JAKE’S TAKE: Cruz setting a new standard in Minnesota sports free agency history
MARSHALL – Since joining the Minnesota Twins this past offseason, 39-year-old free agent acquisition Nelson Cruz has quickly ascended into one of the most beloved players on roster with every plate appearance serving as must-see TV.
In Tuesday’s divisional matchup with the Chicago White Sox, Cruz put another exclamation mark on what has been a historic season with his 33rd home run to go along with three doubles. In amazement, I began to wonder if there’s ever been a more productive free agent signing in the history of Minnesota pro sports.
In order to find out, I dug deep through the archives and took a trip down memory lane to come up with my top five greatest free agency acquisitions in Minnesota sports history.
5. Ryan Suter
Since arriving to Minnesota after spending seven seasons patrolling the blue line with the Nashville Predators, Suter has been everything that the Wild expected and then some given his ability to log substantial minutes of ice time as their number one defenseman.
Upon beginning his career with the Wild in the 2012-2013 season, Suter’s impact was felt immediately as he helped guide the club to its first playoff appearance in four seasons. The Wild wouldn’t miss the playoffs again until this past season when the six-year streak came to an end.
Statistically, Suter has even been able to establish new season-bests in goals (nine in 2016-2017), assists (45 in 2017-2018) and points (51 in 2015-2016, 2017-2018) during his time with the Wild.
4. Antoine Winfield (Minnesota Vikings)
Relatively undersized for a prototypical cornerback, Winfield made up for his lack of size with an innate nose for the football. In doing so, he established himself as one of the best open field tackling cornerbacks of the decade.
Winfield began his career in Buffalo and spent five seasons there before being signed by the Vikings in 2004. Like Suter with the Wild, Winfield’s impact was instant as the Vikings were able to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The 1999 first-round draft pick went on make the Pro Bowl three-straight seasons between 2008 and 2010 and was a key member of the 2009 NFC Championship team. During his nine seasons with the team, Winfield eclipsed the 80-tackle mark three times and had at least three interceptions in four of the nine seasons.
3. Nelson Cruz
The 2019 season for Cruz has been one of the most thrilling and memorable campaigns in quite some time, maybe ever for the Twins franchise. Thankfully, unlike the other members of the list, we’re still able to witness his incredible run unfold presently.
As it stands, Cruz is on pace to set a new career best mark for OPS (On-base plus slugging percentage) at 1.057, which (according to Baseball Prospectus’ Aaron Gleeman), would rank among the top-five all time in the statistical category for 38-year olds with the likes of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth also on the list.
Along the way, Cruz has had two-three home run games and is well on his way to returning to the 40-home run club with a current total of 33. If all of that wasn’t enough, Cruz’ greatness has been one of the biggest factors in the Twins resurgence and will likely play a large role in a postseason run down the line.
2. Brett Favre
The transition from being the most hated player on the Green Bay Packers to being the savior of the Vikings franchise was seemingly an overnight process.
Whether it was the concept of being able to beat the Packers with their longtime hero, or the legitimate prospect of a Super Bowl, the Vikings fans could not get enough of No. 4. As a result, the 2009 season for those who bleed purple was unforgettable and won’t soon be forgotten.
Favre entered that season having thrown 22 interceptions the year before with the New York Jets. As a result, many were unsure whether the gunslinger could capture the greatness that defined his career with the Packers. 4,000 yards and 33 touchdown passes later, the doubters were quickly transformed into believers.
With Favre under center, the Vikings made it all the way to the NFC Championship game against the Saints in a contest that need not be rehashed.
1. Jack Morris
When it comes to ranking free agent acquisitions, it’s hard to argue with championship hardware, especially when the player in question put together one of the best pitching performances in MLB history to obtain it.
Morris signed with the Twins prior to the 1991 season after spending 12 full seasons with the Detroit Tigers. During that span, Morris won his first of four World Series Championships in 1984 and pitched twice during that series – winning both in complete-game fashion.
With his championship pedigree, Morris was made the highest paid pitcher in the American League upon signing with the Twins and proved to be worth every penny by leading the club to AL West title. Morris continued to shine in the postseason, winning twice against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS before saving his best performances for the World Series.
Morris opened what would eventually be a seven-game series against the Atlanta Braves with a victory in game one. His second win in the series came with a championship hanging in the balance in game seven against future first-ballot Hall of Famer John Smoltz. In a game that continually been ranked among the very best in MLB history, Morris was lights-out and held the Atlanta scoreless in all 10 innings pitched to secure the championship and earn the Most Valuable Player award for the series.
Morris’ time with the Twins would only last one season, as he went on to earn two more World Series titles with the Blue Jays before joining the Cleveland Indians for his final season in the MLB.