In Trading for Kenta Maeda, the Twins Are Finally Acting Like a Contender

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Largely lost within the shuffle of final week’s Mookie Betts commerce was Minnesota’s inclusion within the deal. However by shoring up its pitching employees, the workforce lastly appears to be taking its offensive skills significantly.

Over the past two weeks, the baseball world has been awash in dialogue over probably the most controversial and impactful commerce of the offseason: the Mookie Betts deal. An MVP and a Cy Young winner modified arms. Two titanic franchises shuffled their rosters. The Dodgers cemented themselves as the best team in the National League, whereas the Red Sox poured soup down their shirts.

However one frankly underdiscussed facet of the commerce stays: What does this imply for the Minnesota Twins?

While the Dodgers are extra prepared to spend money for premier talent than the Pink Sox, they have been nonetheless cautious of paying the posh tax. To avoid doing so, they initially attempted to offload veteran starter Kenta Maeda to the Twins, and in return, Minnesota put pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol into the tombola. However when the Pink Sox raised considerations over Graterol’s medical history, the three-team deal was reimagined as two bilateral trades: one to ship Betts and David Worth to Los Angeles for Alex Verdugo and a package deal of prospects, and another swap centered on Graterol and Maeda.

Boston’s rationale here is blindingly obvious, if somewhat ill-considered, and the Dodgers sacrificed some money and a few potential future returns for plenty of value within the present. However the Twins’ involvement is fascinating as a result of it’s the sort of commerce, nicely, the Dodgers or Pink Sox would ordinarily make—delivery a gifted however dangerous prospect out for a veteran who may help within the playoffs.

Technically, the trade concerned a number of items: The Twins received Maeda, minor league catcher Jair Camargo, and $10 million in money, while the Dodgers acquired Graterol, minor league outfielder Luke Raley, and a compensation decide, no. 67 within the 2020 draft. Raley and Camargo are makeweights. Earlier than the trade, FanGraphs lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen rated Raley as the 35th-best prospect within the Minnesota system; after the commerce, he ranked Camargo 37th. It’s potential that one or each might play within the majors sometime—Raley particularly, since he made it to triple-A in 2019—however the probabilities of either turning into an impression participant are vanishingly small.

The draft decide is a bit more helpful. Over the 55-year historical past of the June novice draft, lower than half of the gamers picked 67th general have made the large leagues, however a couple of—Jordan Zimmermann, Wally Joyner, Ron Guidry, Rick Reuschel—turned out to be useful major leaguers. Furthermore, in 2019, the 67th decide in the draft came with a bonus slot allowance of almost $1 million. Meaning the Dodgers might either play it straight and decide the 67th-best participant on their board come June, or use that money to entice their different draft picks to sign. The decide itself just isn't value trading Maeda for, however it’s not nothing.

The core of this deal, though, is a one-for-one swap between 100-win groups, both of which intend to challenge for a World Collection in 2020 and the seasons to return. Graterol is a particularly dangerous proposition, not simply because he’s a young pitcher, but because he already has balky medicals (the ones that scared Boston off him in the first place) and the trouble degree required for his delivery carries substantial danger that he gained’t be capable of begin. Even when he can’t start, though, there’s a nontrivial probability that he might be the Dodgers’ greatest reliever by October.

Graterol made his major league debut last September, simply days after he turned 21, and in 10 complete appearances last season he showed positively electrical stuff. Graterol’s fastball tops out at north of 100 miles an hour and scurries in on right-handed batters’ arms like a frightened elephant calf to its mom. He balances that out with a slider that is available in around 90 miles per hour and breaks onerous in the other course. If Graterol is a one-inning reliever, properly, imagine peak Craig Kimbrel’s repertoire, but tilted 90 degrees.

Sadly, despite his youth, Graterol has already missed a season resulting from Tommy John surgical procedure and suffered additional setbacks as a result of shoulder injuries—and this much was public earlier than the Pink Sox acquired spooked.

That’s an enormous a part of the rationale Graterol is such a polarizing prospect. When the Pink Sox pressured the Dodgers and Twins to renegotiate the commerce, Los Angeles ended up getting Graterol and sending infielder Jeter Downs—a relatively protected second base prospect—and minor league catcher Connor Wong to Boston. There’s a compelling argument to be made that the Dodgers are better off. While Longenhagen ranked Downs 47th on his global top prospect list and Graterol all the best way down at no. 113, Baseball Prospectus had Graterol 32nd and Downs off their top 101 altogether. It all is dependent upon how you outline danger, and the way a lot danger you’re prepared to tolerate.

The Twins have insulated themselves towards that downside by selling high on potential—and in so doing, they’ve shored up what had previously been a deadly weak spot.

Maeda is a gentle mid-rotation starter—in four seasons of massive league motion, he’s posted a total ERA+ of 105 and never deviated various factors from that profession norm—who was never quite ok to crack the Dodgers’ playoff rotation. Saying that Maeda isn’t nearly as good as Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, or peak Yu Darvish isn’t precisely a dig, and he’ll be a shoo-in for a hypothetical playoff rotation in Minnesota.

Every time I’ve written concerning the Twins this offseason, I’ve mentioned that they began Randy Dobnak in a playoff recreation in Yankee Stadium. And as much as I’d wish to cease beating that exact lifeless horse, there isn't any extra succinct and revelatory method to categorical what an issue Minnesota’s rotation was last season.

With Michael Pineda serving a PED suspension, the Twins went into last yr’s postseason with a rotation of José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi, and a bunch of question marks. That simply isn’t ok to advance in the postseason anymore; even “weak” World Collection rotations of the 2010s had either more depth (the 2015 Royals) or more front-end star energy (the injury-ravaged 2016 Indians), and both of these golf equipment have been backstopped by phenomenal aid pitching, which last yr’s Twins didn't have.

Maeda has been reliable and healthy throughout his career, and has immense postseason expertise, albeit principally in aid. Now, Minnesota’s hypothetical playoff rotation consists of Berríos, Maeda, Odorizzi, and one in every of Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, or Pineda. That’s not fairly up to par with what the Rays, Astros, or Yankees can trot out, however it’s credible for a playoff staff, notably one with as a lot offensive firepower as the Twins.

The probably consequence for this swap is that the Dodgers and Twins both benefit, the former by swapping a starter they couldn’t use for a young influence reliever, and the latter by offloading a tantalizing however dangerous prospect for a recognized quantity that ought to help shore up a weak rotation.

Out of all the items concerned on this deal, though, Maeda might profit most thanks to his unique contract structure. Maeda’s deal pays him a base wage of $3 million a yr by way of 2023, plus a $1 million task bonus every time he’s traded; the $10 million in money the Dodgers are sending alongside covers a lot of the $13 million in assured money left on Maeda’s deal. The rest of the contract is available in incentives for games started and innings pitched. Due to that construction, Maeda was primarily dropping cash each time the Dodgers shuttled him to the bullpen in August. With the Twins, nevertheless, Maeda will pitch as much as his body can bear, and a season of 32 or extra starts and 200 or more innings can be value more than $10 million on prime of his base salary. That’s a whole lot of money to spend on meat raffles and lutefisk, ought to Maeda choose to embrace local cuisine.

By inserting themselves into this blockbuster deal, the Twins have made a transparent guess on their own short-term future as a contender, in addition to their potential to guage potential and damage danger in their very own pitching prospects. Maeda could also be a safer choice than Graterol, however the deal is decisive and splashy enough to additional chip away on the franchise’s fame for quiet small-market conservatism. And in contrast to the Twins golf equipment that constructed that fame, the 2020 installment might make a deep playoff run in consequence.