The Twins will almost certainly have a new first baseman in 2020.
C.J. Cron, who hit 25 home runs as Joe Mauer’s successor at the position, was not offered a contract for next season by Monday night’s deadline, making the five-year veteran a free agent.
Righthander Trevor Hildenberger, who served as the Twins closer for the final two months of the 2018 season, also became a free agent when the deadline passed without a contract offer. The rest of the Twins’ 40-man roster, excepting those with contracts already in place, were also offered contracts for 2020.
The roster is now at 35.
Cron and Hildenberger are free to sign with any team, including the Twins, but both figure to move on — in Cron’s case, to his fourth team in four seasons. His case might have hinged on money; with five seasons in the majors, Cron could have had his 2020 salary determined by an arbitrator, with several projections guessing he would receive about $8 million. He made $4.8 million this year.
The Twins clearly judged that, with several other options on their roster — including the possibility of moving third baseman Miguel Sano across the diamond — and coming up through the system, the expense of keeping Cron, who turns 30 in January, was too high.
Cron, claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on Nov. 26, 2018, appeared to be an ideal replacement for Mauer during the first half of the 2019 season. On June 22, Cron was batting .285 with 17 home runs and 16 doubles.
But Cron injured his right thumb in late June, and it affected his ability to swing the bat with authority. The Twins finally put Cron on the injured list on July 6, and then again on July 21 after he returned too quickly.
Cron played the final two months of the season with the thumb still bothering him, employing a number of strategies and treatments to control the pain. But there was no missing the damage the injury did to him: From June 23 on, he hit only .213 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 57 games. He had surgery following the season.
Hildenberger was not eligible for arbitration, so cutting him was simply to free a spot on the 40-man roster. While Hildenberger, who turns 29 on Dec. 15, could accept an assignment to the Twins minor league system, he also can entertain offers from other teams.
Hildenberger’s 2019 season was also ruined by injuries; after posting an 8.36 ERA in 19 appearances, he was sent to Class AAA Rochester in May. He suffered a strained ligament in his pitching elbow in June, missing two months. He returned to the Twins in September but gave up six runs in 2⅓ innings.
Monday was deadline day for teams to tender arbitration-eligible players. The Twins signed utility infielder Ehire Adrianza to a $1.6 million deal for 2020 and waiver-wire pickup Matt Wisler, a righthander who last pitched for Seattle, to a one-year contract as well. To no surprise, the Twins tendered contracts to Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Taylor Rogers.
Adrianza, 30, batted .272 with 16 extra-base hits in 83 games in 2019. Wisler, 27, has a 5.20 career ERA in 129 appearances for the Braves, Reds, Padres and Mariners.
Nelson Cruz in 2019 was the leading home run hitter on the game’s greatest home run hitting team, helping the Twins win their first AL Central title since 2010. And on Monday, in a vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America, he was named the winner of the Edgar Martinez Award as the AL’s best designated hitter for the second time in three years.
Cruz, whose 41 homers in 120 games made him just the third Twins player ever to eclipse 40 home runs, also won the award in 2017 while with Seattle. The Dominican, who turned 39 in July, signed with the Twins as a free agent last January.
Despite battling a wrist injury that cost him nearly a month’s worth of games, Cruz easily surpassed 35 home runs for the sixth year in a row and reached 400 home runs for his career. His .639 slugging percentage, the highest in Twins history, ranked third in the major leagues, and his 1.031 OPS trailed only Jim Thome’s 1.039 in 2010 for the best by a Twins player (minimum 100 games).
Cruz is the third Twins player to earn the honor as best designated hitter. Chili Davis was named best DH in 1991. In 1996, Paul Molitor claimed the award, which was renamed for Martinez in 2004.