Nelson Cruz stood on a snow-covered Target Field last week, his shoes half coated with white powder, and raised both thumbs, a smile plastered on his face as he posed for a picture.
He posted that photo on his Instagram account shortly after with a simple caption: “I’m back Twin Cities.”
The Minnesota Twins made their deal with the 40-year-old designated hitter official on Wednesday, more than a week after it was first reported. The one-year, $13 million contract puts Cruz back in the heart of the Twins’ lineup.
But truthfully, he never really felt like he left.
“We all felt like I was part of the team even when I wasn’t there,” Cruz said. “I always wanted the best for the team.”
What was best for the team was bringing back its leader — both in the clubhouse and on the field — no matter how long the negotiations took.
Though Cruz and the Twins both expressed interest in a reunion at the very start of the offseason, negotiations stretched into February, just weeks before the beginning of spring training, in part due to the uncertainty over whether the National League would play this season with a designated hitter. Twins general manager Thad Levine jokingly thanked Bryce Dixon, Cruz’s agent, for the opportunity to talk to him for 26-28 hours this offseason.
“I’ll cherish those moments with him,” Levine quipped.
Cruz said he fielded interest from a few other teams, including in the NL, who ended up not being a factor as MLB and the MLB Players Association have not negotiated a deal this offseason to implement a universal designated hitter.
But despite the interest from other clubs, Cruz made it sound as if his head and his heart were set returning to Minnesota.
“I knew where I wanted to be, regardless of my decision,” Cruz said. “They all knew I wanted to come back.”
The feeling was mutual. Cruz finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in both of his first two seasons in Minnesota, adding two Silver Slugger Awards to his mantle. In 2019, he led the Bomba Squad with 41 home runs, including the 400th of his career. And last year, he hit .303 with a .397 on-base percentage and .595 slugging percentage in 53 games. His 16 home runs led the Twins, and his .992 OPS was fourth in the American League.
He did all that while loosening up everyone in the clubhouse — Cruz could be seen sporting a plush robe in the dugout, a gift from third baseman Josh Donaldson, near the end of the season — and serving as a leader to his teammates around him.
“I think we all know what Nelson can do on the field — his power is prodigious. But what he does in our clubhouse and our community is equally as significant, and every single club is looking for that,” Levine said. “… We’ve seen him elevate the level of play of people around him. To me, that’s what a championship player is, somebody who has the ability to not only perform night in and night out, but also elevate the level of play around him.”
With Cruz and reliever Alex Colome, whose deal with the Twins hasn’t been made official, now on board, the Twins are mostly done with their offseason heavy work, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said, though he added that they will still continue to have conversations about potential ways to add to their roster.
And count Cruz among those happy with the Twins’ offseason additions as he seeks out his first World Series ring.
“I’m back where I want to be. I want to be part of the Twins, part of this amazing organization. We have a great leader in (manager) Rocco (Baldelli) and great leaders in Thad and Derek, and the whole organization is first class. I cannot be in a better place,” Cruz said. “Also, as a team, we look pretty good, top to bottom and pitching-wise. I’m very confident where we’re at as a team. I hope we all stay healthy. If that’s the case, we have a pretty good chance to complete the goal we’ve had these last few years to win the World Series.”