The Twins won the first game of the 2019 season 2-0 over Cleveland. What would become a record-breaking Bomba Squad did not hit a single one of its 307 home runs in that game, and in fact had just one in its first five games.
Yet what stood out the most on that crisp March 28 Target Field opener wasn't the pitcher's duel between Corey Kluber and Jose Berrios. Rather, it was the way the Twins batting lineup suddenly made a lot more sense and seemed far more formidable because of one main new addition.
Nelson Cruz, then 38, occupied the No. 3 spot in the order in his Twins debut that day. His presence immediately took the pressure off of a lot of other younger players and he did, in fact, have a key hit during the only scoring rally in the game.
Five Twins players topped 30 homers and eight topped 20, but none had more than Cruz's 41 that season. He was equally impressive in last year's 60-game sprint, mashing his way to a .992 OPS and, yes, the Twins' only two postseason runs batted in.
His continued production at such an advanced age for a ballplayer and his impending free agency after the 2020 season created a strange paradox:
It was becoming increasingly likely that at some point in the near future the Twins would need to think about life without Cruz.
Yet it was also very hard to imagine that life — or at least that batting order — without him.
As such, the one-year, $13 million reported deal between the Twins and Cruz agreed to late Tuesday felt both inevitable and comforting all at once — as I discussed at the start of Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
Would a player who turns 41 in July really want to start over again with an unknown clubhouse after finding such comfort with the Twins? Would the Twins really play with fire, risking what seems like a known commodity for a younger version of Cruz or a shared DH plan?
It was plausible, but in the end everyone seemed to get what was fair: Cruz gets paid well to do what he does best. The Twins commit to just one more year, for now, knowing that while there is no such thing as a bad one-year contract there is also a point at which athletes begin to decline rapidly.
Baseball Reference doesn't forecast that rapid decline to come this season, projecting that Cruz is good for 34 homers and an .883 OPS — not on pace with more gaudy totals from the past two seasons but still plenty good.
If you're a Twins fan feeling relief today, I imagine you will feel it all over again when the Twins take the field for their first real game in two months and Cruz is occupying a prime spot in the batting order while taking heat off of other talented teammates — just as he has from the moment he arrived.