Earlier Thursday, Audacy insider Jon Heyman said the Rays were looking to supplement their lineup by adding another bat ahead of next week’s trade deadline. And that’s precisely what the reigning AL pennant winners did, acquiring Twins slugger Nelson Cruz, who ranks third among active players in home runs (436), and right-hander Calvin Faucher in exchange for pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. The seven-time All-Star had been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season for the Twins, leading the team in hits (87), home runs (19), RBI (50) and batting average (.294).
Cruz is purely a rental—the 41-year-old is headed for free agency (assuming he doesn’t retire) after this season. But for a Rays team trying to keep pace in a loaded division (they trail the first-place Red Sox by a single game in the hotly-contested AL East), the veteran DH is certainly worth the risk, even without playing the field. Though Tampa Bay’s pitching has been lights out (3.59 ERA, .227 BAA), it’s been a struggle for the Rays offensively, ranking near the bottom of the league in batting average (.231) while also leading the majors with 975 strikeouts.
One of two Twins represented in this year’s All-Star Game (the other being closer Taylor Rogers), Cruz has fared reasonably well in his career at Tropicana Field, boasting a .272 average with nine homers in 125 lifetime at-bats in Tampa. In return for Cruz and Faucher, the Twins are getting two of the Rays’ better minor-league arms in Ryan (4-3, 3.63 ERA in 12 appearances for Triple-A Durham) and Strotman (7-2, 3.39 over 58 1/3 innings for Durham). Before they were traded, Ryan and Strotman ranked 10th and 17th respectively in the Rays’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. Ryan, who joined the Rays as a seventh-round pick out of Cal State Stanislaus in 2018, is currently representing Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics.
Cruz may be the biggest domino to fall, but he surely won’t be the last for Minnesota with the struggling Twins likely headed for a deadline fire sale. Along with Cruz (who admitted he was "sad" to leave the Twin Cities), Minnesota could also look to move Josh Donaldson, Jose Berrios and even oft-injured center fielder Byron Buxton as the rebuilding Twins look to turn the page on what has been a frustrating season.