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.

Jose Altuve Among Seven Houston Astros Players Named as Finalists for 2021 MLB All-Star Game

Jose Altuve is one step closer to another All-Star game…

The 31-year-old Venezuelan Major League Baseball second baseman, a six-time MLB All-Star, is among seven Houston Astros players named as finalists to start in the 2021 All-Star Game.

Jose AltuveThe Astros have an MLB best seven finalists this season.

On June 23, Altuve hit his 150th career home run, doing so off Thomas Eshelman of the Baltimore Orioles.

The top three finalists for each position based on fan voting in each league, plus designated hitter for the American League, were announced Sunday.

Three teams — the Los Angeles DodgersChicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays — have five finalists for the Midsummer Classic, which will be played July 13 at Coors Field.

Voting on the finalists begins Monday and ends Thursday. The AL and NL All-Star starters, based on those votes, will be announced on Thursday at 9:00 pm ET on ESPN. The remainder of the All-Star teams will be unveiled next Sunday at 5:30 pm ET on ESPN.

The finalists:

Catcher:

AL:

  1. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
  2. Martin Maldonado, Astros
  3. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox

NL:

  1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
  2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Willson Contreras, Cubs

First base:

AL:

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
  2. Yuli Gurriel, Astros
  3. Jose Abreu, White Sox

NL:

  1. Max Muncy, Dodgers
  2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Second base:

AL:

  1. Marcus Semien, Blue Jays
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros
  3. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

NL:

  1. Ozzie Albies, Braves
  2. Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Gavin Lux, Dodgers

Shortstop:

AL:

  1. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
  2. Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
  3. Carlos Correa, Astros

NL:

  1. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
  2. Javier Baez, Cubs
  3. Brandon Crawford, Giants

Third base:

AL:

  1. Rafael Devers, Red Sox
  2. Alex Bregman, Astros
  3. Yoan Moncada, White Sox

NL:

  1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  2. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals
  3. Justin Turner, Dodgers

Outfield:

AL:

  1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
  2. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  3. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
  4. Michael Brantley, Astros
  5. Adolis García, Texas Rangers
  6. Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
  7. Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
  8. Alex Verdugo, Red Sox
  9. Randal Grichuk, Blue Jays

NL:

  1. Ronald Acuna Jr.
  2. Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
  3. Jesse Winker, Reds
  4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers
  5. Chris Taylor, Dodgers
  6. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
  7. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
  8. Joc Pederson, Cubs
  9. Mike Yastrzemski, Giants

Designated hitter:

AL:

  1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
  2. D. Martinez, Red Sox
  3. Yordan Alvarez, Astros

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.'”

Karamo Brown to Play in This Year’s MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game

Karamo Brown is gettin’ in the game…

Major League Baseball has revealed the group of celebrities that’ll participate in the 2021 MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game next month, with the 40-year-old half-Cuban American television host, reality television personality, author, actor, and activist making the roster.

Karamo Brown

The game is scheduled to take place on July 11 at Coors Field ahead of the 2021 Midsummer Classic.

In addition to Karamo, who appears on Netflix’s Queer Eye, is part of a roster that includes rapper Quavo and pop star JoJo Siwa, who will play alongside former MLB players like CC Sabathia, Hunter Pence and Rockies legend Larry Walker.

It’s not just baseball players, either. DK Metcalf of the NFL‘s Seattle Seahawks and Derrick White of the NBA‘s San Antonio Spurs will participate.

Here are all of the 2021 MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game participants:

  • Quavo (rapper)
  • JoJo Siwa (pop star and dancer)
  • Steve Aoki (Grammy-nominated DJ and producer)
  • Ross Butler (actor)
  • Noah Beck (social media star)
  • Charles Melton (actor)
  • Residente (rapper, writer, filmmaker, and activist)
  • Blake Gray (social media star)
  • The Miz (WWE star)
  • Kane Brown (country music star)
  • Karamo (television host)
  • DK Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks wide receiver)
  • I.D (musician)
  • Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs guard)
  • CC Sabathia (former New York Yankees pitcher)
  • Jennie Finch (former softball pitcher)
  • Hunter Pence (former San Francisco Giants outfielder)
  • Larry Walker (former Colorado Rockies outfielder)
  • Vinny Castilla (former Colorado Rockies third baseman)

On July 11, some of baseball’s top prospects will play in the 2021All-Star Futures Games. Following the prospect showcase, the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game will take place.

The All-Star Celebrity Softball Game will feature former Colorado Rockies star third baseman Vinny Castilla and former reliever LaTroy Hawkins serving as the managers for the teams.

Jose Godoy Becomes 20,000th Player in MLB History

Jose Godoy has earned special place in Major League Baseball history…

When the 26-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball catcher, the back up catcher for the Seattle Mariners, made his big league debut on Friday night, he became the 20,000th player in MLB history.

Jose Godoy

There was no fanfare at Petco Park when Godoy came in to catch in the sixth inning with the Mariners trailing 12-1 against the San Diego Padres. Godoy, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and joined the Seattle system last winter, grounded out and walked in his two plate appearances.

