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Zulgad: Kenta Maeda trade is latest sign that this isn’t business as usual for Twins

How could the Twins be so foolish as to trade hard-throwing pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol to the Boston Red Sox and only get back starter Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers in return?

That seemed to be the reaction of many Twins fans on Tuesday evening as reports circulated that Minnesota had made that deal as part of the three-team blockbuster trade that will send former AL MVP Mookie Betts and lefthanded pitcher David Price to the Dodgers for a package that will include outfielder Alex Verdugo. (The deal is reportedly pending medical reviews.)

The vitriol wasn’t surprising considering how hyped Graterol’s rise through the minors had been, but the feeling wasn’t shared here. Rather, the reaction was one of complete shock that the Twins had decided to deal a top prospect, followed by the recognition of the fact that in the past three weeks the Twins brass of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have done some very un-Twins-like things.

This started with the decision to sign third baseman Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million contract that includes a club option for 2024. The richest free agent contract ever given out by the franchise contains a $16 million option for that final season or an $8 million buyout.

The news of the 34-year-old Donaldson’s contract in Minnesota caused Twins skeptics to ask one question: Where’s the starting pitching help this team needed?

It was a legitimate question considering the Twins admitted they had worked to land Zack Wheeler only to lose out to Philadelphia. There were other starters the Twins wanted but didn’t get. It appeared as if they would enter spring training with Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi atop the rotation and new addition Homer Bailey holding the third spot. This did not inspire confidence that enough had been done to put the Twins in the best position possible to defend their AL Central title.

Maeda, who will turn 32 on April 11, was 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA in 37 games and 26 starts for the Dodgers last season and now figures to occupy the third spot in the Twins’ rotation. He is signed at $3.1 million a year through 2023 and strikes out 10 batters per nine inning.

Is Maeda going to win an AL Cy Young? No. Does he improve the Twins’ rotation? Absolutely.

His addition also is the latest sign that Falvey and Levine realize they have a team that shouldn’t just contend for another division title but should be making a run at a World Series. Getting to the playoffs, and being swept in three games in the first round by the Yankees, as the Twins were last season, should not be the goal. It’s clear now that everyone understands that was not acceptable.

Donaldson and Maeda aren’t kids and neither are guys like Nelson Cruz (39), Marwin Gonzalez (30) and Sergio Romo (36). These aren’t guys who are going to look at the Twins’ young talent and dream of great years ahead. They need to win now and the front office is attempting to give them the pieces to do it.

Before Donaldson joined the Twins, this team had made offseason moves that included signing veteran pitchers such as Bailey, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard and catcher Alex Avila.

This made it easy to question if the Twins brain trust understood that a club that hit a major league record 307 home runs in 2019 was in need of some significant and potentially gutsy moves. The Donaldson signing quieted that chatter and the Maeda trade takes another step toward improving the one place where it was still easy to have doubts.

It’s easy to see the decision to trade Graterol as a positive step. Until Tuesday evening, there remained doubt about whether Falvey and Levine were really willing to dip into their beloved farm system to trade a top prospect. It did not happen when the Twins could have used starting pitching help at the trade deadline last July and it hadn’t happened this offseason. The Twins’ willingness to move make this trade shows that Falvey and Levine might be willing to again deal one of their top prospects this summer, if more help is needed.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to be upset that Graterol and his 100-mile-per-hour fastball are headed to Fenway Park. If it makes you happy to call the Twins fools, go right ahead.

I’m just happy that the guys who run the show at Target Field seem to realize they have a club that has an opportunity to make the 2020 season a special one and are willing to make potentially risky moves to try to make that happen. Until three weeks ago, I had serious doubts about their willingness to do so.


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