Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Twins announcing a free agent deal with Nelson Cruz. The then-38-year-old received a one-year, $14.3MM guarantee with a $12MM club option covering the 2020 season.
At the time, Cruz was coming off an incredible four-year run with the Mariners. He had hit .284/.362/.546 during his time in Seattle. By measure of weighted runs created plus, the slugger was the sport’s eighth-most productive hitter between 2015-18 (minimum 600 plate appearances). Nevertheless, Cruz’s age and lack of defensive value as a full-time designated hitter limited him to a single year guarantee.
After a surprising Wild Card berth in 2017, the Twins slumped to a 78-84 season in 2018. Surely, the front office hoped that signing Cruz would install an elite bat into the middle of the order and help Minnesota’s lineup emerge as one of the best in the league. That’s precisely how things played out.
If anything, the already-great Cruz took his offensive game to another level in 2019. He hit a career-best .311/.392/.639 with 41 home runs in just 521 plate appearances. As a team, Minnesota slugged a record 307 homers that year en route to an AL Central title. That made exercising the 2020 option a no-brainer. Cruz again mashed at an elite level and helped the Twins to their second consecutive division championship this past season.
Now 40 years old, Cruz is again a free agent, facing the same questions he faced last time he was on the open market (and the time before that). He offers nothing defensively and is among the oldest players in the sport. Yet Cruz has shown no signs of decline at the plate; on the contrary, he’s coming off arguably the two best offensive seasons of his career.
Another deal between the Twins and Cruz makes plenty of sense. Minnesota again looks like one of the best teams in the American League, although the pursuit of another division title looks more difficult than ever thanks to the White Sox’s emergence as a legitimate contender. The past two division crowns haven’t led to any postseason success, which the Twins no doubt hope to change in 2021. The parties have remained in contact this winter. No deal has come together to this point amidst uncertainty about whether the DH will expand to the National League, which would obviously open up Cruz’s market.