Twins Ink Nelson Cruz
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the Twins and Nelson Cruz are in agreement on a one-year, $14.3 million contract with an option for 2020. The veteran slugger will make a $14 million salary in 2019 and the club option for 2020 is worth $12 million with a $300,000 buyout. The deal is not yet official pending a physical. The Astros and Rays had been involved with Cruz in recent weeks but it looks like the Twins will get the prize. The veteran slugger will go a long way toward bolstering the Twins' mediocre power game. Only three American League teams finished with fewer home runs than the Twins did last year. Eddie Rosario led the club in homers with 24, Max Kepler had 20 and nobody else had more than 16. Cruz has averaged 41 home runs per year over the last five seasons and hasn't shown much sign of decline despite being 38 years old. He is one of the four oldest position players in the major leagues now that Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez have retired. Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday and Erik Kratz are also 38-years-old but a few months older -- but unlike those guys Cruz is still going strong. His batting line dipped slightly last year to .256/.342/.509 with 37 home runs and 97 RBI in 144 games. That is still an excellent season and the only item that was lower than usual was the batting average. That can be blamed on a career-low .264 BABIP. His 9.3% walk rate, 20.6% strikeout rate and .264 Isolated Power were all right at his career norms, which should give fantasy owners the confidence that Cruz has not yet shown any signs of diminished skill due to age. Twins' general manager Thad Levine was interviewed on MLB Network and said "He has prodigious power. He's been a guy who has defied aging so far as he enters his 38-year-old season. He seems to still be hitting the ball as far as he ever has with the same velocity."
Cruz will slot into the Twins' lineup as their primary designated hitter, replacing their failed experiment with Logan Morrison. The Twins signed Morrison as a free agent last winter after he turned in 38 home runs, 85 RBI and an .863 OPS with the Rays in 2017. He rewarded them by collapsing to an abysmal .186/.276/.368 slash line with 15 homers and 39 RBI in 2018, so they declined his option for 2019 and will reboot the system by adding Cruz instead. The addition of Cruz seems to solidify their plans for the season defensively. The newly-signed C.J. Cron will be the primary first baseman even though he is not very good in the field. That is not ideal but it makes more sense to put the aging and even more defensively-challenged Cruz at DH in an effort to keep him healthy and sharp for the long haul. He has played only nine games total in the field over the last two sesons, primarily in DH-less games in National League ballparks. Many observers felt the Twins would move Miguel Sano from third base over to first base but the addition of Cruz indicates that idea will be put on hold, at least for now. Sano is listed at 260 pounds, has never been too nimble at third base, and missed large chunks of the last two seasons with shin, hamstring and knee injuries. It would seem now more than ever that he is going to be a liability in the field but the club will leave him at the hot corner for one more season.
This is Hall of Fame voting season so it is worth wondering if Cruz will ever get to Cooperstown. He has certainly played like a Hall of Famer for the past several seasons. He leads the majors with 203 home runs in the past five seasons, 15 more than runner-up Giancarlo Stanton. He is third in RBI over that same period with 522 (Nolan Arenado leads with 564, Edwin Encarcion second with 550). The problem with Cruz's HOF candidacy is that he didn't become a regular starter in the major leagues until he was 28 years old. He broke into the majors in 2005 with the Brewers when he was 24 years old, which is a bit old for someone on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He played in only eight games that year though and was then traded to the Rangers. He spent the next three years bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors. 2009 was the first time he played in 100 games in the majors and 2012 was the first time he got enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title. In the 10 seasons since he became a semi-regular in 2009 he has led the majors with 338 home runs (Encarnacion and Pujols second with 314) and is third in RBI with 929 (Pujols first with 1005, Miguel Cabrera second with 985). So he has clearly been a HOF-caliber player for the last decade, but his late start has him sitting on 360 career homers (tied for 84th all-time), 1011 RBI (278th all-time) and 838 runs (540th). He has 33.4 career WAR, which is 457th all-time amongst position players. His lack of defensive aptitude has detracted from his WAR totals -- and may have been why he didn't get to play much when he was young. He has made six All Star teams so far and his best-ever finish in the MVP race was sixth in 2015. These are not Hall-worthy career totals. He will have to keep playing at an elite level for at least three more years to merit much in the way of consideration for the Hall of Fame. He was just too much of a late bloomer and started his epic run way too late to reach the lofty career totals required for the Hall.
News From Around the League
** Nationals signed RHP Anibal Sanchez to a two-year, $19 million contract with a $12 million club option for 2021. This deal was originally reported last week but didn't become official until Thursday. He will slide into the fourth starter slot in the Nationals' rotation. He pitched for the Braves last year and revitalized his career by going 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 24 starts and one relief appearance. One year earlier in 2017 he went 3-7 with an ugly 6.41 ERA in 17 starts and 11 relief appearances with the Tigers. The Nationals are obviously confident they are getting something closer to the 2018 version than the 2017 version of Sanchez. He will turn 35 years old before Opening Day and hasn't topped 157 innings in a season since 2013.
** MLB.com's Jon Morosi reports that the Padres have "emerged as a strong contender" to land Corey Kluber from the Indians. The Padres have two elite prospects in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and left-handed starter MacKenzie Gore, but those two are apparently off the table. Names rumored to be under consideration are catcher Austin Hedges and outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe. They are decent players but the Indians can probably do much better than that if they are willing to give up their cost-controlled ace. Kluber has finished in the top three of the AL Cy Young Award voting four times in the last five years and won the award twice. He is owed just $13 million in 2013 and his team has inexpensive options for two more seasons. The Dodgers and Reds have also gone deep into negotiations with the Indians for Kluber and possibly for Trevor Bauer as well.
** MLB.com's Jon Morosi reports that the Padres "have continued talks" with the Marlins about a possible J.T. Realmuto trade. Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the Padres could move Austin Hedges for pitching help if they are able to acquire J.T. Realmuto. The Marlins have seemingly been trying to trade Realmuto for a franchise-changing stack of elite prospects for the past two years. The Padres have the type of prospects the Marlins want if they are willing to part with them. The Dodgers, Astros, Reds and Rays have also been linked to Realmuto but none of them have been able to pry him away from the Marlins yet.
** According to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the Red Sox, White Sox, and Rockies are showing "continued interest" in Adam Ottavino. Ottavino is one of the most effective relievers left on the free agent market, although he doesn't have the name recognition or closing experience of Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton. He turned in a 2.43 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings last year while pitching half his games in Coors Field. He is likely to land a lucrative, multi-year deal with one of the big spenders this winter.
** According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, the Nationals, Reds, Rangers, Giants, and Brewers are among the teams showing interest in free agent Josh Harrison. He didn't play very well last year, slashing just .250/.293/.363 with eight home runs and 37 RBI in 97 games with the Pirates. He does have a long history of wielding a league-average bat while being able to play well defensively all over the field. He went to high school and college in Cincinnati and may prefer to play for the Reds, but he would have to settle for a backup role there.
** Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the Rays are eyeing a right-handed bat like Wilmer Flores for their lineup. The utilityman is a free agent after being non-tendered by the Mets last month. He batted .267/.319/.417 with 11 home runs and 51 RBI in 429 plate appearances in 2018.
** Cardinals re-signed C Francisco Pena to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He has a good chance of serving as Yadier Molina's back-up again next year. He wouldn't have much fantasy value even in two-catcher leagues because Molina plays nearly every day, unlike most starting catchers. The 29-year-old Pena has a career batting line of .216/.249/.311 with five homers and 13 RBI in 86 games.