CLEVELAND — Nelson Cruz packed up his big bat and joined a contender.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Cruz, one of baseball’s most proven sluggers, in a four-player trade with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night.
Cruz was well aware of the likelihood he’d be dealt this month, with the disappointing Twins well out of contention. Nonetheless he told reporters the news still felt “shocking” and “heartbreaking” to him after becoming fond of the organization over his 2½ seasons in Minnesota.
“It’s a tough one,” Cruz said. “I guess it’s a new chapter, and I will embrace it the way I embrace everything in my life to go help the Tampa Bay Rays to win a championship.”
Moments before opening a four-game series at Cleveland, the Rays, who entered the night just one game behind first-place Boston in the AL East, announced they got Cruz and minor leaguer Calvin Faucher from Minnesota in exchange for minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.
“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,” Falvey said. “This guy is beyond special.”
A 17-year veteran, Cruz signed a one-year, $13 million deal with Minnesota in February. He has also played with Baltimore and Texas. He hit at least 37 homers per season from 2014 to 2019. He belted a career-high 44 homers for the Seattle Mariners in 2015.
“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 are, where you feel comfortable. It is what it is. That’s part of the business.”
Both Ryan and Strotman were in Triple-A Durham’s rotation.
Ryan, a 25-year-old who will also pitch for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, had a 3.63 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 57 innings for the Bulls and was ranked by MLB.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2018.
Strotman, 24, had a 3.39 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 58⅓ innings with Durham. He was the 17th-ranked Rays prospect after being drafted in the fourth round in 2017.
Faucher, 25, had a 7.04 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 30⅔ innings for Double-A Wichita. He was a 10th-round draft pick by the Twins in 2017.