Nelson Cruz says he’s excited about being a Twin and believes his new team, like the Rangers of 2010-11, has the talent for a postseason breakthrough. But before he gets started, he intends to make an apology.
“I’m looking forward to spring training to say, ‘I’m sorry’ ” to new teammate Tyler Duffey, who served up what Cruz said may be the longest home run he’s ever hit.
“I cannot remember a [longer] one,” Cruz said.
Duffey probably doesn’t mind, not if Cruz continues to blast home runs now that he’s landed in Minnesota. The Twins announced the free agent’s signing Wednesday, acquiring a player who hit 203 homers over the past five seasons for $14 million this year, and a team option of $12 million for 2020.
“I could not be more excited. Last year, when I went to Minnesota [with the Mariners], I was thinking ahead: ‘This should be a good fit for me, a team that has really good young guys with a lot of talent,’ ” Cruz said on a conference call with Twin Cities media members. “I guess I can predict the future.”
The Twins’ prediction is that Cruz, along with new first baseman C.J. Cron, will shore up their lack of righthanded power at a couple of positions where power is usually a prerequisite. Minnesota received a mere 15 home runs from its designated hitters last season, and just 17 from its first basemen — both numbers ranking ahead of only Detroit in the AL. Their righthanded hitters cleared the fence only 62 times, a power drought which ranked 14th.
“I wouldn’t say we went into the offseason with the entirety of our focus being power acquisition. We’re looking for run production and overall performance,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer. “I don’t know if it was necessarily a target just to add power, but to add overall production and find some good, high-quality character people within the group as well.”
Falvey, General Manager Thad Levine and new manager Rocco Baldelli all cited Cruz’s leadership skills as a benefit to the Twins’ young roster. Cruz, who credits former Rangers infielder Michael Young for teaching him how to be a big-leaguer, said he’s ready and willing to be that sort of teacher himself. When asked specifically about being a mentor to fellow Dominican Miguel Sano, Cruz was positive, if nonspecific.
“He told me that ‘I want to learn how to be part of good teams,’ ” in their occasional phone calls this offseason, Cruz said. “So I look forward to that in spring training and during the season, and hopefully we can do something special for the team in Minnesota.”
He did it before, helping deliver back-to-back AL championships in Texas while Levine was an executive there. Levine’s presence here made his decision easier, Cruz said, as did the lobbying of another new Twin, Jonathan Schoop, who was a teammate in Baltimore in 2014. Can the Twins repeat the Rangers’ sudden surge?
“I was talking to Thad a few days ago — we agreed that it’s the same situation. We had a lot of talent and we just need something to click,” Cruz said. “We’re on the right page right now with all of the talent that we have and it’s a matter of staying healthy.”
That hasn’t been a problem for Cruz, even as he’s grown old, baseball-wise. He served as the Mariners’ DH in 284 games the past two seasons, a workload that’s in stark contrast to the Twins’ habit of spreading DH days among the entire lineup. Eleven different Twins manned the DH position last season.
“He knows his body well,” said Baldelli, who is 15 months younger than the 38-year-old Cruz. “We’re going to work with him and have a lot of conversations about how he is doing. How he feels. How he prepares for the season to play in the outfield.”
Wait, the outfield? Cruz hopes it happens, even if he’s played his old position just nine times — eight in National League parks, where there’s no DH, and one farewell appearance in Seattle on the 2018 season’s final day — in the past two seasons. The only players older than him to catch a fly ball last year were Ichiro Suzuki, who retired in May, and Matt Holliday, who returned from retirement in August.
“I have a passion to play the outfield,” Cruz insisted, even if it’s only in NL stadiums. “It is not for sure you’re going to get hits every day, but if you play in the outfield you can make plays and help the team, I guess. I’m ready for that challenge.”