MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins haven't spent much time on their offseason planning yet, since they were still hoping to be in the playoff bracket. They don't need to sit down and think too hard to know that they would be interested in a reunion with Nelson Cruz.
The 40-year-old slugger, coming off two of the best seasons of his career, immediately expressed his desire to return to the Twins in free agency following Minnesota's season-ending loss to Houston in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series on Wednesday.
"Hopefully, I’ll be back next year," Cruz said.
That feeling is mutual.
"We don't feel any differently than Nellie does," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "We see a fit for him here, and we're hopeful that can work out."
Cruz certainly isn't getting any younger, and he still doesn't contribute any defensive value or roster flexibility to a club bursting with talented young position players that are ready to make their mark on the Majors in the next year or two. It speaks to not only Cruz's sustained production, but also the impact that he's had on this clubhouse in two seasons that the Twins are so open about their interest in a reunion.
With 41 homers in 2019 and 16 more in '20, Cruz was the home run leader for a pair of American League Central champion Minnesota teams while posting two of the highest OPS marks of his career after he signed a one-year, $14.3 million contract with a $12 million club option prior to last season.
Defying the aging curve and fueled by power naps, Cruz finished ninth in AL MVP Award voting last season and is likely to finish top-10 in MVP voting again this year. He also won the third Silver Slugger Award of his career last season and led the Twins with a .992 OPS in 2020. He drove in Minnesota's only two runs of the Wild Card Series against the Astros with a pair of RBI doubles.
Cruz has also coaxed the best out of his teammates, leading by example through his work ethic and speaking up when needed. Miguel Sanó, who had the best season of his career in 2019, attributes much of his success to Cruz and refers to the elder Dominican as his "father."
"We know what Nellie means to this team, to this group," Falvey said. "We feel we've said that and we've talked about that a lot. We don't feel any differently today than we did yesterday, and we'll be thoughtful about that."
There could be more league-wide interest in Cruz's services considering his production and the possibility of a full-time introduction of the DH to the National League. But this group in Minnesota has meant a lot a lot to Cruz, too, and he has been open about his contentment with his situation in Minneapolis.
“I have to be thankful to the Pohlad family," Cruz said. "The whole organization has treated me extremely well. I cannot be more pleased. Top to bottom, first class. Security, the guys on the grounds crew, the clubbies, the coaches, everybody in the Twins organization. It’s been a great run. We’re back-to-back Central champions, so no one can take that away from us."
The Twins do have enough talent in the high Minors to push Cruz out of the designated hitter spot. Brent Rooker, who debuted with a .960 OPS in seven games in 2020, likely projects as a designated hitter in the long term. Sanó could eventually be pushed into the role, too, since he's never been a plus defender and the Twins will soon need to make room in their lineup for Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff, who made a historic Major League debut Wednesday.
But if Cruz wants to be back on another short-term deal, the Twins would make room.
Twins eye health concerns for another offseason
It's not fair to fully attribute Minnesota's underperforming offense to health issues this season, but they certainly played a part.
The Twins will learn more once they put their players through their end-of-season medical evaluations in the coming days, but Falvey preliminarily indicated that Jorge Polanco was at less than 100 percent for much of the year as he continued to play through a sore right ankle. This comes even after the shortstop underwent arthroscopic surgery in the area last offseason. Falvey isn't ruling out another procedure.
"That's something we need to reassess," Falvey said. "He did have last year's offseason surgery to address that bone spur, but I think we need to reassess whether or not there's something else going on there that we need to address again."
The Twins are keeping a closer eye on Luis Arraez after the 23-year-old second baseman dealt with lingering knee issues throughout the season, but Falvey said a surgical intervention is not currently in the plans. Rooker's surgery to repair the displaced fracture to his right forearm also went well, Falvey said, and the Twins expect to have him ready for Spring Training.