Red Sox News: Rays trade for Nelson Cruz poses a major threat

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 21: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 21, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Twins defeated the White Sox 7-2, (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 21: Nelson Cruz #23 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 21, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Twins defeated the White Sox 7-2, (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox should worry that the Rays traded for Nelson Cruz

The Tampa Bay Rays fired the first shot in the race to acquire upgrades before next weekend’s trade deadline when they made a deal for Nelson Cruz. It’s up to the Boston Red Sox to respond with their own move if they intend to hang on to their slim lead in the AL East.

Cruz is a huge addition for the Rays, signaling they are going all-in to defend their American League crown. The seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger is having another terrific season, batting .294 with a .907 OPS, 19 home runs and 50 RBI in 85 games with the Minnesota Twins.

The deal is about much more than simply adding a productive bat to the lineup. Cruz solves two significant weaknesses for the Rays. Tampa Bay enters the day 12th in the AL with a .227 average from their designated hitters. They are 10th in the league with a .727 OPS and .315 wOBA at the position.

Cruz is a notorious lefty-masher who owns a career .300/.387/.575 line against southpaws. The Rays are 28th in the majors with a .226 average while ranking 26th with a .682 OPS and .299 wOBA against left-handed pitching.

The Red Sox projected playoff rotation will include lefties Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez. If they were to utilize a five-man rotation in any potential playoff series with the Rays, Martin Perez would be another lefty candidate. Even if these teams don’t meet in the playoffs, they still have 13 regular season games scheduled against each other.

Speaking of the postseason, Cruz has plenty of experience on the October stage. He owns a .288 average and 1.019 OPS to go along with 17 home runs and 37 RBI in 46 career postseason games. After falling short in the World Series last year, the Rays have added a bat with a strong track record to lead them back to the playoffs.

A high-priced DH is a luxury that the frugal Rays typically wouldn’t make. Cruz is earning $13 million this season, the highest salary on Tampa Bay’s roster. However, by waiting until near the deadline to acquire him, the Rays are only on the hook for just over $5 million, a more palatable price for the small-market club.

The Rays have built a farm system strong enough to make this type of deal without putting much of a dent into their treasure trove of assets. The package heading to Minnesota is headlined by right-handed pitcher Joe Ryan, who was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in the Rays system. Tampa Bay has several pitching prospects ahead of him in their system in addition to the young staff on their major league roster. Ryan is now the No. 6 prospect for the Twins to give some perspective on the difference in strength between the two farm systems.

Minnesota also received right-hander Drew Strotman. He’s having a solid season in Triple-A to bounce back after missing all of last year and most of the previous one due to Tommy John surgery. There was no clear path for him to make the major league roster though and he would be Rule 5 eligible after this season, making him expendable. Strotman was the No. 17 prospect in the Rays system but jumps to No. 13 for the Twins.

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This is why Chaim Bloom has stressed the importance of rebuilding the farm system since taking over the Red Sox front office. Grooming the next young core to build the major league roster with is vital to long-term sustainable success but a deep farm system also enables a club to deal for a differece-maker without mortgaging the future. The Rays were able to deal from a surplus to address a glaring need. You need prospect depth in order to pull that off and that’s what Bloom has been building while simultaneously improving the big league roster to be competitive.

Boston isn’t going to surrender their best assets to make a huge splash at the trade deadline but they have some depth at certain positions they can consider using in a deal. The Red Sox have several top-10 prospects who will need Rule 5 protection this December and there isn’t room on the 40-man roster for all of them. Trading one of them or a player on the 40-man roster who isn’t a candidate to help the major league team in the near future (Jonathan Arauz, Marcus Wilson, Jeisson Rosario, Hudson Potts) could produce a package similar to what the Rays gave up for Cruz while alleviating an inevitable roster crunch after the season.

The Red Sox need an upgrade at first base and every contender could always use another arm or two to bolster their pitching staff. They have the assets to get a deal done without hindering their long-term success.

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Bloom should take a page out of the playbook of his former team. The Rays have made their move to challenge for the division title. It’s your move, Chaim.