Rays takes over seven-time All-Star Nelson Cruz from Twins

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With just over a week to the trade deadline, the Rays have taken a big step in acquiring slugger Nelson Cruz of the Twins as part of a four-player swap. Cruz and minor league judge Calvin Faucher heads to Tampa, while Minnesota picks up right-handed Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.

With the Twins in the midst of a nightmare season, Cruz became a natural trading ship as the 41-year-old slugger could be a free agent this winter. Cruz re-signed with Minnesota last season on a $13 million one-year contract, and Cruz still has approximately $4.87 million in salary due.

It wasn’t announced that cash considerations were involved, so it looks like the Rays will be taking all of Cruz’s remaining salary. This is no small matter for a Rays team that is always budget-conscious, and even with Cruz now in its lap, the club’s payroll is still below the $67 million threshold. Tampa Bay can (and probably will) take other steps before the July 30 deadline that could take other dollars off the books, but as it stands, the Cruz deal is a sign that Ray’s ownership is willing to go a bit financially to a team that looks like a contender to return to the World Series.

Despite Cruz’s age and apparent lack of defensive prowess, his bat has remained so dangerous that even some National League teams are reportedly include him in trade considerations, with a view to putting 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 little time in the outfield, it’s a very safe bet he’ll fill in as Tampa’s new everyday DH, bringing big pop to a line-up. up which is solid overall but in the middle of the pack in terms of strength.

Austin Meadows had taken the bulk of Tampa’s DH at bats, although Meadows now looks set 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 used at second base, and among other injuries or even trades that could arise, the Rays shouldn’t have much trouble finding enough playing time to keep everyone fresh and ready for another postseason push.

Cruz will be fit for the sixth different team in what has been a very impressive 17-year career. Named to his seventh All-Star team this season, Cruz shows no signs of slowing down, hitting .294/.370/.537 with 19 home runs on 346 at bats in 2021. This production is actually down from the .308/. 394/.626 slash he set over 735 PA for Minnesota in 2019-20, but “take phase” doesn’t seem like an apt description.

Ryan and Strotman are not at the top of Tampa prospects, although MLB Pipeline had them firmly on the list (Ryan 10th, Strotman 17th) on their list of the Rays’ top minor league talents. Both are starting pitchers with solid performances at Triple-A this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see their major league debuts before 2021 is over. Since the Twins are looking for returning to battle next year, landing two big league-ready weapons will help their rotational depth, as Michael Pineda and JA Happ are both free agents this winter (and both can be moved before July 30).

Ryan is 25 years old and was a seventh-round pick for the Rays in the 2018 draft. He broke Baseball America’s top 100 list (at 98th) prior to the 2020 season, and Ryan has continued his climb up the ladder through to post a 3.63 ERA over 57 innings at Triple-A Durham this year. At all levels, Ryan was great at missing bats (36.65% strikeout rate over 217 minor league IP) and avoiding walks (6.05% walk rate), thanks in large part to an excellent four-seamer. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report isn’t too fond of his other pitchers, but Ryan’s slider did earn a 55 on their 20-80 scouting scale.

The 24-year-old Strotman was a fourth-rounder in the 2017 draft, though his pro career was limited to 179 innings thanks to the canceled 2020 minor league season and a Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action for big chunks. the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. The Rays saw enough of Strotman that they added him to their 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and Strotman has looked solid by posting a 3.39 ERA over 58 1/3 Triple-A innings this year. His walks have increased as he has climbed the minor league ladder, with an unimpressive 13.15% run rate this year at Triple-A. Pipeline notes that command has been a strong point for Strotman in the past, and the right-hander’s fastball, cutter, and slider have all been ranked as above average to plus pitches.

Faucher is the other name in the deal, a 25-year-old right wing who struggled with his first introduction to Double-A baseball and this season racked up a 7.04 ERA with six home runs and 24 walks in 30 2/3 innings. Having consistently posted large strikeout numbers earlier in his minor league career and in college (at UC Irvine), the dogged Faucher has continued that trend with a strikeout rate of 27.63% amid his difficulties this season.

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