In his first season in Minnesota, Nelson Cruz set a franchise record for slugging percentage, became the third Twin ever to eclipse 40 home runs, and grew to be revered as the archbishop of the clubhouse. For all that, the Twins will cut Cruz’s pay by $2 million next year.
And he’s OK with it.
The Twins will trigger their option in Cruz’s contract for the 2020 season, sources with knowledge of the decision confirmed Wednesday, perhaps the least debatable offseason transaction in franchise history. As if his performance on and off the field wasn’t enough to bring the 39-year-old designated hitter back for a second season, the Twins will save a little money in doing so, too.
Cruz will be paid $12 million by the Twins next season, after earning $14 million in 2019, a savings that reflects his desire for more guaranteed money and the Twins’ wish for financial flexibility when the contract was negotiated, not Cruz’s performance once it was signed.
“We had the financial flexibility thanks to ownership to front-load some deals,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said of last December’s negotiations. “It wasn’t as if in 2019 we were paying him what we thought he was worth, and then [again in] 2020. It was more of an aggregate deal.”
In other words, the sides agreed that $26 million for two years was a fair price, and then settled on how much would be guaranteed in the first year. The Twins agreed to a $14 million-$12 million split to assure Cruz a little more money in case the Twins didn’t pick up the option, and also better accommodate their projections of a higher payroll next year.
“It looks like we perceived a decline in performance — that wasn’t the case at all,” said Levine, though he declined to announce that Cruz will be back. “We were trying to maintain as much cost control” as possible for 2020 and beyond.
Cruz turned out to be perhaps the most successful free agent signing in Twins’ history, delivering one of the best performances of his career and in Twins history. He had 41 home runs, drove in 108 runs, hit .311 — his highest average since 2010 — and reached the 400-home run milestone in late September. A ligament tore away from a bone in his wrist in July, and not only did it not end his season, it barely interrupted it — “the most unique [recovery] I’ve ever experienced,” said Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey.
The Twins have one other option to make a decision about, but this one will require more deliberation. Lefthander Martin Perez, who earned $3.5 million in salary and $400,000 in bonuses based on innings pitched, can be retained for $7.5 million next year or bought out for $500,000.
Perez went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 2019, but grew less effective as the summer wore on and was left off the Twins’ playoff roster. He went 6-1 in his first eight starts with a 2.17 ERA, but turned in a 6.63 ERA in 11 August and September starts.