After the Twins sifted through the ashes of their latest playoff burnout, they quickly made a decision.
They wanted Nelson Cruz back. And Cruz wanted the same.
Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations, said the Twins would be in touch with Cruz's agent. It seemed as if Cruz could be written into the Twins' 2021 Opening Day lineup.
Here we are more than two months later, and Cruz remains unsigned. He's not the only one, as free agency has been wrecked by falling revenue thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that shrunk the 2020 season to 60 games. No one knows when the 2021 season will start, or when fans be allowed into stadiums. And that is affecting financial decisions.
After speaking with multiple sources, here's where things stand with the Twins and No. 23:
Cruz is believed to be seeking a two-year deal. After making $12 million — prorated at $4.4 million for 60 games — it would be hard to believe that Cruz would accept less in 2021, especially when he was on pace to push for 40 homers and 90 RBI over a normal season. He might be asking for more.
In addition to production, Cruz is universally respected in the clubhouse. Off the field, he was the 2020 winner of the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award for his charity work. There isn't much to nitpick about Cruz, who enjoys a late afternoon nap before he pounds pitchers.
Major League Baseball isn't helping much. The league was consumed with getting through the 2020 season amid the virus. So talks about minor league reorganization were pushed back on the calendar. Then the league focused on completing minor league organization, so progress on the structure and timing of the 2021 season slowed. That's where we are now.
Cruz's camp is waiting to see whether the DH will be used in the National League in 2021, because that would mean more suitors. One report has the Padres fantasizing about Cruz in the same lineup with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.
The Twins made a one-year offer during the opening weeks of free agency, then pulled it off the table after a couple of weeks. A second contract offer was made during the holidays that went nowhere as Cruz's camp waited for word on the NL. There hasn't been a lot of back-and-forth negotiating between the sides.
One interesting comparison to Cruz's case is another designated hitter who bashed until he was 40 and has Twins ties — future Hall of Famer David Ortiz.
We're not trying to write Cruz into Cooperstown. But in addition to age and positional similarities, Ortiz twice entered free agency with the Red Sox — he also signed with them a week before their arbitration case in 2012 — before ironing out contracts while Boston fans waited nervously. But they worked things out each time.
Cruz hit 41 homers and had 108 RBI in 2019, his first year with the Twins and his age-38 season. At age 38, Ortiz hit .263 with 35 homers and 104 RBI. The next year, Ortiz belted 37 homers and drove in 108 runs. Ortiz made $15 million in 2014 and $16 million in 2015.
Ortiz's age-40 season, in 2016, was his last — and one of his best. He led the AL with 48 doubles, 127 RBI, a .620 slugging percentage and a 1.021 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while earning $16 million.
The Twins would gladly take something close to that in Cruz's age-40 season. The question is what they are willing to pay to see it. Perhaps the sides can agree to a one-year deal with a vesting option and bonuses that could allow him to earn $12 million to $14 million and get to that second year if he's healthy and productive.
Kyle Schwarber had been among the Twins' fallback options, but he took a deal with the Nationals on Saturday. The Twins also could improve elsewhere and rotate current players such as Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano through the DH spot.
This is one of several unresolved negotiations throughout the league. More than 200 players remain unsigned, and the economic impact of the pandemic games, coupled with little direction from MLB on when the season will start as well as which rules games will be played under, means Twins fans are going to have to wait a little longer to find out if their Boomstick will be back in Target Field in 2021.
Maybe there will be a resolution by the Super Bowl.