C.J. Cron might be the Twins’ best offseason pickup
By Chris Schad
The Minnesota Twins took a risk claiming the first baseman off of waivers last winter, but he has rewarded the team bringing some pop back to first base.
To the chagrin of many, the Minnesota Twins decided to go bargain shopping once again last winter. While there was a loud outcry for the team to step up and sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the Twins were simply focused on finding good players to surround their young core.
This process allowed Minnesota to find several key pieces on a team that is one of the best in baseball. Additions such as Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop have added plenty of production to a lineup that averaged 4.54 runs per game in 2018, but the biggest acquisition of them all may not have come from a free agent signing. Instead, it may have came from a random waiver claim.
C.J. Cron made his way to the Twins in an unorthodox move by the Tampa Bay Rays. For a team that seems to be a future cousin of the 2000s Twins, who were cash strapped thanks to the Metrodome, the Rays decided to put the first baseman on waivers in a cost cutting move. This came after the 29-year old hit 30 home runs and collected 74 RBI for a surprising Rays team in 2018.
Despite his production, Cron not only hit waivers, but was passed over by 11 teams before being claimed by the Twins. Even with his solid stat line, Twins fans had to be weary relying on a waiver claim to be an important piece of the lineup. In addition, Minnesota could have had flashback from the Logan Morrison signing as he hit 38 home runs for the Rays in 2017 before becoming one of the Twins’ biggest free agent busts in 2018.
Instead of following the path that Morrison had trail-blazed for Rays players who landed in Minnesota, all Cron has done since is hit. Entering Saturday’s game with the Detroit Tigers, Cron has put together a .275/.342/.544 slash line while mashing 14 HR and 40 RBI in the middle of the Twins lineup.
The impact that Cron is having on the Twins has been huge as he represents a massive upgrade from Joe Mauer and Tyler Austin. Last year, Mauer slashed .282/.351/.379 with 6 HR and 48 RBI as the Twins’ primary first baseman and Austin hit .236/.294/.488 with 9 HR and 24 RBI after coming over in the Lance Lynn trade last August.
Although Austin picked up the production upon his arrival, it wasn’t near making the impact at first base that Cron has made. Thanks to his bat in the middle of the lineup, the Twins have found some depth they haven’t had in previous seasons, allowing Miguel Sano to take his time to round into form from an offseason celebration accident and other players such as Byron Buxton and Max Kepler to not shoulder the load like they had in the past.
What is even bigger for the Twins is the minimal cost to acquire Cron. To land his bat, the Twins didn’t have to give up anything in terms of prospects and are only paying Cron $4.8 million this season. To boot, he’s still under team control (but eligible for arbitration) next offseason, so Minnesota will likely have to pay up, but won’t go to the extreme that the Rays did in letting Cron walk for nothing.
That fact is even more laughable when you consider that the Twins were in the mix for Paul Goldschmidt‘s services last offseason before he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Goldschmidt, who the Cardinals acquired for top prospects Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver along with another player and a draft pick, has hit .267/.356/.440 with 12 HR and 27 RBI for St. Louis this season. At age 31, he is also two years older than Cron.
Moves like this are ones the Twins have found themselves on the opposite end of for the past decade. If Cron continues to hit like he has this season, the Twins could at least find themselves a first baseman for the next several years and have another potent bat in the middle of the lineup.