MLB Trade Deadline: How Nelson Cruz Deal Affects Rays’ Odds, Projections

MLB Trade Deadline: How Nelson Cruz Deal Affects Rays’ Odds, Projections article feature image
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(Photo by Brad Rempel/MLB via Getty Images). Pictured: Nelson Cruz, Willy Adames.

The Tampa Bay Rays have finalized a deal to acquire Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz, the first big move ahead of the July 30 MLB trade deadline.

The Rays are currently just a game behind the Boston Red Sox for the American League East and lead the wild-card standings by 2 1/2 games.

The Rays’ odds to win the World Series have stayed the same at every major sportsbook since the trade was announced.

But, Tampa Bay’s line to win the AL East has changed at two major books.

At DraftKings, the Rays were +165 to win their division. That line is now +155. The Red Sox were -115 to win the division — that line has remained unchanged.

And at PointsBet, the Rays went from +130 to +115 to win their division. Their line to win the AL East remains +140 at BetMGM and +145 at FanDuel, as of Thursday night.

The Rays are still +1400 to win the World Series at DraftKings, +1500 at BetMGM, +1600 at FanDuel and +1600 at PointsBet.

The Rays had a 91.1% chance to make the postseason and an 8.6% chance to win the World Series before the trade news, according to FanGraphs. It is unclear if those figures will change.

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Cruz has hit .294/.370/.537 with 19 homers and an OPS+ of 151 so far this season. His OPS has hovered around 1.000 since the 2019 season.

Even without starter Tyler Glasnow — who suffered a partial tear of his UCL in June — Tampa still has one of the most formidable pitching staffs in baseball. Now, they’ve added another bat to accompany their rotation.

Minnesota acquired right-handed minor league pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman in exchange for their 40-year-old slugger.

Ryan was ranked by MLB.com as the Rays’ 10th best prospect before the start of the season.

Tampa will also receive minor league pitcher Calvin Faucher as a part of the deal.

The Twins have sorely disappointed in a season in which they opened as +130 co-favorites to win the AL Central. They currently sit at 41-55 — 17 games back from the Chicago White Sox for the division lead. As of Thursday, FanGraphs has their odds of making the playoffs at 0.1%.

For reference, their odds to win the AL Central are 150/1 at DraftKings.

In light of the acquisition, the Rays’ primary designated hitter, Austin Meadows, figures to slot into the outfield more often — especially in the short-term with right fielder Manuel Margot on the 10-day injured list.

The two viable candidates to be replaced by Cruz on Tampa’s 26-man roster are Ji-Man Choi and Brett Phillips — the hero from that wacky, down-to-their-last-strike win in Game 4 of last year’s World Series.

Both Choi and Phillips do not have any minor league options remaining, which means either player would have to be put on outright waivers, where any team could claim him.

Sean Zerillo’s Take On the Trade

I like what the Rays did here, not only from a projections standpoint but also from a “fit” perspective. And frankly, it felt inevitable that Cruz would end up as a member of either the Rays or Athletics before the end of his career.

Tampa Bay currently strikes out as much as any team in baseball (26.5%), and Cruz immediately becomes their third-most contact-oriented bat (18.2%, 45th amongst 136 qualified hitters), behind Manuel Margot (15.2%) and Yandy Diaz (15.6%).

Adding Cruz to the Tampa Bay lineup improves their “True Talent” level to that of a 90-win club in my projections, up from 89 wins before the trade. The upgrade increases their rest of season talent gap relative to their AL East rivals (New York at 88.3 wins, Toronto at 86.1 wins and Boston at 83.5 wins).

In terms of a prorated record, I would now project the Rays to finish with 93.6 wins, the best mark in their division (Boston 92, New York 87.1 and Toronto 85), and an increase of 0.6 wins result from the trade directly.

Multiple projection systems expect Cruz to accumulate more than 1 WAR the rest of the way — but you have to account for the talent that he’ll be replacing in terms of playing time.

Rest of the Season WAR Projections

  • Depth Charts: +1.3
  • Steamer: +1.2
  • ZIPS: +1.3

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