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Zulgad: Hollow victory: Twins’ return for Jose Berrios doesn’t negate misery of season

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Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios leaves the the mound during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, in Cleveland, Monday, April 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

The Twins have been losers all season, so for one day that made them winners. Got that? If you do, don’t be fooled.

This season will go down as the most disappointing in the franchise’s 61 years in Minnesota relative to expectations, but that enabled president of baseball operations Derek Falvey to push the detonate button on a portion of his underachieving roster before the MLB trade deadline on Friday.

Righthanded pitcher Jose Berrios, a two-time All-Star, was the first to be jettisoned, followed by starter J.A. Happ (St. Louis) and reliever Hansel Robles (Boston). Happ and Robles wouldn’t have been back anyway — they were both on one-year contracts and got small returns — and it’s somewhat surprising the Twins didn’t also move shortstop Andrelton Simmons, starter Michael Pineda and reliever Taylor Rogers.

The Berrios trade was the Twins’ biggest splash and immediately got positive reviews, as Falvey landed not one but two of the Blue Jays’ top prospects. Shortstop and outfielder Austin Martin was the second-ranked prospect in Toronto’s organization and the 16th-best prospect overall in MLB, and righthanded pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson was the fourth-ranked prospect in the organization.

That trade came a week after Falvey acquired righthanded pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman from Tampa Bay for designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Ryan was the Rays’ 10th-ranked prospect and Strotman was 17th.

The shame of it is these moves had to be made at all. Coming off back-to-back AL Central titles, the Twins were expected to challenge the White Sox this season. The White Sox have held up their end of the bargain, entering Friday with a 60-43 record and eight games up on second-place Cleveland. Chicago was a buyer at the deadline adding closer Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs in exchange for second baseman Nick Madrigal (out for season with an injury) and righthanded pitcher Codi Heuer.

The Twins, meanwhile, were in last place in the AL Central at 43-60 entering Friday night’s game in St. Louis. That’s the fifth-worst record in baseball. What’s gone wrong with the Twins? Well, what hasn’t? There has been some bad luck but there also were several moves that backfired (Happ and Matt Shoemaker being put in the starting rotation, the reconstructed bullpen being a bust, Miguel Sano turning into an automatic out, we could go on …) that have caused Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli to go from being baseball masterminds to Keystone Cops in one short year.

Immediately after the Berrios trade was reported, Phil Mackey, Declan Goff and I fired up a show on the SKOR North You Tube channel. What was funny was the number of Blue Jays fans — we appreciate you — who used the comments section to express their disgust with mortgaging the future (or what’s perceived as the future) to get Berrios, who is under contract through 2022.

That was funny considering how absurd it looks now that the Twins did not make a big deadline move in 2019 to improve a team that set the MLB record for home runs in a season (307) and instead pulled off a few minor transactions. Falvey and general manager Thad Levine talked about building the organization up at the time, as if 2019 was just the start of years of dominance.

Two seasons later, the Twins are a mess and being in a position where you had to start Randy Dobnak in Game 2 of a playoff series at Yankee Stadium looks more ridiculous than ever. Blue Jays fans should be celebrating the fact that as their franchise again starts to play home games in Toronto their front office is going for it and not assuming the future is brighter than the present.

So what’s the Twins’ next move, other than riding out a season that somehow is about to get more miserable than it already has been?

The first order of business needs to be circling back with Byron Buxton and giving the often-injured but incredibly talented center fielder a contract offer he will accept. Buxton was reported to be potentially on the move Friday after talks broke down between the Twins and his camp on a contract extension in the past week. He, like Berrios, is set to hit free agency after 2022 and while the Twins increased their most recent offer from $70 to $80 million that still wasn’t enough.

The Twins remain on the hook for the remainder of third baseman Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million contract — it has two seasons, plus an option year left — but there aren’t any huge salaries beyond that one. Buxton’s injury history is maddening for everyone, including him, but he has displayed talent at the plate, on the bases and in the outfield that make him one of the best players in the game when he’s on the field.

The Twins just showed their top pitcher the door because they expected he would want too much when he hit free agency. They already are getting lauded for the return but that only means the Twins can continue to sell hope and that isn’t going to sell tickets.

Let Buxton walk or trade him and the Twins will be faced with watching the next David Ortiz situation unfold.

Falvey and owner Jim Pohlad need to realize this and put the Summer of Bummer behind them as quickly as possible. Offer Buxton $100 million, cross your fingers that this young talent develops and take a risk on dealing some of your top prospects the next time you’re in contention. That’s a formula that might get you kudos for more than one day next time.