As Jerry Seinfeld famously noted, sports fans generally cheer for laundry over individuals. As such, it is sometimes important to take a moment to remember those who have moved on from the Minnesota Twins. In this case, a few words on Sonny Gray & Kenta Maeda:
Truth be told, there were times when Sonny could rub folks the wrong way, such as his insistence on pitching deeper in contests when his resume in no way indicated that as a positive. Or, his random bouts of wildness that would instantly un-track a masterpiece start.
But when push came to shove, the numbers would always be there. In 2022, Gray was 7th on the team in bWAR despite pitching just 119.2 innings. This past season? First in team bWAR with this sterling line: 32 GS, 8-8, 184 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, & 0.4 HR/9. The lack of double-digit wins was a bit astounding, but by any other metric Gray was co-ace alongside Pablo López. He was selected to the AL All-Star squad and finished second behind Gerrit Cole in AL Cy Young voting.
While I have my doubts that such a career renaissance will continue with the St. Louis Cardinals, I am similarly doubtful the Twins replace his numbers in their ‘24 starting staff.
For one shining short-sample season—2020 (11 GS, 6-1, 66.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP)— Maeda was the best Twin to toe the rubber since Johan Santana’s heyday. Were it not for a similarly spectacular ‘20 from Shane Bieber, King Kenta would have had a Cy Young trophy.
Unfortunately, inconsistency led to injury (Tommy John surgery) in 2021, which meant a lost 2022. In his 2023 return, Kenta started off slow and kept having weird things happen. He did post a serviceable 102 ERA+ and 1.17 WHIP in 104.1 IP.
At 35 years old, it was surprising to see him get a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers. But he has always been a solid—sometimes spectacular—pitcher when healthy and seemed like a leader in the Twins’ clubhouse.
When submitting this post, news broke that Emilio Pagan is now a member of the Cincinnati Reds. On one hand, Pagan was one of the best relievers for the ‘23 Twins: 69.1 IP, 144 ERA+, 0.952 WHIP. On the other hand, His Dark Materials will always have 2022 on his MN resume. While I will sincerely miss Gray & Maeda, my inability to fully trust Pagan no matter how many strong outings (even seasons) he had puts me at ease moving on from him.