Twins President Derek Falvey is used to having difficult conversations in his job, but the chat he had with Nelson Cruz and manager Rocco Baldelli before Thursday's game was one that "will always stick with me."
That's because Falvey informed Cruz, the 41-year-old beloved slugger and one of the best free-agent signings in Twins history, that he had been traded.
The Twins sent Cruz, along with Class AA righthander Calvin Faucher, to Tampa Bay for Class AAA righthanded starters Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.
The deal gives Cruz a chance to win a World Series in Tampa, a chance he wouldn't get in Minnesota despite lofty expectations entering this season.The Rays, who were in the World Series last year, are a game behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
"It was shocking," Cruz said. "I don't think even when you're expecting something like this you can prepare for this. It hit me when they told me and it hit me when I went to the locker room to see my teammates. That's when it really hit me. It was emotional."
Emotional because of what Cruz meant to the team and fans in his 258 games wearing a Twins uniform. He hit 76 home runs, including 41 in 2019 as he helped the Twins win the first of two straight division titles. His run with the Twins continued a remarkable back end of Cruz's career, one in which he has hit 279 home runs since turning 34 in 2014.
Cruz made the All-Star team again this season.
"This is meant with no disrespect to anybody else," Falvey said. "But he may be the best teammate I've ever seen in terms of the way he goes about his business, the way he puts his arm around people, the way he helps us become better in our front office jobs and coaching staff jobs. This guy is beyond special."
Cruz and the Twins wanted to run it back again this year, hoping for that extra push to get out of the first round and get to the World Series. But this season couldn't have gone any more awry.
“Definitely it's heartbreaking. ... It's a new chapter and I'll try to embrace it the best way I can.”
The standings show the Twins 17 games back of the first-place White Sox entering Thursday and necessitated they become sellers in the trade market, and Cruz — who is on a one-year, $13 million contract — was their biggest chip in advance of the July 30 trade deadline.
"I signed this year because that's what we thought — we thought we should be in the playoff race," Cruz said. "Never thought we should be in this situation. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. You never want to leave the places where you feel comfortable. It is what it is. That's part of the business."
After the trade became official around 6 p.m., but before the Twins took the field, Cruz took the time to address the media before leaving for Tampa Bay, and said he treasured his time in Minnesota. He said he would "definitely" be open to returning if things align this coming offseason.
"This is part of my family," Cruz said. "I've got a lot of friends that I love like family. The city. Everything that I've been through the last three years, it really touched me. I embraced it the best way that I can. We'll see what happens next year."
Ryan, who is with the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo, and Strotman are ranked the 10th- and 17th-best prospects in the Rays' system, according to MLB.com.
Ryan, 25, is a righthander who is 4-3 with a 3.63 ERA for Durham. He had 75 strikeouts in 57 innings this season before leaving for Tokyo. He was a seventh-round pick in 2018 out of Cal State-Northridge.
"The Rays have had a strong track record of developing pitching, we know that," Falvey said. "I think that's a calling card of that organization so to get someone like him who's developed through their group I'm sure will be a great add for us."
Strotman, 24, was a fourth-round pick in 2017 out of St. Mary's. He was 7-2 with a 3.86 ERA at Durham, with 62 strikeouts in 58 innings. He previously had Tommy John surgery, and is expected to join the Class AAA St. Paul Saints.
"You look at some of his underlying stuff and I think ... that's going to put him in a better spot than even some of his current numbers would indicate," Falvey said.
In an ideal Twins world, Thursday's trade and the conversation Falvey had with Cruz wouldn't have had to take place, and it gave this lost season an air of finality even if it was only July 22.
"Definitely it's heartbreaking," Cruz said. "Like I said, it's a new chapter and I'll try to embrace it the best way I can."