The Twins announced that they’ve claimed first baseman C.J. Cron off waivers from the Rays. Cron was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay last week despite a 30-homer campaign in 2018, and he’s now among the top candidates to see action for the Twins at first base and designated hitter in 2019. Minnesota’s 40-man roster is now at 39 players.
It’s not yet clear whether Cron will represent the Twins’ lone addition at first base/designated hitter this season following the retirement of Joe Mauer, but the fact that he was claimed at all makes it seem likely that they’ll tender him a contract this offseason. (The non-tender deadline looms on Friday.) Cron has ample experience at first base and has received slightly above-average marks there from both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating across the past three seasons combined.
Of course, Cron’s real calling card is right-handed power. The 28-year-old (29 in January) hit .253/.323/.493 with 30 homers, 28 doubles and a triple in 560 plate appearances for Tampa Bay this past season. The Rays, though, as they did with Corey Dickerson an offseason prior, elected to designate a fairly productive hitter for assignment in part due to salary concerns and in part because they undoubtedly believe the market will ultimately yield comparable production at a lesser price. Corner bats with limited defensive value haven’t been rewarded in free agency in recent years, and the Rays could either find a more affordable alternative or could simply go with in-house options like Jake Bauers, Ji-Man Choi or Nathaniel Lowe.
Cron is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $5.2MM in 2019, making him a reasonably affordable add for Minnesota. Cron is controlled not only through 2019 but also through the 2020 season, so he could potentially be a multi-year piece for Minnesota if the organization is pleased with his 2019 output. Cron should have a fairly easy transition from Tampa Bay to Minnesota, weather not withstanding, as he’s plenty familiar with rookie manager Rocco Baldelli, who was on the Rays’ coaching staff last season as the team’s Major League field coordinator.
While the claim doesn’t technically mean that the Twins are committing a 2019 roster spot to Cron — he could still be non-tendered — it does seem likely that he’s now firmly in the team’s plans. That furthers the likelihood that outfielder/designated hitter Robbie Grossman, who projects to earn $4MM next season, will be non-tendered before Friday’s deadline. Minnesota could yet make some additions to the first base/DH mix next season and could potentially still add a third baseman as well, depending on the organization’s plans for Miguel Sano. A move across the diamond to first has been rumored for Sano, or the organization could simply choose to rotate the slugger between both corner infield slots and designated hitter next season.