In the last week, people have seemed to grow impatient with the Twins prized DH remaining on the free agent market. “Just sign Nelson Cruz and get it over with” they say. The Twins front office however is likely playing things the right way.
Reports have surfaced saying the MLB has informed teams to “operate as if there is no DH in the National League”. For what it’s worth, that’s not a definitive statement, but it was likely one that Cruz wasn’t excited to hear. The MLB suggested that as Cruz approaches likely the last payday of his career, the pool of teams in need of his services has been greatly decreased from what he would have come to expect after much of the NL struggled to fill that role in 2020.
Furthermore, as Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic suggested earlier this week, the pool of possible teams for Cruz in the AL isn’t the strongest either. Not only does a team need an opening at DH to slot Cruz in, but they would likely need to be in contention to justify the risk of paying a significant salary to a 41 year old. So what exactly does this mean to Cruz?
It was reported that Cruz had an offer from the Twins back in October which has since been pulled along with the NL DH announcement. The price has not been reported, but we could suspect that it was for one year guaranteed and a significant sum to reflect the NL being in competition for Cruz. The fact that talks haven’t heated back up suggests Cruz is prepared to wait this out, banking on the MLB Players Association bargaining to bring the DH to the NL. He has little to lose by doing this, whereas the Twins stand to lose plenty by jumping the gun.
At this point in time, the Twins would be bidding against themselves in the Cruz market it seems. Cruz seems intent on waiting for 15 more suitors for his services to be announced later this winter, which means the Twins would have to pay that price right now without the assurance that announcement is ever even made. The difference in price may be $5m+ and likely a second guaranteed year. It’s easy enough for fans to say “quit being cheap, just do it”, but the Twins have significant needs elsewhere on their roster, and the front office simply isn’t going to handcuff themselves over a position that they already have in house options to fill. Signing Cruz right now likely costs the Twins a formidable utility man or high leverage bullpen arm, as well as flexibility in the 2021 offseason.
On top of all of this, the Twins have never been ones to want to be left “holding the bag” so to speak. Cruz finished 2020 poorly, missing much of the last month with injury and struggling upon his return. Twins fans may think Cruz can do this forever, but at 41 it’s not unlikely that one of these years the bottom falls out. While projection systems still put Cruz at 14% above league average for 2021, several other free agents hover around this mark such as Kyle Schwarber and Michael Brantley. The front office may consider pivoting to the younger, less risky options that can fill in at other positions in a pinch.
Cruz is still a star hitter until he shows he isn’t, but his last 2 years in Minnesota hide how likely it is that this revelation is right around the corner. We all want Cruz back, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of the Twins needs. While it’s frustrating to watch one of the most exciting players in Twins territory in recent years sit out in free agency, keep in mind that there’s a much larger plan at work. Nelson Cruz’s return in 2021 will likely only happen under the terms of the front office trying to construct a team rather than Cruz who’s trying to secure as big of a payday as possible.
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