Nelson Cruz trade grades: Rays add big-time bat, Twins start sell-off

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The Rays got a head start on the MLB trade deadline frenzy Thursday by acquiring designated hitter Nelson Cruz from the Twins.

Tampa Bay sent pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman to Minnesota for Cruz, who will add instant offense to a team that's already in the top half of the American League in scoring. Tampa Bay also acquired minor league pitcher Calvin Faucher in the deal.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is starting its midseason sell-off after failing to contend in the first half. 

Sporting News grades the move for both teams.

Rays: A

Tampa Bay landed one of the top rentals on the 2021 trade market. Cruz's name was in the rumor mill for weeks, and the Rays have had an interest in him previously; they pursued Cruz when he was a free agent after the 2018 season. He signed with the Twins instead.

Cruz's age (41) and remaining salary (about $5 million) are of small concern to a franchise that's trying to return to the World Series. The Rays are getting one of the best DHs in the game. Cruz entered Thursday with a .294/.370/.537 slash line (.907 OPS) and was leading the club with 19 home runs and 50 RBIs.

It was not immediately clear whether the Twins will send cash to the Rays to cover some or all of Cruz's salary.  

Tampa Bay has used a rotation at DH this year, with Austin Meadows getting the majority of the at-bats, but that should change with Cruz coming aboard. It's doubtful that he will play in the outfield for his new team; the Rays have Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier, Randy Arozarena and Brett Phillips on the active roster. Manuel Margot is on the IL. Infielders Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle can play the outfield if needed.

Twins: B+

Minnesota acquired two potential rotation pieces for a free-agent-to-be. Ryan was 10th and Strotman 17th in MLB Pipeline's ranking of the Rays' top 30 prospects prior to the trade. Faucher had a 7.04 ERA in Double-A, so the Twins didn't throw in a high-level prospect.

Ryan, 25, posted a 3.63 ERA in 57 innings over 12 games (11 starts) for Triple-A Durham this year. Of greater note, he allowed just 35 hits and averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings to 1.6 walks per nine. That type of command will play at the MLB level.

Strotman, 24, was less effective but still good for Durham: a 3.39 ERA in 58 1/3 innings over 13 games (12 starts), with 9.6 Ks per nine. His control is a problem, however: he averaged 5.1 walks per nine.

Up next for Minnesota: Discussing possible deals involving other core pieces, such as third baseman Josh Donaldson, No. 1 starter Jose Berrios and starters J.A. Happ and Michael Pineda. 

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