When your nickname is “Boomstick,” does that mean you are built with power to last?
The Twins hope so. They reached an agreement with six-time All-Star designated hitter Nelson Cruz — who will turn 39 on July 1 — for a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $14.3 million, according to two major league sources. He will earn $14 million in 2019 with a club option worth $12 million for 2020, or a $300,000 buyout.
Cruz has to pass a physical before the deal is official. Scheduling that physical has been tricky with the holiday season, but the hope is that it will take place Friday.
The Astros and the Rays were the other finalists for Cruz’s services, but the Twins’ offer was best of three.
On his Twitter (@ncboomstick23) and Instagram accounts, Cruz posted a message that read, in part: “I would like to thank the Mariners ownership especially [owner] John [Stanton] for all you have done for me and my hometown, the organization, the coaching staff … and most importantly the fans for all of your support over the last four seasons. Seattle, you hold a special place in my heart as you embraced me from the start even when skeptics said I would not succeed in a pitcher friendly park.’
The native of the Dominican Republic later posted a photo of himself in a Twins uniform.
Cruz’s relationship with Twins General Manager Thad Levine played a role in landing him. Both were with the Texas Rangers during their run to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Cruz and Levine swapped several text messages during the recruiting process over the last few weeks, discussing the clubhouse culture more so than financial terms.
Another key figure in Cruz’s recruitment to the Twin Cities has yet to play a game for the Twins. New second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who signed with the Twins on Dec. 6, knows Cruz from their one season together with Baltimore in 2014 — when Cruz led the American League with 40 home runs.
Schoop, like a savvy hitter, sold Cruz on joining the Twins, a team that went 78-84 last season but still has emerging talent. He also sold the Twins on Cruz, telling them about how the veteran slugger was a great influence on him and another young Orioles infielder, Manny Machado.
Cruz, who has 360 career home runs despite not becoming a full-time player until he was 28, has 203 homers over the past five seasons, more than any other player in Major League Baseball.
During that time, Cruz has hit at least 40 homers in a season three times. Brian Dozier smashed 42 homers in 2016, the first time a Twin reached 40 homers since Harmon Killebrew in 1970.
Cruz has had three 100 RBI seasons over the last five years. The last time the Twins had a player drive in that many runs was Josh Willingham with a 110 in 2012.
During 2013, his final season in Texas, Cruz was suspended for 50 games for using performance-enhancing drugs. He spent 2014 with the Orioles before getting a four-year, $57 million deal in Seattle.
Cruz did not test positive for PEDs, but was suspended by Major League Baseball because he got treatment from the Florida-based Biogenesis Clinic that was linked to PED use by major league players. He said he sought treatment because he lost 40 pounds because of an intestinal parasite, but called using the clinic “a mistake.”
Cruz is not a spiritual leader, but more like a sage who leads more by example and who has found a routine that has kept him productive. He takes two weeks off after every season before throwing himself into offseason workouts. He’s known for taking hourlong naps before games.
He won’t only be a strong role model for the Latin players on the club, but for everyone on the roster. Still, the influence he could have on young slugger Miguel Sano is not lost on the Twins or Cruz. Sano and Cruz do know each other, and their relationship is about to reach new levels as teammates. Sano has spent the offseason working out at his home in the Dominican Republic and will spend time next month in Fort Myers, Fla. He has hired a nutritionist. He is attempting to bounce back from an injury-plagued and underwhelming past two seasons. Cruz’s presence definitely can’t hurt that cause.
Cruz hit 37 home runs for Seattle last season after leading the American League with 119 RBI in 2017, and he made the All-Star team both years. He is the third power bat added by the Twins during the offseason. First baseman C.J. Cron (30 home runs for Tampa Bay) was picked up off waivers and Schoop (32 for Baltimore in 2017) got a one-year, $7.5 million deal.
The Twins were 23rd in the majors in home runs last season with 166.
His presence in the lineup — Cruz has posted a slugging percentage of at least .500 and on base-plus-slugging percentage of .800 in each of the last six seasons — means a couple things for the Twins.
One, Sano will have to get most of his at-bats as a third baseman and will likely get just fill-in work at DH and first base.
Two, the Twins will have righthanded heavy lineups at times in 2019, especially when Mitch Garver is behind the plate. Cruz, Cron, Schoop, Sano and Byron Buxton are all righthanded hitters. They are down to Jorge Polanco as the only switch hitter projected to be a starter.
With Cruz now in the fold, the Twins are expected to turn their attention to adding pitchers. They could use bullpen help — although they are expected to convert a starter or two into relievers in 2019 — and could consider adding another starter in the right deal.