Last week, the Twins traded top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol for Kenta Maeda.
And then, they didn’t. And now, they might have once again, but perhaps with another prospect included.
Assuming this trade eventually gets done and doesn’t include another top-20 prospect in the Twins system, it’s time to take a step back and examine what a Graterol-for-Maeda trade means about the approach of Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, and the Twins front office.
If you’re reading this, you already know who the players are, so we’ll keep that part brief.
In short, Graterol is a fireballing reliever with the upside to start but concerns about his durability that may relegate him to the bullpen. That said, his pitch arsenal and velocity mean that he profiles as a high-leverage reliever at worst, with the ceiling of a top-end starter.
In other words, there is plenty of variance in Graterol’s eventual outcomes. Even if he’s a good reliever, there’s a big difference in value from a good reliever and a top-of-the-rotation starter.
In Maeda, the Twins will be receiving a solid starting pitcher who has spent the last four years filling in the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the rotation for the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s still in his prime, entering his age-32 season, and has an incredible bargain of a contract with a guarantee of only $3.125 million per season through 2023, his age-35 season. There are a few incentives each year related to games started and innings pitched, but the contract remains an excellent value.
This is a calculated gamble by the Twins, as they are swapping the potential of a high-end starter for proven middle-of-the-rotation production and cost-certainty. But what does that say about how the front office will operate moving forward?
If Maeda is in the fold, here is the projected rotation with a list of the next-men-up, who will all inevitably get a chance to start at some point during the season.
That’s 11 guys, most of whom are likely to offer better than league-average production in a starting role. Pineda will return in May from his suspension and assume the No. 4 role, while Hill could return mid-summer and offer top-of-the-rotation pitching down the stretch and into the postseason.
There’s still some upside to both Smeltzer and Thorpe, with the latter especially having a shot at being a rotation mainstay in the near future, whether for the Twins or another team.
It’s a rotation that is absolutely more about quantity and depth than aces. In the absence of one or two truly dominant front-line starters, Twins front office has identified that a deep rotation that is strong even beyond one-through-five is what they’ll need to win the A.L. Central and qualify for the postseason.
Here are the starts that the Twins got in 2019 from players who have since departed:
Martin Perez - 29
Kyle Gibson - 29
Kohl Stewart - 2
The Twins also had six starts from Smeltzer, five from Dobnak, two from Thorpe and one from Stashak.
Those 60 starts by now-departed pitchers should be replaced by Maeda, Bailey, and Hill, all of whom already have better career track records than Perez and will likely offer more than Gibson’s 4.84 ERA and ERA+ of 95. And remember, this is a team that won 101 games just last season.
A rotation of something like five to seven above-average starting pitchers with some upside is more than enough to accompany one of the league’s best offenses and a competitive bullpen to postseason play, and it is absolutely an upgrade from 2019.
Additionally, the front office will have the opportunity to acquire higher-end pitching talent at the trade deadline this season. Outside of giving up a couple of fringe-y prospects in the Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson deals last year and Graterol in the Maeda trade, the Twins still have plenty of prospects they could include in deals of varying magnitudes.
What names could be available? In terms of true aces, there’s always Noah Syndergaard, although the Twins reportedly scoffed at the asking price last year. Next-tier options like Arizona’s Robbie Ray or Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer could be had, too, although the price is surely a lot lower. San Francisco’s Jeff Samardzija would be a rental and the cost is likely somewhere in between an Archer and Syndergaard.
Suffice it to say, the Twins are comfortable with a stable of solid pitchers, a great bullpen, and what could be another historically-great offensive attack. If they feel that adding some more potent arms to the rotation is a necessity, the front office has a window until the July 31 trade deadline to do just that.
Of course, if Berrios or Odorizzi continue to improve or if Maeda takes his newfound leash and runs with it, there may not be as much of a need for starting pitching. That would the best-case scenario, wouldn’t it?
If nothing else, Falvine has built a deep group of starting pitchers with upside, all at a reasonable cost. They’ve also hung onto nearly all of their top and middle-tier prospects, giving them the flexibility to pounce should the perfect opportunity ever present itself.
It’s safe to say that the Twins’ starting rotation will be in a better place at the start of the season than it has at any point in recent memory.
As long as the Maeda trade is finalized, that is...