MINNEAPOLIS -- Nelson Cruz's contract situation remained in limbo for most of the offseason, but his heart never left Minnesota.
"Like I said before, in the end, I knew where I wanted to be regardless of my decision," Cruz said. "They all knew I wanted to come back."
Cruz's wish officially became reality on Wednesday, when the Twins announced Cruz's one-year, $13 million contract for 2021, and the designated hitter reiterated his desire to win a championship in Minnesota alongside the players, executives and staff members who have lived large in his heart since he first arrived as a free agent before the '19 season.
"Once you find love in a relationship -- like, me and [general manager Thad Levine] have known each other for a long time -- it doesn't matter what's going on," Cruz said. "At the end of the day, we know that we love each other and we have a really good relationship.
"We all felt like I was part of the team even when I wasn't there. I always wanted the best for the team. It didn't matter where I am, even if it wouldn't have been the case that I'd have signed with them. Because I have a love for this team. I have a love for those persons. I wanted the best for them."
Having Cruz back in a Twins uniform is likely what was best for the club all along. His production at the plate speaks for itself, as he posted two of the best offensive seasons of his career in Minnesota in 2019 and '20, hitting 57 homers and posting a 1.020 OPS over that span. His leadership and postseason experience grow even more important following an offseason in which the Twins have lost Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard.
This should be an important transitional year in Minnesota, as top prospects, such as Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran, figure to establish themselves as Major Leaguers. Having Cruz around as an example, alongside J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda, can only help.
"I think it’s pretty fair to say that Nelson is a rarity in a lot of ways, and it’s very significant when you find someone that enhances everything going on around him," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
It's not only Cruz's ability to pave a good example for Miguel Sanó, or to point out details about preparation and hitting on a daily basis to those around him. It's also his feel for when to step up and have his voice heard, or when to lighten the mood by wearing a bathrobe into the dugout to bring smiles to his teammates.
"I think we all know what Nelson can do on the field," Levine said. "His power is prodigious, but what he does in our clubhouse and our community is equally as significant, and every single club is looking for that. I think we feel blessed that he came back to our team. He's such an important part. We've seen him elevate the level of play of people around him. To me, that's what a championship player is, somebody who has the ability to not only perform night in and night out, but also elevate the level of play around him."
Cruz will turn 41 in July, and while he's not thinking about retirement anytime soon, he also didn't get the multi-year deal he reportedly sought (he joked that he told the Twins he'd have been up for a five-to-10-year deal). Still, he's happy to be back in Minneapolis because he still thinks it affords him a good chance to make another championship run, surrounded by a team that's added Alex Colomé, Andrelton Simmons, Hansel Robles and Happ this offseason.
Cruz acknowledged that there was also a part of him that wanted to see things through in Minnesota after having been a part of five playoff losses over two years -- the latest chapter of the club's recent postseason struggles. He's excited for this team; he's excited for the challenge that should be posed by the White Sox in the American League Central; and he's excited to be back where he felt he belonged all along.
"I’ve been here for two years, and I know what pieces we need to jump the hump," Cruz said. "Definitely, that’s one of the key things we have. At the end of the day, you want to have a really good bullpen, starters, and the big lineup and guys who can play defense. I think adding Simmons and Colomé, and all those guys at the end, it keeps us more balanced and keeps us more consistent through the year.
"At the end of the day, like I said, I trust the team that we have, and I trust the whole group of coaches and staff we have. I don’t want to be any other place. I want to do it for the city and the whole organization. I’m really blessed and glad Thad gave me the chance again to play another year and to be in that organization."