The Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins are in agreement on a deal sending designated hitter Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay. Cruz has been a huge piece for the Twins’ past two playoff runs, but the Twins are struggling in 2021. Offloading their 41-year-old slugger is the right move as they move forward. For the Rays, bringing on Cruz solidifies the DH spot in a lineup that has been lacking one so far this season.
Rays Add Cruz, Ready for Playoff Run
The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off an American League pennant in 2020, and, despite losing half of their starting rotation, they are still one of the AL’s top teams. Tampa Bay holds a 57-39 record, are just one game behind the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox, and currently hold the first wild card spot.
The DH spot has been one of the weaknesses for Tampa Bay in 2021. Austin Meadows has a 114 wRC+ as a DH and just a 68 wRC+ vs LHP. Other players have made starts at DH for the Rays, but they have not had a truly elite hitter at the position like the other AL pennant contenders, such as the Astros and Red Sox.
This year has not been as great for Cruz, who had incredible seasons in 2019 and 2020 in Minnesota. His approach has been slightly different this season, as his strikeout percentage is down from 25.7 percent in 2019-20 to 18.2 percent in 2021. In 2019-2020, Cruz had a .308/.394/.626 slash line with a .416 wOBA and a 163 wRC+, the second best mark in baseball. So far in 2021, Cruz has a 141 wRC+ and .380 xwOBA to go along with his 16 home runs.
Cruz has been one of the league’s truly elite hitters for years, despite jumping from team to team in the American League. Since 2014, Cruz has had a wRC+ above 130 each season. The Rays’ pitching is still a need to be addressed, but they filled a hole in their offense with a DH who can hit in the middle of the order each and every day, despite his old age.
Twins Bring in Young Pitching
In return for Nelson Cruz and minor league pitcher Calvin Faucher, the Twins received pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. Ryan, a 25-year-old righty, is currently in AAA and has a 3.63 ERA and 3.24 FIP in 57.0 innings this year for the Durham Bulls. He is near MLB-ready and could fit the Twins’ timeline should they look to retool at this year’s trade deadline.
According to FanGraphs, Ryan is the 14th ranked prospect in the Rays organization and is a 45 FV prospect. He has a 34.9 percent strikeout rate and 4.7 percent walk rate so far in AAA, which could translate well to the major leagues. Ryan’s best pitch is his fastball, which is graded at 60 by both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline (who has him as the Rays’ tenth-best prospect). Either way, Ryan is set to make his major league debut in 2021 and could be a huge piece for a Twins’ rotation with two tradeable arms in Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios.
The other piece, Drew Strotman, is Tampa Bays’ 17th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline and 13th according to FanGraphs. Strotman is 24 and is also close to MLB-ready, currently pitching at AAA Durham. Strotman has a 3.39 ERA, 3.65 FIP, and 24.7% K% in 58.1 innings this season, but his 13.1% BB% is cause for some concern. He has a future 60-grade cutter according to FanGraphs’ scouting report and is also a 45 FV prospect.
This could be the first of many moves at the deadline for Minnesota, especially with the uncertainty regarding Byron Buxton‘s future with the team. The 2019 and 2020 AL Central champs are now entering a rebuild, but many of their pieces still have value, including Buxton, Max Kepler, Berrios, Maeda, and others.
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