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MLB trade deadline: Rays acquire veteran slugger Nelson Cruz from Twins in four-player deal

The Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday acquired veteran DH Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins as part of a four-player trade. The Rays will also be receiving minor league right-hander Calvin Faucher in the trade, while minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman are headed to the Twins.

Cruz, 41, is once again producing at a high level despite his advanced baseball age. This season, he’s batting .294/.370/.537 with 19 home runs in 85 games. That’s hardly an aberration, as Cruz departing the Rangers via free agency following the 2013 season has put up an OPS+ of 150 while averaging 45 home runs per 162 games played. He’s sitting on 436 career home runs. Cruz is eligible for free agency this coming offseason and is owed the balance of a $13 million salary for 2021.

The Rays at present are in second place in the AL East and firmly in the wild card position in the AL. As such, the reigning American League champs are strong bets to return to the postseason. Despite their success to date, they’ve struggled to get consistent production from the DH spot. In all, 11 different players have cycled through the position, and they’ve combined for a 2021 slash line of .219/.305/.389.

Cruz provides an immediate and substantial upgrade. Meanwhile, Austin Meadows — the Rays’ primary DH before the Cruz acquisition — can see time at the outfield corners and occasionally spell Cruz against tough right-handers. As for Faucher, 25, he’s pitched to a 4.64 ERA and 2.09 K/BB ratio across parts of four minor league seasons. In 2021, he’s struggled across 19 relief appearances for Double-A Wichita.

On the Minnesota side of things, Ryan, 25, is a former seventh-rounder with an ERA of 2.70 and a K/BB ratio of 6.06 in three seasons as part of the Rays’ system. Coming into 2020, Baseball America named him as the No. 98 prospect in all of baseball. Strotman, 24, was a fourth-rounder in 2017, and he’s got a 3.12 ERA and 2.38 K/BB ratio over four minor league seasons.

The Cruz deal does signal a willingness on the part of the fourth-place Twins to sell of some of their productive veterans. According to recent reports, they may be less inclined to trade players over whom they have control beyond the current season. The dealing of Cruz isn’t really a tell either way since he was in his walk year. The Rays, meantime, have ramped up the pressure on the first-place Red Sox to make their own splash before the July 30 deadline.

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