While putting on the finishing touches of a one-year, $14 million contract for Nelson Cruz, Twins General Manager Thad Levine and Cruz’s agent, Bryce Dixon, had a laugh over Jonathan Schoop’s role in the process.
“Cruz’s agent was asking me what part of the take he had to give to Schoop because he was recruiting Cruz,” Levine said.
Spring training hasn’t even started yet. The Twins haven’t stepped out on sun-soaked fields in Fort Myers, Fla., to see the glovework and power bat that made Schoop an All-Star in 2017. But he’s already impressing them by registering a slick assist — touting the impact Cruz, his teammate with Orioles in 2014, would make.
And while Schoop told the Twins how great of a teammate Cruz was, he sold Cruz on the potential of the young Twins. Plus they would be teammates again.
“I love the guy so much,” Schoop said. “I know he will get everybody better. He got me better since I played with him in 2014. So if I can talk good about him five years later, this guy is really good. He will make everyone around him better. He’s a hard worker. He’s a funny guy.”
So Schoop already had Brownie points as he met Levine and his new teammates for the first time this weekend at TwinsFest. Schoop spent a few minutes on Friday chatting with Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey in the visitor’s clubhouse at Target Field — the staging area for players since the home clubhouse is being toured by about 10,000 fans this weekend.
Thanks to Schoop, Levine is now adept at using the WhatsApp messaging app.
“He left me a few impassioned voice mails through WhatsApp, saying he had Nelson when he was cutting his teeth in the big leagues and he had a huge impact on he and Manny Machado,” Levine said. “If we could get Nelson here, not only would it positively impact him, he felt with the complexion of the team he would be a perfect fit. He didn’t have to sell us, but I think he did a really nice job of recruiting Nelson.”
Before we go any further, no, there is no evidence that the Twins have had Schoop contact Machado, who is still a free agent, about joining the Twins.
Nope, Schoop is done as a recruiter for now. His next task is to rediscover the ability that enabled him to bat .293 in 2017 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI.
Little went right for Schoop last season. He missed 20 games early in the season with an oblique strain. He hit .247 with 16 home runs over the next 71 games before being traded to the Brewers. Milwaukee ended up reaching the playoffs and making the National League Championship Series. But Schoop hit .202 the rest of the season and was dropped into a platoon role. And he went 0-for-8 in the postseason.
“Trying to do too much,” Schoop said. “That’s why it helped me not trying to do too much. Coming back from the injury, I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to help my teammates. My team was losing. I was trying to be back and trying to be the guy.
“With one swing, trying to score eight runs.”
He believes he’s a better person for being traded for the first time in his career and going through the struggles he has. The Twins will provide the platform for him to prove it.
The Brewers non-tendered Schoop on Nov. 30, and the Twins were immediately in contact with him and his agent. Six days later, the Twins signed Schoop to a one-year, $7.5 million contract.
Schoop (pronounced like scope) gets the task of replacing fan favorite Brian Dozier, whom the Twins traded in July. Dozier, who also became a free agent, signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Washington.
Schoop has never hit 40-plus homers in a season like Dozier has. Dozier has won a Gold Glove, but his defensive runs saved rating was minus-8 last season while Schoop was seventh in the league at plus-3.
Schoop turned 27 on Oct. 16, so the Twins believe that the Curacao native has more development in him.
“Brian Dozier, who this market is keenly aware of, really played the unsung hero for so long,” Levine said. “Somehow, the national market didn’t know him as well as the local market. I don’t think Jonathan Schoop is too far behind. If you look at their performances in 2017 and before, those guys were neck and neck as some of the elite second basemen that, somehow, weren’t talked about.
“You have a resounding season in 2017, which is very recent. You have a reason for decline last year, which was his injury to his midsection. And then, three, he is 27 years old. That formula looks to us as promising to bet on to bounce back.”
Schoop had interest from other teams and could have landed a multiyear deal. But, like the Twins, he’s betting on himself with a one-year deal that he will have a strong season then re-enter the free-agent market with more gusto.
“I’m a confident guy,” Schoop said. “I know what I can do. I know what I’ve done. I know what I can do, too, so I think I still didn’t hit my prime yet. So I think I still have a lot more in my tank to prove.”