CLEVELAND — Nelson Cruz grabbed his big bat and joined a contender.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Cruz, one of baseball’s most proven sluggers, in a four-player trade with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday evening.
Cruz was well aware of his chances of getting a deal this month, while the disappointing Twins was way out of line. Nevertheless, he told reporters the news was still “shocking” and “heartbreaking” for him after he grew fond of the organization during his 2 1/2 seasons in Minnesota.
“It’s a tough one,” Cruz said. “I think it’s a new chapter, and I will embrace it as I embrace everything in my life to help the Tampa Bay Rays win a championship.”
Just before opening a four-game run in Cleveland, the Rays, who went into the night just one game behind first-place Boston in the AL East, announced that they had gotten Cruz and minor leaguer Calvin Faucher of Minnesota in exchange. for minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.
Cruz, 41, is a seven-time All-Star with 436 career home runs and 1,202 RBIs. He’ll bring some much-needed pop to Tampa Bay’s lineup and should help the Rays against left-handers. They hit .226 against lefts.
Tampa Bay usually assumes there is $5.1 million left of Cruz’s $13 million salary. The Rays started the season with a payroll of $68.3 million, 26th out of 30 teams.
Cruz also has a lot of playoff experience with 17 home runs and 37 RBIs in 46 games after the season. He hits .294 this season with 19 homeruns and 50 RBI’s, and in more than 258 games with the Twins, he finished with 76 homers and a .984 OPS.
“People joke about how timeless it is, and it really feels that way,” said Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball operations.
With a week left until the trade deadline and no chance to make the playoffs, the Twins thought they would get something for Cruz to build for the future. Minnesota came in on Thursday, 41-55.
“He’s arguably the best teammate I’ve ever seen in terms of the way he does his business, the way he puts his arm around people, the way he helps us get better at our front office jobs.” and coaching staff positions.” said Falvey. “This man is beyond special.”
Cruz, a 17-year veteran, signed a $13 million one-year deal with Minnesota in February. He has also played with Baltimore and Texas. He hit at least 37 home runs per season from 2014-19. He hit a career-high 44 home runs for the Mariners in 2015.
“We thought we should be in the playoff race,” Cruz said. “Never thought we would be in this situation. Unfortunately that was not the case. You never want to leave the places where you are, where you feel comfortable. It is what it is. That is part of the profession.”
Both Ryan and Strotman were in Triple-A Durham’s rotation.
Ryan, a 25-year-old who will also pitch for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, had a 3.63 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 57 innings for the Bulls and was ranked by MLB.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. He was a seventh round draft pick in 2018.
Strotman, 24, had a 3.39 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings with Durham. He was the 17th-ranked Rays prospect after being drafted in the fourth round in 2017.
Faucher, 25, had a 7.04 ERA striking out 42 in 30 2/3 innings for Double-A Wichita. He was a 10th round draft pick by the Twins in 2017.
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