But to fans who had been tracking the procession to 20,000 on the Twitter postings by the website Céspedes Family BBQ, it was a big deal.

The Mariners got in the spirit, too, marking the occasion with a “Jeopardy!“-style answer to: “Who is José Godoy?”

The list of big leaguers began in 1871 and ranges from A to Z — there has never been a player whose last name started with X, although there have been several with first names that start that way, including Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts.

First on the alphabetical chart is pitcher David Aardsma, who moved into the top spot ahead of Hank Aaron when he started out in 2004 for San Francisco. Aardsma’s last season was 2015 — that was the same year the player last on the list, pitcher Tony Zych, made his debut with the Mariners.

Of the 20,000 players overall, 266 have reached the Hall of Fame. Walter Alston played two innings in his only game in 1936 for the Cardinals, striking out in his lone at-bat and making an error at first base — and later reached Cooperstown as the longtime manager of the Dodgers.

Pete Alonso Ready for This Year’s Home Run Derby

Pete Alonso is ready to take a swing at the title…

The 26-year-old Spanish-American New York Mets slugger is in for this year’s Home Run Derby at hitter-friendly Coors Field.

Pete Alonso

Alonso won the contest the last time it was held, in 2019, edging fellow rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at Cleveland’s Progressive Field for his first derby title.

“I’m all-in,” Alonso said Thursday afternoon from Wrigley Field, where the Mets finish up a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs. “I’m ready. If I get invited, I’d love to do it. I’d love to defend my title.”

Last year’s Home Run Derby was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 edition will take place July 12 at Colorado’s Coors Field after Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game and related festivities from Atlanta.

Alonso committed to the derby the day after hitting a monster home run that landed on the street beyond the left-center-field bleachers at Wrigley Field. It was measured at 429 feet.

“I’m very happy that ball went far,” Alonso said. “I think Statcast kind of stumped me. I think that ball did not go [only] 429 feet, but that’s what the computer says, and I think the computer is wrong.”

Alonso’s longest home run of his career was measured at 485 feet. He thinks Wednesday’s long ball was closer to that figure than 429 feet.

“If that ball went 429 feet, that’s the shortest ball that’s ever left this stadium,” Alonso said. “I’ve hit plenty of balls here that have gone 430 feet, but if a ball leaves the stadium, there’s no way that ball went only 429 feet.”

Alonso has three home runs this season entering Thursday night’s game against the Cubs. He led the majors with 53 in 2019, his rookie year.

He enjoyed Wednesday’s homer as much as any he has hit.

“That was one of my favorite home runs I’ve hit,” he said. “That’s top five for me.”

Houston Astros Agree to One-Year Contract Extension with Martin Maldonado

Martin Maldonado is staying put…

The Houston Astros have reached a one-year contract extension with the 34-year-old Puerto Rican professional baseball catcher, according to general manager James Click.

Martin Maldonado

Under terms of the deal, Maldonado will make $5 million in 2022, according to sources. The deal, which includes a $500,000 buyout, also has a $5 million vesting option for 2023 that becomes guaranteed if Maldonado plays in 90 or more games this season.

Maldonado has served two stints with the Astros and has emerged one of their core vocal leaders over these last couple of years. He’s making $3.5 million in 2021, the second season of a $7 million, two-year contract.

He’s off to a slow start offensively this season — with only three hits and 17 strikeouts in 34 at-bats — and has batted only .216/.291/.352 throughout an MLB career that spans 11 seasons. But his value comes in his handling of the pitching staff and his defense, particularly his arm strength.

Maldonado won a Gold Glove Award in 2017 and ranks as the game’s best pitch-framer in 2021.

He would have been eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Alex Rodriguez Finalizing Deal to Buy the Minnesota Timberwolves

It looks like Alex Rodriguez is ready to get in the basketball business…

The 45-year-old Dominican American former MLB slugger Alex Rodriguez and billionaire Marc Lore are finalizing a deal to purchase the Minnesota Timberwolves from majority owner Glen Taylor, according to ESPN.

Alex Rodriguez

The purchase price in the deal is expected to be in the $1.5 billion range, sources said.

Taylor will continue to hold full control of the team for two years before Rodriguez and Lore take over in 2023.

“We look forward to entering this phase of the process with Glen Taylor,” Rodriguez and Lore said in a joint statement on Saturday. “Our respect for him and the legacy he has built lays an amazing foundation for what is to come. We are excited by the prospect of getting to know the Timberwolves organization.”

Taylor announced in July 2020 that he was looking for a buyer. The terms of the sale are similar to talks Taylor had in the past year with billionaire Ryan Smith, who walked away from a potential deal to ultimately purchase the Utah Jazz for $1.66 billion in October.

Taylor, 79, saved basketball in Minnesota when he bought the team for $88 million in 1994 after it nearly moved to New Orleans. But he has had an unspectacular ownership run in the 16 years since, reaching the playoffs only once.

Taylor has discussed keeping the Timberwolves in Minnesota with new ownership, but Rodriguez’s ties to Seattle and that city’s desire for a return of an NBA franchise could become an issue in the long term.

Rodriguez was also part of a group that bid unsuccessfully for the New York Mets.