Rays Acquire Nelson Cruz – MLB Trade Rumors

With just over a week before the trade deadline, the Rays have made a big move in acquiring slugger Nelson Cruz from the Twins.  As officially announced by the Twins, Cruz and minor league righty Calvin Faucher will head to Tampa, while Minnesota will pick up right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.  ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link) was the first to report that the Rays were acquiring Cruz, while Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter links) was the first to report that it was a four-player deal also involving Strotman.

With the Twins in the midst of a nightmare season, Cruz became a natural trade chip, as the 41-year-old slugger can be a free agent this winter.  Cruz re-signed with Minnesota last offseason on a one-year, $13MM contract, and Cruz has roughly $4.87MM remaining in owed salary.

There was no announcement made of cash considerations being involved, so it appears as though the Rays will be taking on all of Cruz’s remaining salary.  This is no small matter for a Rays team that always has an eye on the budget, and even with Cruz now in the fold, the club’s payroll is still under the $67MM threshold.  Tampa Bay can (and likely will) make other moves before the July 30 deadline that could move some other dollars off the books, but as it stands, the Cruz deal is a sign that Rays ownership is willing to stretch a bit financially to bolster a team that looks like a contender to return to the World Series.

Despite Cruz’s age and seeming lack of defensive value, his bat has remained so dangerous that even some National League teams were reportedly including him in trade considerations, with an eye towards deploying Cruz in the outfield for the first time since 2018.  While the Rays’ penchant for roster maximization could lead to Cruz getting at least a bit of time in the outfield, it’s a very safe bet that he’ll slot in as Tampa’s new everyday DH, bringing some big-time pop to a lineup that is solid overall but middle-of-the-pack in terms of power.

Austin Meadows had received the bulk of Tampa’s DH at-bats, though Meadows now looks to move into the outfield mix with Randy Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe, and (when he returns from the IL) Manuel Margot.  Lowe can also be utilized at second base, and between any other injuries or even trades that might emerge, the Rays shouldn’t have much issue in finding enough playing time to keep everyone fresh and ready for another postseason push.

Cruz will suit up for the sixth different team over what has been a very impressive 17-year career.  Named to his seventh All-Star team just this season, Cruz is showing no signs of slowing down, hitting .294/.370/.537 with 19 homers over 346 plate appearances in 2021.  This production is actually a dropoff from the .308/.394/.626 slash line he posted over 735 PA for Minnesota in 2019-20, but “decline phase” doesn’t really seem like an applicable description.

Neither Ryan and Strotman are in the upper crust of Tampa prospects, though MLB Pipeline did have them solidly ranked (Ryan 10th, Strotman 17th) on their list of the Rays’ best minor league talents.  Both are starting pitchers with solid performances at Triple-A this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see their make their Major League debuts before 2021 is finished.  Since the Twins are looking to return to contention next year, landing two big league-ready arms will help their pitching depth, considering Michael Pineda and J.A. Happ are both free agents this winter (and either could be moved before July 30.

More to come…