The Twins and Nelson Cruz have expressed mutual interest in extending their relationship, although it sounds as though that could require a multi-year offer out of Minnesota. LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes that Cruz is “believed to be seeking a two-year deal” as he sits on the cusp of a return trip to the open market.
That the 40-year-old Cruz hopes to play another two years is notable in and of itself, although that doesn’t register as a huge surprise given his continued production at the plate. Cruz posted a superlative .303/.397/.595 slash with 16 home runs as the Twins’ DH in 2020 and has raked at a .308/.394/.626 clip overall since signing in Minnesota prior to the 2019 season. That contract was a one-year, $14.3MM deal with a club option for 2020. In total, he’s banked $26MM in his two years with the Twins.
At present, the uncertainty surrounding the universal DH keeps Cruz’s market fairly small. He’s played just nine games in the field since Opening Day 2017 and never played the outfield for the Twins. As such, Cruz would need an AL club with a win-now mindset, DH at-bats to spare and a willingness to spend. The Twins certainly fit that bill, as do the division-rival White Sox, and there’s an easy case that the Blue Jays could slot Cruz in at DH over Rowdy Tellez.
Looking around the rest of the league, most clubs either have an expensive name in their DH mix (Khris Davis, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton), a younger option at DH (Yordan Alvarez) or are simply in a rebuilding phase. And with revenue losses from the absence of fans hitting all 30 clubs, some teams just won’t want to spend the type of money Cruz would command anyhow. On the surface there’s little reason to expect that he’d have to take a pay cut in terms of annual salary; his production with the Twins actually outpaced his final couple years in Seattle.
Of course, if the MLBPA and the league agree to implement a designated hitter in both leagues, Cruz’s market would expand immensely. Nearly any National League contender would be able to make space to install a bat this potent in its everyday lineup, and the two-year term would become much easier to envision. From that standpoint, one could argue that the Twins would be best-served to proactively move to keep Cruz in the fold. Alternatively, if they’re skeptical the universal DH will be implemented in 2021, perhaps they’d hold firm at one year to avoid the risk of locking themselves into what would be Cruz’s age-42 season in 2022.
Neal suggests that Cruz may simply wait to sign until some clarity on the DH front is gained, although at this point there’s still no indication as to when that will be. His situation is far from the only one impacted by that still-unknown outcome, however. We’ve already heard GMs in San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta and other NL cities comment publicly on the difficulty of constructing a roster without knowing for certain whether they’ll have those DH at-bats available. Padres GM A.J. Preller indicated last week that the NL DH status could impact their decision on Mitch Moreland’s club option. Both Giants president of baseball ops Farhan Zaidi and Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos have referenced uncertainty regarding the DH as an offseason challenge in the past week as well.