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Zulgad: Out with the old: Twins continue necessary makeover of roster that didn’t cut it

MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers
September 11, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Chris Paddack (59) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins spent the 28 days following the MLB lockout retooling the roster of a team that went from back-to-back playoff appearances to finishing last in the American League Central in 2021. The signing of star shortstop Carlos Correa to what amounts to a one-year contract was the biggest shocker in a series of moves by Derek Falvey.

On Thursday morning, one day before the Twins’ weather-delayed opener against Seattle at Target Field, we found out the Twins’ president of baseball operations wasn’t done. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted Wednesday evening that the Twins were pursuing righthanded starter Chris Paddack from the San Diego Padres.

The trade landed Paddack and righthanded reliever Emilio Pagan, along with a player to be named, in Minnesota. Lefthanded reliever Taylor Rogers, the Twins’ closer, outfielder Brent Rooker and a reported $6.6 million in cash (money to help cover Rogers’ $7.3 million salary for 2022) went the other way.

Rogers was a quality pitcher for the Twins and a popular player in Minnesota. Rooker had been a prospect for several years but is now 27 years old. Paddack had an outstanding rookie season with the Padres in 2019 but that was followed by a couple of rough years and he ended last season dealing with a low-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016.

There is risk involved in the acquisition of Paddack.

The bullpen will take a hit with Rogers’ exit, but the starting staff will get a much-needed boost, assuming Paddack can stay healthy and find his 2019 form. He went 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts as a rookie.

The rotation figures to include Sonny Gray, Paddack, Joe Ryan, Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer and perhaps Bailey Ober. Gray shot to the top of the rotation — although Ryan will start the opener — when he was acquired from the Reds for hard-throwing, 2021 first-round pick Chase Petty only days after the lockout ended.

Bundy, 29, had been signed to a one-year, $5 million contract just before the lockout, and Archer was signed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal in late March. Bundy is coming off a down season with the Angels, and the 33-year-old Archer has spent recent years fighting injury issues. The 26-year-old Paddack comes with no guarantees but he definitely has more upside and he comes with three seasons of team control. The Twins also almost certainly got a thorough scouting report on Paddack from new bench coach Jayce Tingler, who managed the Padres the past two seasons.

While surrendering Rogers seems like a big price to pay, it’s the wise move. The 31-year-old will be entering the final season of his contract and the odds of him remaining in Minnesota were slim. He almost certainly would have been traded last summer had he not suffered a sprained middle finger on his pitching hand in late July. The injury ended his season.

Rooker swings a powerful bat, but there were questions about whether he had a position in the field and he’s close enough to 30 that he might never have the big-league impact some expected. Whether you agree, the trade also serves as another reminder that Falvey values prospects more than he does veterans who are closing in on big pay days.

Even without Paddack the Twins’ Opening Day rotation was going to be entirely different than it was a year ago. This gives it a better chance of being stronger. It will turn out to be a great deal if Paddack can rebound after going 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then finishing 7-7 with a 5.07 ERA in 23 appearance and 22 starts last season.

Pagan, who turns 31 on May 7, had a 2.31 ERA and 20 saves two years ago with Tampa Bay before his ERA rose to 4.50 and 4.83 the past two years. He figures to get some of the save opportunities that had gone to Rogers. Pagan is under team control through next season.

The Twins’ willingness to pay much of Rogers’ salary, while taking on the combined $4.5 million of Paddack and Pagan, eliminates the knee-jerk reaction that this was made as a cost-saving measure. The team’s payroll now sits at $137 million, or in the middle of the pack among MLB teams.

This doesn’t assure the Twins will be able to claim one of the seven playoff spots that now exist in the American League. But it is further confirmation that Falvey was well aware that the status quo — or anything close to it — wasn’t going to cut it at Target Field.

On Thursday, he continued to demonstrate his understanding of this fact. For that he deserves credit.