Bad news for White Sox pitchers: Nelson Cruz will return to terrorize the AL Central in 2020.
That news is not at all shocking, considering the Minnesota Twins would have to be crazy to decline Cruz's option after he led The Bomba Squad with 41 homers in his first season in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They aren't, it turns out, with the team reportedly bringing Cruz back for another spin next season.
Twins are picking up Nelson Cruz’s $12M option for 2020. No surprise there.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 9, 2019
Cruz was an unbelievable addition for the Twins in 2019, helping lead a lineup that hit more home runs than any other in the history of the game (307). As mentioned, Cruz accounted for 41 of them, and he hit a not-insignificant number off White Sox pitching — eight to be precise — with seven coming at Guaranteed Rate Field. It's possible some of the balls he blasted out on the South Side have yet to land.
Cruz finished with an ungodly .433/.521/.917 slash line, the aforementioned eight dingers and 24 RBIs in the 16 games he played against the White Sox in 2019.
Keeping Cruz in the middle of their lineup figures to keep the Twins the main threat to win the AL Central crown, as they did this season before being promptly swept out of the postseason by the New York Yankees earlier this week. Despite the quick playoff exit, the Twins looked unbeatable for much of the season, particularly feasting on sub-.500 teams like the White Sox, who lost 13 of the 19 games they played against the Twins.
In order to stay atop the AL Central heap, however, the Twins might have to make some significant replacements. Jonathan Schoop, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Sergio Romo are among the team's pending free agents. Odorizzi and Gibson departing would blow two holes in the Minnesota rotation (though rookie pitcher Randy Dobnak provided some high hopes for Twins fans at season's end). Schoop leaving would take 23 home runs off the total, and Romo exiting would leave the Twins sans closer.
Obviously, they'd still have an ace in Jose Berrios and a host of big boppers led by Cruz, so don't exactly expect a brief reign for the Twins at the top of the division.
The White Sox, though, will be looking to make their transition from rebuilding to contending, and that transition is planned to end with them as the division's premier team. To do that, they'll have to get by the Twins, not to mention the pitching-rich Cleveland Indians. For at least one year, Cruz & Co. could continue to stand in the way of that ascent.
Much like the Twins did last winter, the White Sox are expected to make a number of upgrades this offseason to improve their chances of competing with the current kings of the Central. Couple those moves with the White Sox young core — which will add Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Nick Madrigal in 2020 — and you could be talking about a team ready to make a jump into Twins territory as soon as next season. We'll see.
One thing's for sure: The Twins will return their heaviest hitter for next season. So be alert in those outfield seats.