The Tampa Bay Rays got the attention of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees with a major transaction a week ahead of the trading deadline.
When the Rays added Nelson Cruz to their roster, from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for two pitching prospects, they totally transformed their ballclub and the pennant race in the American League.
Cruz adds many things to the Tampa Bay Rays, each of them dependent upon whom you ask. Teammates on the Minnesota Twins told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Cruz was a mentor, a friend, a father figure, a humanitarian, a slugger, and a cheerleader.
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What Nelson Cruz brings to the Tampa Bay Rays
Beyond his extracurricular influences, there is also the question of what Cruz brings to the baseball field. Cruz plays strictly as a Designated Hitter and comes to the Rays with a .294 average and 19 home runs.
For the season, the designated hitter slot on the Rays had a .219 average with 13 homers. Eleven Rays players have filled the position this year, with Randy Arozarena hitting .278 as a DH, and Austin Meadows smashing 11 HRs while serving as DH. So Cruz provides an instant upgrade to the DH position.
The right-handed hitting Cruz is hitting .362 against LHP this season. The Rays as a team are hitting at .226 against lefthanders. So Cruz also helps provide an upgrade from the right side of the plate.
Fortunately, the way the Rays are comprised as a team, consider this: the Rays are fifth from the bottom in batting average, yet are third in scoring runs.
Tampa Bay Rays pitching depth led to Cruz trade
The Rays have been dealing all season by the strength of their pitching. They lead the league in team ERA, team WHIP and are tied for second in team saves.
They dealt from that organizational strength to acquire Cruz. The Rays sent minor-league pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman to the Twins. The Rays also received minor-league pitcher Calvin Faucher. Both Ryan and Strotman were ranked in the Rays’ Top 20 prospects by MLB Pipeline.com.
A day after the Cruz trade, the Rays sent starting pitcher Rich Hill to the New York Mets for minor-league catcher Matt Dyer and major-league reliever Tommy Hunter, who has previously pitched for the Rays and has been on the 60-day injured list since June 11.
Hill had come to the Rays the last off-season on a one-year contract and had pitched well for them, including winning Pitcher of the Month in the AL for May.
The Rays are looking ahead to Chris Archer‘s return from an injury. Archer could take Hill’s spot in the rotation. Additionally, Tyler Glasnow optimistically predicts he will return before the playoffs following the partial UCL tear and a flexor strain suffered on June 15.
Good pitching, tremendous defense, and timely hitting is the Rays way, and it currently has them just one game out of first place in the AL East.
The Tampa Bay Rays will head home to Tropicana Field and start a three game set with the Yankees, followed by three with the Boston Red Sox this weekend. The first big stretch of games for the Rays this season.