For the second consecutive offseason, the Twins have added Tampa Bay’s home run leader.
First baseman-designated hitter C.J. Cron, who hit a career-high 30 home runs for the Rays last season, was claimed off waivers by the Twins on Monday and is the leading candidate to replace the retired Joe Mauer at first base.
Cron, 28, batted .253 with 127 hits, 74 RBI and a .323 on-base-percentage for Tampa Bay. His home runs — and 59 extra base hits — would have led the Twins last season, and his RBI would have been second to Eddie Rosario. Cron’s .816 on base-plus-slugging percentage would have topped the Twins, as well.
According to a club source, D.J. LeMahieu, a three-time Gold Glove winner who also won the NL batting title in 2016, is among second basemen in whom the Twins have expressed some interest. LeMahieu, 30, hit .276 with 15 homers and 62 RBI last season with Colorado. The Twins also have checked in on Ian Kinsler, according to an MLB.com report.
“A big thank you to the Rays and their fans for a great 2018! They gave me an opportunity that not many teams would have. With that being said, I’m pumped to join the Twins! Can’t wait to get this started! Let’s go!” Cron (@CCron24) tweeted.
One person familiar with Cron had a front-row seat to view his exploits: Rocco Baldelli, the Rays major league field coordinator last season.
Baldelli is now the Twins manager and Monday, he added Cron. The Rays designated Cron for assignment when they turned in their 40-man roster Nov. 20. Cron made $2.3 million last season and is projected to earn $5.3 million through arbitration in 2019.
In February, the Twins signed Logan Morrison, who was coming off a career-high 38 home runs with the Rays and was expected to lengthen the lineup. Instead, he hit .186 with 15 homers in 95 games and didn’t play beyond Aug. 10 because of hip surgery. Instead of picking up Morrison’s $8 million option, the Twins paid a $1 million buyout to part ways.
Another offseason, another run at a Rays slugger.
From a power and run production standpoint, Cron is an upgrade from Mauer, who was more of an on-base savant. But defensively, Cron’s defensive runs saved last season was minus-2, making him adequate. Mauer was a fringe Gold Glove candidate his last few years at the position.
And Cron played just 61 games at first base last season, spending most time as the designated hitter. The Twins aren’t ready to name him the first baseman, but for now, he’s the best candidate among the options they have. They plan to be active in free agency and will pursue trades. They have needs at first, second, designated hitter and the bullpen and could always use a quality starter.
The Twins could have Cron split time between first base and DH while using others, perhaps Miguel Sano and Tyler Austin, at first.
Cron, 6-4 and 235 pounds, played for the Angels from 2014 to ’17. Los Angeles drafted him in the first round (17th overall) in 2011 out of the University of Utah. He had been taken in the 44th round in 2008 by the White Sox out of Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix, but he played for the Utes, where he was the Mountain West Player of the Year as a sophomore.
His major league totals are 89 home runs, 287 RBI and a .260 average in 548 games.
The Twins have one open spot on their 40-man roster. They have 11 arbitration-eligible players, with a deadline Friday to offer arbitration to pitchers Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers; infielders Cron, Ehire Adrianza and Sano; and outfielders Robbie Grossman, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton.
Odorizzi, also picked up from Tampa Bay before last season, made $6.3 million and Gibson $4.2 million. Grossman, at $2 million, and Cron are the only others who had salaries in excess of $1 million in 2018. Grossman is a candidate to be non-tendered, which would make him a free agent.