Tampa Bay Rays Acquire Nelson Cruz in Four-Player Trade with Minnesota Twins

Nelson Cruz is heading south for the winter… 

The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired the 41-year-old  Dominican professional baseball designated hitter and right fielder, one of baseball’s most proven sluggers, in a four-player trade with the Minnesota Twins.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz was well aware of the likelihood he’d be dealt this month, with the disappointing Twins well out of contention. Nonetheless he told reporters the news still felt “shocking” and “heartbreaking” to him after becoming fond of the organization over his 2 1/2 seasons in Minnesota.

“It’s a tough one,” Cruz said. “I guess it’s a new chapter, and I will embrace it the way I embrace everything in my life to go help the Tampa Bay Rays to win a championship.”

Moments before opening a four-game series at Cleveland, the Rays, who entered the night just one game behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East, announced they got Cruz and minor leaguer Calvin Faucher from Minnesota in exchange for minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman.

Cruz is a seven-time MLB All-Star with 436 career homers and 1,202 RBIs. He’ll bring some needed pop to Tampa Bay’s lineup and should help the Rays against left-handers. They’re hitting .226 versus lefties.

Usually frugal Tampa Bay assumes $5.1 million remaining in Cruz’s $13 million salary. The Rays began the season with a $68.3 million payroll, 26th among the 30 teams.

Cruz also has plenty of playoff experience with 17 homers and 37 RBIs in 46 postseason games. He’s batting .294 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs this season, and over 258 games with the Twins he finished with 76 homers and a .984 OPS.

“People joke about how he’s ageless, and it really does feel that way,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.

With a week until the trade deadline and no shot at making the playoffs, the Twins figured they’d get something for Cruz to begin building toward the future. Minnesota entered Thursday at 41-55.

A 17-year veteran, Cruz signed a one-year, $13 million deal with Minnesota in February. He has also played with the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Ramgers. He hit at least 37 homers per season from 2014-19. He belted a career-high 44 homers for the Mariners in 2015.

“We thought we should be in the playoff race,” Cruz said. “Never thought we should be in this situation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. You never want to leave the places where you are, where you feel comfortable. It is what it is. That’s part of the business.”

Both Ryan and Strotman were in Triple-A Durham‘s rotation.

Ryan, a 25-year-old who will also pitch for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, had a 3.63 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 57 innings for the Bulls and was ranked by MLB.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2018.

Strotman, 24, had a 3.39 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings with Durham. He was the 17th-ranked Rays prospect after being drafted in the fourth round in 2017.

Faucher, 25, had a 7.04 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings for Double-A Wichita. He was a 10th-round draft pick by the Twins in 2017.

Tampa Bay Rays Rookie Wander Franco Makes “Electric” MLB Debut

It appears the sky’s the limit for Wander Franco

In his Major League Baseball debut, the 20-year-old Dominican professional baseball player started at third base, doubled, homered, drove in three runs and showed a flair for the dramatic with a curtain call in the Tampa Bay Rays‘ 9-5, 11-inning loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Wander Franco

Franco, who walked in his first MLB plate appearance in the first inning, tied the game at 5 in the fifth with a 362-foot homer that drove in Kevin Kiermaier and Yandy Diaz.

 

He showed confidence — and some swagger — on the base paths and electrified the crowd at Tropicana Field.

 

Called up from Triple-A earlier in the day, Franco raised his right arm as he neared the plate and lifted both arms while crossing the plate to a roaring crowd when he connected in the fifth off Eduardo Rodriguez and drew his first curtain call in the majors.

 

“In that at-bat I actually knew I was going to hit a home run because that was the pitch I was looking for,” Franco said through an interpreter. “I ended up getting the pitch that I was looking for and I was able to help the team out.”

Franco pointed toward his father, who was at the game, while crossing the plate. His father, meanwhile, reacted with pure joy when the home run was hit.

Franco got the ball back and plans to display it at his home in the Dominican Republic.

“I felt super good,” he said through an interpreter. ”God sent me a surprise with all this.”

Franco even drew a nice ovation when he went on the field to run pregame, and got a partial standing ovation when the Rays’ lineup was announced over the public address system.

