2020 season, Cron brings the Twins a tremendous amount of salary flexibility by keeping the future books clean in order to make other multi-year contracts more palatable (*cough* Zack Wheeler).
Cron was seemingly well-liked in the clubhouse and should the Twins brass have confidence in Cron’s thumb heading into next season, bringing him back in his final year of arbitration makes a lot of sense.
Should the Twins have confidence in Cron’s thumb, though?
Earlier this month, Cron underwent a surgical debridement to clean out his right thumb. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time that Cron has undergone this procedure. In October of 2016, after coming off of his most successful season in the big leagues to date, Cron underwent the same surgical debridement, except on his left thumb.
Looking at how Cron rebounded from his 2016 thumb debridement might give us an idea of how he might rebound from the thumb debridement he just received.
Unfortunately for Cron, the results were not great as he declined in every area in the season following his 2016 thumb debridement procedure. While it’s impossible to know how much of that decline was directly related to the thumb versus general regression after a great season, the stark decline should make the Twins nervous to bring back the first baseman.
Below, you can see just how much Cron regressed from 2016 to 2017. Could a similar dip in production be on the horizon for Cron next season?
Handing out nearly $8M to a first baseman with a history of hand injuries and coming off of a procedure from which he has already shown difficulty coming back seems like a risky proposition for the Twins. Especially when there are enticing alternatives out there.
I would prefer they not tender him a contract, make him a free agent and make other plans at first base in 2020. The Twins could look at the free agent market and acquire a first baseman on an affordable contract, like Eric Thames or Mitch Moreland. Additionally, we could look to move Miguel Sano across the diamond and pick up a free agent third baseman, like Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas.
Finally, the Twins could look to their farm system and replace Cron with a promising prospect like Alex Kirilloff or Brent Rooker.