MINNEAPOLIS — The deals came at a breakneck speed on Monday afternoon as the MLB trade deadline approached. With 16 playoff spots up for grabs in this pandemic-shortened season, teams that ordinarily would have been sellers were turned into buyers. Mike Clevinger headed to San Diego, Mike Minor went to Oakland, Starling Marte was sent to Miami and on and on it went.
Only at Target Field there was silence. The Twins had lost five in a row, been swept over the weekend in Detroit, and had a lineup that had lost key players to injury and had others struggling. This dropped the Twins into third place in the AL Central and made them the poster children for a team that could use help at the deadline. Only that help was nowhere to be found.
Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, will tell you that the real help will come when guys like Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton, Mitch Garver and Jake Odorizzi return from injury and when Michael Pineda comes back from suspension to make his first start of the season on Tuesday night against the White Sox at Target Field. He will try to end a losing streak that reached six games on Monday night as the Twins squandered a 4-0 lead and lost 8-5 to Chicago at Target Field.
It remains to be seen if Falvey is proven to be accurate that the returning players will save the day and perhaps the season. But even if he isn’t, this is one case where he didn’t err by failing to make any major moves.
A year ago, the Twins’ brass should have done more to improve the pitching of a team that won 101 games and finished eight games up in its division. Falvey acquired relievers Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson near the deadline but did not make the impact move the roster deserved. The Yankees’ three-game sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series helped to confirm this.
That was a team that Falvey and general manager Thad Levine had been watching for four months. That same duo has been watching this team for one month and seven days in a bizarre season in which fans aren’t allowed into ballparks, teams are basically quarantined at their hotel on road trips and nobody knows if the coronavirus will enable the sport to get to the finish line of its expanded playoff tournament. Oh, and that tournament will start with best-of-three series and might be played in a bubble environment.
“I thought back to last year’s trade deadline,” Falvey said. “Obviously, they are very different deadlines. You’ve got a much better feel for your team over the course of an April, May, June, July run that we had last year, and we knew where there might be opportunities to add some leadership and veteran presence. We did that in the bullpen in a couple of spots. This year, you have one month’s worth of games and information to really try and assess where you’re at and 25 or so games remaining before the playoff run. It’s going to be a different equation for sure.”
This is why this wasn’t the season to move guys like Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Royce Lewis or Jhoan Duran. Falvey is never going to admit that he didn’t make a move because less importance has been placed on this season, but the fact the Twins did nothing speaks volumes about the approach to 2020.
The unfortunate thing about this season being turned upside down by a pandemic is that it still leaves us wondering what will happen when (hopefully) life and trade deadlines return to normal. There is no question that Falvey loves his prospects. “We’ve got a lot of good prospects that we think are going to help us here in the short term,” he said. “Hopefully, soon. Potentially even this year, but certainly in the next couple of seasons that we think will be a big part of our team and we want to make sure that we’re building with that group, not necessarily depleting it.”
If this group of prospects can help the Twins in 2021 that would be ideal. But if their path to the big leagues is blocked, moving them would be the prudent thing. At some point, we have to find out if there is a willingness to turn future talent into immediate help.
This was the good news last winter when Falvey worked overtime to make sure he got starter Kenta Maeda in a trade that first went through the Red Sox and eventually ended up being a two-team deal with the Dodgers. Falvey dealt hard-throwing reliever Brusdar Graterol to Los Angeles, showing a willingness to part with a top prospect.
Maeda has proven to be the Twins’ top starter this season and Falvey’s gamble, if you can call it that, is looking like a good one. That trade should give Falvey confidence that it’s OK to part with a precious prospect. His decision not to do that on Monday, however, was the right one.