“Pretty electric player,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Win or loss, we’re trying to win them all obviously, but it had to be a great day for Wander and his family. A talented player that’s going to be fun to watch in the coming months.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora agreed.

“What a good player he is,” he said. “The way he controls the at-bat for how young he is. They have a special one.”

Franco hit .315 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 39 games this season at Triple-A Durham.

Wander Franco to Make Major League Baseball Debut with the Tampa Bay Rays

It’s a Rays of sunshine for Wander Franco

The 20-year-old Dominican professional baseball player and top MLB prospect is officially headed to the big leagues and will be called up from the minors by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Wander Franco

Franco is a switch-hitting infielder who entered the season ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Major League Baseball, according to ESPN‘s Kiley McDaniel.

In 39 games for Triple-A Durham, Franco hit .315/.367/.586 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs.

He’ll join the Rays for their series against the Boston Red Sox beginning Tuesday in Tampa, Florida.

The Rays are the midst of a six-game losing streak, their longest since an eight-game skid in May 2018, including four walk-off losses in their past five games, the last two of those 10-inning defeats to the Seattle Mariners.

The Rays have hit only .222/.300/.361 in June, ranking 25th in the majors in OPS, so they will turn to Franco to provide some offensive spark. Regarded as one of the best pure hitting prospects in recent decades, Franco has a career minor league average of .332 with more walks than strikeouts. He has thrived in Triple-A East, ranking 10th in OPS despite skipping Double-A while being the youngest player in the league.

Franco has played primarily shortstop at Durham, starting 28 games there, while also playing some third base and second base. Rookie Taylor Walls has been the primary shortstop for the Rays since they traded Willy Adames to the Milwaukee Brewers, but Walls has hit .237 with one home run in 26 games. Joey Wendle started at shortstop Sunday, but his best position is third base, which should clear shortstop for Franco if Walls is the player sent down to open a roster spot for Franco.

“Franco has been the best prospect in baseball for almost two years because of his unique combination of pedigree, tools and performance. He was the best international prospect in his signing class at least two years before he signed and is the best prospect baseball has seen in at least five years,” McDaniel wrote in his preseason top 100 rankings.

Franco will debut at 20 years and 113 days old, which will make him the second-youngest player in Rays history behind B.J. Upton, who debuted in 2004 at 19 years and 347 days.

The Arizona Diamondbacks Reveal New Gold Uniform Inspired by State’s Hispanic Culture

David Peralta is preparin’ for a golden moment…

The 33-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball outfielder will soon be donning the Arizona Diamondbacks’ recently unveiled gold uniform.

David Peralta

The uniform is a reference to the Sonoran Desert and the state’s Hispanic culture as the latest alternate jersey in the City Connect collection.

The jersey reads “Serpientes” across the front, intended to highlight Arizona’s Hispanic culture, while the uniform patch features the Arizona state flag and a reference to Phoenix’s nickname as the Valley of the Sun.

The Diamondbacks will debut the uniforms on June 18 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and plan to wear them six more times: July 16 against the Chicago Cubs, July 30 against the Dodgers, August 13 against the San Diego Padres and for a three-game series with the Dodgers on Hispanic Heritage Weekend from September 24 to 26, which includes Roberto Clemente Day.

“I was really excited about that because we are involving the Spanish community in a special way. Arizona has a really big Hispanic community, and for me to be part of that, I am really proud and excited about it,” said Peralta. “We have Venezuelan guys, Dominican guys on our team to represent the Spanish community in Arizona. It really is a big deal for us, especially the way they’re doing it with the team name.”

Arizona will join the Boston Red SoxMiami MarlinsChicago White Sox and Cubs with a City Connect jersey.

The Diamondbacks conducted Zoom calls during the 2020 season to survey players on their thoughts about potential City Connect uniform designs. Peralta said that while many of the uniforms featured a nod to Arizona’s Hispanic culture — according to the most recent U.S. census data, more than 42% of the state’s residents identify as Hispanic — the gold design jumped off the page.

“I was looking at the colors in the computer and I thought it looked good, but when I saw the jersey, the way the colors come out, the contrast levels, it was like whoa, this is unique,” Peralta said. “This is something different.”

Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall said the jersey will replace the current alternative that reads “Los D-backs” and could become a regular part of the rotation depending on the reaction from fans and whether the team wins while wearing the uniforms.

“If we have an overwhelmingly favorable reaction to it, then we are going to start working them in a little more,” Hall said. “If we see that the hoodies and the T-shirts and jerseys are flying off the shelf in the team shop, we’ll know that fans want to see it more, and we’ll get feedback from fans and players. Our players are extremely superstitious, and if we turn the season around, you’ll see Serpientes out there a lot more, especially if we can rattle off some wins with it.”

When approached by MLB and Nike regarding City Connect, the Diamondbacks immediately agreed to take part in the inaugural run of uniforms. When deciding on which colors to use, they decided to stick to their existing set.

“Our preference was to have more of a bright or loud color, but we thought that it was a reflection of the desert,” Hall said. “It was a color that we already had, so it’s not an escape from what we have already, but I think our fans would have been more shocked if we had completely abandoned our colors.”

The Diamondbacks historically have been one of the more experimental teams when it comes to uniform designs. Ahead of the 2016 season, the team unveiled a complete redesign featuring a polarizing gradient snakeskin pattern on the uniforms and pants, widely considered among fans to be among the worst in the sport. When Nike took over as the uniform provider for MLB, Arizona once again redesigned its jerseys.

“We’ve been bold at times, maybe too bold, had too many options in the past, and we simplified,” Hall said. “We were one of the first teams to completely abandon our original colors and we were purple and teal, and for years, we had MLB asking us to consider changing our colors. We already had the Rockies with the purple. The purple never really matched up, and on TV, it looked more blue. The purple and teal was somewhat outdated.

“There was no red in our division, and they put on an entire presentation for us where baseball was showing us that we should be the color red because of the Sedona Mountains and the sky and we said, no, thank you, but the more we thought about it, it made sense. We’re such a young franchise, and you can do that.”

Peralta said that while gold is not a typical color for a baseball uniform, he thinks the unique look will appeal to fans. During a photoshoot ahead of the jersey reveal, the outfielder noticed a similar shade of gold on a snake’s skin to the one found on the jerseys.

“It’s just all about doing something different,” Peralta said. “The fans, the young guys, they like it, all of the kids. With these new uniforms, it’s different, and I think that’s the best part of that. People are going to be like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen something like that.'”

Chicago White Sox Rookie Yermin Mercedes Makes MLB History with 8-for-8 Start

Yermin Mercedes continues his historic run…

The 28-year-old Dominican Chicago White Sox rookie got three hits in his first three at-bats on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels to improve to 8-for-8 to start 2021, the most consecutive hits to start a season by any player in the modern era (since 1900).

Yermin Mercedes

Mercedes, who had one major league at-bat entering the season, going 0-for-1 in 2020, has started at DH the past two games and tortured the Angels with his two-strike hitting — five of the eight hits have come with two strikes.

After homering in the second inning on Saturday for his first career home run, Mercedes’ eighth straight hit came in the sixth inning, a double that bounced off the warning track in left-center.

“I’m just trying to wait for my pitch and not do too much,” Mercedes said after the White Sox lost 5-3 in Anaheim. “Just stay right there and swing hard. It doesn’t matter if it is two strikes or no strikes, I just want to see the ball.” 

The eight hits:

Friday
1. Line-drive single off a 1-2 changeup from Andrew Heaney
2. Ground ball single off a 1-0 sinker from Javy Guerra
3. Line-drive single off an 0-1 cutter from Chris Rodriguez
4. Line-drive single off an 0-2 cutter from Mike Mayers
5. Double to left field off an 0-2 change from Alex Claudio

Saturday
6. 421-foot home run off a 2-2 splitter from Alex Cobb
7. Ground ball single off a 1-2 sinker from Cobb
8. Double to deep left-center off a 1-0 sinker from Cobb

In his ninth at-bat, Mercedes flew out to center field to end his streak. He finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored on Saturday.

“All of his hits have been clutch and he has been putting us in position to try to win,” manager Tony LaRussa said. “He has had a great approach, especially with two strikes.”

