Could the Minnesota Twins non-tender C.J. Cron?

The Minnesota Twins first baseman had surgery on his thumb, meaning there is no guarantee he could be back with the Twins in 2020.

The Minnesota Twins executed their offseason philosophy to near perfection last offseason as they made several under-the-radar signings that helped them exceed expectations in 2019. One of the moves with the biggest impact was acquiring first baseman C.J. Cron from the Tampa Bay Rays.

While it’s still weird that the Rays would let a guy that hit 30 home runs walk because he was due to make north of $4 million, the Twins were more than happy to scoop him up and start him at first base for 125 games last season. In return, the soon-to-be 30 year old hit .253/.311/.469 with 25 HR and 78 RBI as part of a loaded Minnesota lineup.

Those numbers look modest but could have been even better if Cron hadn’t suffered a thumb injury midway through the campaign. With the injury clearly limiting his performance to a .229/.280/.420 line with eight homers and 24 RBI after first being placed on the injured list on July 6.

With Cron being limited to just 13 starts during the month of September and just one of the three games in the American League Divisional Series, it was clear the issue would need to be corrected over the offseason. MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park confirmed this by reporting that Cron underwent a surgical debridement on his right thumb and will face a six-to-eight week recovery.

What happens next for the Twins and the first baseman is a mystery. While Cron assuredly looked to be a part of the Twins’ plans while hitting .266 with 17 HR and 54 RBI in his first 78 games last season, his projected arbitration salary of $7.7 million (via MLB Trade Rumors) may be too steep for the Twins to take that gamble, meaning he could be non-tendered this winter.

If the Twins decide to go this route, there are several players that could take Cron’s place in the lineup. For starters, Marwin Gonzalez was reliable as a first baseman when called upon, but his defensive flexibility would be limited if he were made a full-time first baseman, especially if the Twins decide to trade Eddie Rosario.

There’s also a chance that Minnesota could try to go into their farm system if they decide to let Cron walk. Brent Rooker raked at Triple-A Rochester last season, hitting .282 with 14 HR and 47 RBI in 65 games for the Red Wings before his season ended due to injury.

If they want to slowly bring Rooker back, the move could also open up a path for Alex Kirilloff to join the Twins, as the organization’s top prospect played at first for 35 games with Double-A Pensacola last season.

Such options could free up money for the Twins to go after the coveted “impact pitching” that the front office looks to acquire this winter. The move would not be popular for Twins fans that believe that the organization is too cheap to keep good players, but with ample options to work around it, this may have been Cron’s first and only year in Minnesota.