Even when he visited Target Field as a member of the Mariners last season, Nelson Cruz saw the young talent in Minnesota and was already thinking the Twins would be a good fit for him in free agency. Less than a year later, on Wednesday, Cruz was introduced as the
Even when he visited Target Field as a member of the Mariners last season, Nelson Cruz saw the young talent in Minnesota and was already thinking the Twins would be a good fit for him in free agency. Less than a year later, on Wednesday, Cruz was introduced as the Twins' newest member, signed to a one-year contract with a club option for 2020.
"I guess I can predict the future, and I'm proud to be a Minnesota Twin now," Cruz said. "I'm very excited. I can't wait to show up at Spring Training and be part of the team."
The Twins were attracted to Cruz not only for his prolific power numbers over the past half-decade, but also for his strong leadership ability, which was developed throughout his Major League career. Twins general manager Thad Levine has a good connection with Cruz from the time they spent together with the Rangers, where Cruz spent eight seasons and Levine served as assistant general manager for 11.
"That's what excites us most about signing Nelson Cruz," Levine said. "He just referenced when he was a younger player getting influenced by guys like Michael Young. Well, he has a chance now to have the impact that Michael Young had on the Texas Rangers, here in Minnesota. And it's a pretty similarly complected lineup that he's going to get a chance to influence."
That influence was made clear by Jonathan Schoop, who played a big role in recruiting Cruz to Minnesota. According to Levine, Schoop has repeatedly referenced the impact Cruz had on him and Manny Machado in Baltimore, and reached out to Cruz via the smartphone chatting application WhatsApp throughout the recruitment process.
Cruz said Schoop was like a "second agent" in trying to bring him to the Twins.
The 38-year-old Cruz could have a similarly big impact on Miguel Sano, a fellow Dominican who has been working to improve his conditioning this offseason in the Dominican Republic and Fort Myers, Fla. Sano was also in touch with Cruz several times during his recruitment.
"I naturally am always ready to help and willing to help, and [Sano] expressed that, he [told] me, 'I want to learn how to be part of good teams,'" Cruz said.
Cruz believes in Sano and the Twins' young talent, and he feels Minnesota is in a good position to win now, which reminds him of a similar situation with the Rangers earlier in his career.
"We all agreed that it's the same situation," Cruz said. "We had a lot of talent and we just need something to click. We're on the right page right now with all of the talent we have. It's a matter of staying healthy, and we can do a lot of good things as a team."
The Twins had a designated hitter by committee for the past several years, but they couldn't pass up on the opportunity to fill it more consistently when a player of Cruz's caliber became available. Minnesota didn't have much power out of its first base or DH spots in 2018 and has now acquired C.J. Cron and Cruz to make up that production.
"I think it's rare that you get to add a bat, a player, like Nelson into the mix," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "You're going to work with the skill sets of the players you have. But when you're able to pencil his name in there in the middle of the order firmly on a regular basis, that's certainly something you have to take advantage of and jump on whenever you have an opportunity to have a player like that doing that."
Cruz, who has hit at least 37 homers in each of the past five seasons, slashed .281/.356/.541 during that timeframe. His 203 homers in that span led all Major League hitters, ahead of Giancarlo Stanton (188) and Edwin Encarnacion (185). He hit .256/.342/.509 with 37 homers in 2018 for the Mariners, and he was named to his sixth American League All-Star team.
He enjoys hitting at Target Field, where he has a .325/.355/.667 line with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 30 career games.
"I love to hit there. I don't know the reason why. For some reason, I feel comfortable hitting there. Hopefully that's the case when I play there every day."
That history at Target Field also includes a 493-foot homer in 2016 off current Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey, who jokingly tweeted his relief that he wouldn't need to face Cruz in '19 when reports of the signing first broke.
"I haven't talked to him," Cruz said. "Looking forward to Spring Training to say, 'I'm sorry.'"
• The Twins have still not announced a corresponding move to open a spot for Cruz on the 40-man roster. They have made a decision but haven't yet been able to reach the player involved before they make the announcement.
• Cruz will wear number 23 with the Twins, which belonged to catcher Mitch Garver, who will switch to 18.
• Cruz hopes to participate in TwinsFest, a chance for fans to interact with the team and celebrate Twins baseball, set to take place Jan. 25-27 at Target Field.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.