Nelson Cruz packed up 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 night.
Cruz was well aware of the likelihood he’d be dealt this month, with the disappointing Twins well out of contention. Nonetheless he told reporters the news still felt “shocking” and “heartbreaking” to him after becoming fond of the organization over his 2½ seasons in Minnesota.
“It’s a tough one. I guess it’s a new chapter, and I will embrace it the way I embrace everything in my life to go help the Tampa Bay Rays to win a championship,” Cruz said.
Moments before opening a four-game series at Cleveland, the Rays — who won, 5-4, in 10 innings to close within a half-game of the first-place Red Sox in the AL East — announced they got Cruz and Double A righthander Calvin Faucher from Minnesota in exchange for minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.
The 41-year-old Cruz has 436 career homers and 1,202 RBIs. He’ll bring some needed pop to Tampa Bay’s lineup and should help the Rays against left-handers. They’re hitting .226 versus lefties.
Tampa is fifth in the American League in runs per game, but its DHs have been third-worst with a .694 OPS. The Angels lead the majors at 1.035, with the Red Sox (.941) in second. Cruz should also help the Rays against lefthanders. They entered the series batting .226 versus lefties.
Usually frugal Tampa Bay assumes $5.1 million remaining in Cruz’s $13 million salary. The Rays began the season with a $68.3 million payroll, 26th among the 30 teams.
The seven-time All-Star also has plenty of playoff experience with 17 homers and 37 RBIs in 46 postseason games. He’s batting .294 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs this season, and over 258 games with the Twins he finished with 76 homers and a .984 OPS.
“People joke about how he’s ageless, and it really does feel that way,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.
With a week until the trade deadline and no shot at making the playoffs, the Twins figured they’d get something for Cruz to begin building toward the future. Minnesota entered Thursday at 41-55.
“He may be the best teammate I’ve ever seen in terms of the way he goes about his business, the way he puts his arm around people, the way he helps us become better in our front office jobs and coaching staff jobs,” Falvey said. “This guy is beyond special.”
A 17-year veteran, Cruz signed a one-year, $13 million deal with Minnesota in February. He has also played with Baltimore and Texas. He hit at least 37 homers per season from 2014-19. He belted a career-high 44 homers for the Mariners in 2015.
“We thought we should be in the playoff race,” Cruz said. “Never thought we should be in this situation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. You never want to leave the places where you are, where you feel comfortable. It is what it is. That’s part of the business.”
Both Ryan and Strotman were in Triple-A Durham’s rotation. Ryan will also pitch for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics.
Chicago’s Yermín Mercedes sticks with baseball, after all
One day after announcing he was stepping away from baseball, Yermín Mercedes was back with the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate. The White Sox confirmed the surprising rookie who carried the team with his booming bat early in the season and got sent to the minors following a prolonged slump was in uniform for the Charlotte Knights’ game against the Durham Bulls. “I will never give up,” Mercedes wrote in an Instagram post, the same forum where he’d posted “it’s over” on Wednesday. “I apologize. ... I love everybody. I’m back.” The 28-year-old sparked Chicago’s offense through the opening months of the season, batting .415 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 22 games in April, but was called out by his manager, Tony La Russa, for homering despite given the take sign in a May blowout. Mercedes cooled to .150 over his final 31 games before being demoted on July 2 . . . Eric Haase hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Detroit extended its winning streak to a season-best seven games by topping Texas, 7-5, to complete a four-game sweep and a perfect post-All-Star break homestand. The Rangers have lost nine straight, equaling their longest slide this season . . . Kwang Hyun-Kim had his MLB-best 24⅔-inning scoreless streak snapped, but still earned his fifth straight win on his 34th birthday, St. Louis beating the Cubs, 3-2. The Cardinals are 49-48, their first winning record since June 20.