Mercedes is a rookie who has bounced around three organizations, originally signed by the Washington Nationals and spending time with the Baltimore Orioles before the White Sox signed him in 2018. He wasn’t expected to be a big part of the lineup, but Eloy Jimenez‘s injury has opened up playing time, with projected DH Andrew Vaughn starting the past two games in left field.

LaRussa said Mercedes was supposed to have the night off Saturday but that he earned his way into the lineup with his 5-for-5 night.

Mercedes has spent most of his time in the minor leagues at catcher but does own a .302 career minor league average, and in 2019, he hit .317/.388/.581 with 23 home runs in 95 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

“I never imagined that. It is great for me,” Mercedes said of his start. “Now, it’s a new day for me. I want to keep doing well and work with my approach. I want to play every day and I’m excited for that.”

Before Mercedes, the only player since 1900 to get five hits in his first career start was Cecil Travis, who went 5-for-7 for the Washington Senators in 1933.

The overall record for consecutive hits at any point in a season is 12, shared by the Chicago CubsJohnny Kling (1902) and two Boston Red Sox players, Pinky Higgins (1938) and Walt Dropo (1952).

Eduardo Rodríguez Named Opening Day Starting Pitcher for Boston Red Sox

Eduardo Rodríguez is getting a second chance to make a first pitch…

A year after a battle with COVID-19 denied him a chance to be the Boston Red Sox‘s Opening Day starter, the 27-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball pitcher is getting a do-over.

Eduardo Rodríguez

Manager Alex Cora made the announcement this week following Boston’s 9-1 spring training win over the Minnesota Twins.

Rodríguez threw an efficient 55 pitches, striking out six and giving up two hits and one earned run over five innings.

“Indeed, it’s going to be Eduardo. He’s one of the best out there,” Cora said of the left-hander. “He had a great season in ’19. Last year, he wasn’t able to pitch for obvious reasons. What he’s shown now, he’s healthy and he’s ready to go. … It was just a matter of time.”

Boston opens its schedule April 1 against the Baltimore Orioles.

Rodríguez went 13-5 for the Boston team that won a franchise-record 108 games and the World Series in 2018. He went into the next year at the bottom of the rotation behind Chris SaleDavid PriceRick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi.

But Rodríguez had the best season of the group, going 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA to finish sixth in American League Cy Young voting. He made his major-league-leading 34th start on the final day of the season with a chance at 20 wins but did not figure in the decision. Still, he finished with career bests in wins, ERA, starts, innings (203⅓) and strikeouts (213).

With Sale recovering from Tommy John surgery, Rodríguez was in line to start on Opening Day in 2020 before testing positive for the coronavirus and being diagnosed with inflammation in his heart muscles. He said he couldn’t even complete a 25-pitch workout without feeling tired; on Aug. 1, just one week into the season, he was shut down for the year.

After putting the extended rest and recovery time to good use, he said he’s ready to take advantage of a chance he has yet to have during his five major league seasons.

Speaking prior to Cora naming him the starter, Rodríguez told reporters he would be honored to get the ball in the opener.

“If given the opportunity, I’m going to be so happy to do it because that’s something that everybody wants to do one time in their career,” he said. “If I have the opportunity this year, I’m going to really appreciate it. I’m going to love it.”

Enrique Hernandez Agrees to Two-Year, $14 Million Deal with Boston Red Sox

Enrique Hernandez is seeing Red (Sox)

The Boston Red Sox have agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with the 29-year-old Puerto Rican professional baseball utility player, according to ESPN.

Enrique Hernandez

Hernandez, originally acquired from the Miami Marlins as part of a seven-player trade in December 2014, was a key cog for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past six years because of his infectious energy, defensive versatility and production against left-handed pitching.

Hernandez is a career .240/.313/.425 hitter, making him slightly below league average, but he can provide premium defense as a middle infielder and in the outfield.

From 2016 to 2020, Hernandez compiled 5.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement.

One of his greatest highlights with the Dodgers came in October, when he hit the tying home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Martin Perez Agrees to One-Year Deal to Return to the Boston Red Sox

Martin Perez is seeing Red (Sox)

The 29-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball pitcher, a veteran left-hander, has agreed to a one-year, $5 million guaranteed contract to return to the Boston Red Sox, according to ESPN.

