The small-market Tampa Bay Rays — who entered Thursday 26th in MLB payroll for 2021 — reached the World Series in 2020, and they’re making a big splash in an effort to do the same — and at least increase their chances to win the AL East — ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

Tampa Bay has acquired veteran slugger Nelson Cruz and pitching prospect Calvin Faucher from the Minnesota Twins, in exchange for pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. The Twins officially announced the trade.

Cruz is 41 years old, but he’s still one of the best hitters in baseball.

In 346 plate appearances this season, the right-handed hitter has a slash line of .294/.370/537, with 19 home runs, and a 141 wRC+. His .907 OPS ranks 17th among MLB qualified hitters, and the 141 wRC+ ranks 20th. While known for his slugging prowess (with 436 career home runs), he’s also a great all-around *hitter*, as the .294 batting average and 18.2 strikeout percentage (MLB average is 23.7% this season) show. He’s particularly great vs lefties, rocking a 1.010 OPS vs that arm side this season.

Cruz is the prototypical middle-of-the-order hitter that should provide a significant upgrade to the Rays’ lineup.

While the Rays are an outstanding 57-39 on the season (one game back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East), their offensive performance has been rather middling, ranking 25th in MLB in batting average (.231), 15th in on-base percentage (.315), 16th in slugging percentage (.397), and 16th in OPS (.712). Cruz will help improve Tampa Bay’s performance in all of these departments, and they aren’t asking anything from him defensively- he’ll be the designated hitter. Really, he’s the ideal add for this team and could take them to the next level.

Tampa Bay also gets Faucher, an intriguing relief prospect with command issues- but big strikeout rates (12.33 strikeouts/9 in 30 2/3 innings this season). For what’s essentially throw-in, he’s a nice lottery ticket for Tampa Bay.

After entering the season as an expected AL Central division title contender, the Twins have been a huge disappointment, entering play on Thursday at 41-55 (17 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the division). So, they were clear-cut sellers, and were able to get a high-quality return for just over two months of Cruz, who’s a free agent this offseason.

Ryan, 25, ranked No. 14 on FanGraphs’ list of top Rays prospects, and should slot into the top-10 of Minnesota’s system. He’s had fantastic strikeout-to-walk rates in the minors, striking out 11.84/9 while walking just 1.58/9. And he’s done that — to go with a 3.63 ERA and 3.24 FIP — as a starting pitcher. It remains to be seen if he’ll stay a starter, but he could be a terrific reliever with his stuff surely playing up to an even nastier level out of the bullpen.

Strotman is a similarly intriguing arm that should also be perceived in the top-10 neighborhood of Minnesota’s farm system. The right-hander ranked No. 13 in the Rays system according to FanGraphs, and has a 3.39 ERA and 3.65 FIP in 13 games (12 starts) in Triple-A this season.

So, the Rays get a piece that can provide a potentially sizable boost to their AL East and World Series chances, and the Twins get two upside, near-MLB-ready arms for just over two months of a player. Both sides came out very well in this deal, and don’t be surprised if they each make more notable moves over the next eight days.

About Matt Clapp

Matt is an editor at The Comeback. He attended Colorado State University, wishes he was Saved by the Bell's Zack Morris, and idolizes Larry David. And loves pizza and dogs because obviously.

He can be followed on Twitter at @Matt2Clapp (also @TheBlogfines for Cubs/MLB tweets and @DaBearNecess for Bears/NFL tweets), and can be reached by email at mclapp@thecomeback.com.