Martin Perez 

Perez’s agreement, which was first reported by The Athletic, includes a club option for a second year in 2022.

Perez spent last season with the Red Sox, going 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA, which was preceded by a season in which he went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA with the Minnesota Twins.

He had spent the previous seven seasons with the Texas Rangers, posting double-digit wins three separate times.

Eduardo Rodriguez Signs One-Year Deal with Boston Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez is seeing Red(Sox)…

The 27-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball pitcher, nicknamed E-Rod, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox valued at $8.3 million for the 2021 season, according to ESPN.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez, a left-hander, had been eligible for arbitration. Tuesday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

He didn’t pitch last season after testing positive for COVID-19 in July and later developing myocarditis, a heart condition associated with the disease.

In 2019, Rodriguez went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 34 starts.

He’s scheduled to become a free agent after the 2021 season.

Boston Red Sox Rehire Alex Cora as the Team’s Manager

Alex Cora is back in Boston…

The Boston Red Sox have rehired the team’s 45-year-old Puerto Rican former manager,.

Alex Cora

Cora led the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title but mutually agreed to part with the club amid the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. He was suspended for one season by Major League Baseball for his role in the scandal.

Boston, which ended the 60-game shortened season with a 24-36 record, decided not to retain manager Ron Roenicke, who replaced Cora in January after serving on his coaching staff.

The Red Sox were not allowed to speak to Cora until after the World Series, which ended October 27. The lack of activity before then was a sign that they were focused on Cora.

Cora agreed to a two-year contract that has a two-year team option for 2023 and ’24, the team said.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to manage once again and return to the game I have loved my entire life,” Cora said in a statement released by the team. “This past year, I have had time to reflect and evaluate many things, and I recognize how fortunate I am to lead this team once again. Not being a part of the game of baseball, and the pain of bringing negative attention to my family and this organization was extremely difficult. I am sorry for the harm my past actions have caused and will work hard to make this organization and its fans proud. …

“Boston is where I have always wanted to be and I could not be more excited to help the Red Sox achieve our ultimate goal of winning in October.”

The team he returns to bears little resemblance to the one he last managed.

Chaim Bloom is running the baseball side now, taking over last offseason just in time to part ways with Cora. He welcomed Cora back in a team statement Friday.

“Alex Cora is an outstanding manager, and the right person to lead our club into 2021 and beyond,” Bloom said. “The way he leads, inspires, and connects with everyone around him is almost unmatched, and he has incredible baseball acumen and feel for the game. …

“Because of all that had happened, I knew that I wanted to speak with Alex once his suspension ended, but I didn’t yet know if it made sense to consider him for the job as well. Our conversations were lengthy, intense, and emotional. Alex knows that what he did was wrong, and he regrets it. … He loves the Red Sox and the game of baseball, and because of that we believe he will make good on this second chance.”

Bloom’s other big move last offseason was to trade 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with David Price as part of an effort to get the Red Sox under the threshold for baseball’s competitive balance tax.

With Betts and Price gone, Chris Sale out with Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez recovering from a COVID-19-related heart problem, the Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East.

But Cora also has hope for improvement in the 2021 season.

Sale is expected to return in the first half. J.D. Martinez, an MLB All-Star his first two years in Boston before struggling in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, is also under contract for at least one more year.

And the Red Sox have plenty of salary flexibility gained in the deal that sent Betts and Price to Los Angeles.

Cora replaced John Farrell as Boston’s manager after the team twice finished last under Farrell, despite winning the 2013 World Series with him. With Cora at the helm in 2018, the Red Sox raced to a 108-54 regular-season record and an easy win in the AL East. They led the majors with a .268 team batting average and 876 runs scored.

Boston then dominated the postseason with an 11-3 mark, posting wins over the Yankees and Astros in the AL division and championship series, respectively, before defeating the Dodgers in the World Series.

The Red Sox couldn’t sustain 2018’s success in Cora’s second season, finishing 84-78 and third in the division, 19 games behind the Yankees.

Cora, who worked as an ESPN analyst before leaving for the Astros, played 14 MLB seasons, including parts of four seasons with the Red Sox, winning the 2007 World Series with Boston. He also played for the Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and Texas Rangers before finishing his career with the Washington Nationals in 2011.