Image credit: Yennier Cano (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
A team that wants to win its division will probably have to lose prospects.
At the 2022 trade deadline, the Twins were 54-49 and one game ahead of the Guardians in the American League Central.
Minnesota identified pitching reinforcements as its top deadline priority and traded for Reds starter Tyler Mahle and Orioles closer Jorge Lopez, among others.
At the time, the prospects the Twins surrendered seemed like a fair exchange to add a starter and a reliever each worth roughly two wins above replacement to that point.
But in hindsight we know that Mahle and Lopez contributed essentially zero WAR to a Twins team that went 24-35 after the trade deadline and finished 14 games behind Cleveland and out of the postseason.
Then this season Mahle had Tommy John surgery and will qualify for free agency in November. Lopez was jettisoned to the Marlins for Dylan Floro this month.
Given these outcomes alone, the Twins would probably take a do-over on the 2022 trade deadline, if such a thing were possible.
That unpredictability is part of what makes the trade deadline so much fun—at least outside of the Twin Cities.
But Minnesota’s loss was a win for the Reds and Orioles, the teams that traded Mahle and Lopez to the Twins a year ago and, as a result, opened their competitive windows earlier than expected.
Both Baltimore and Cincinnati are in the thick of the postseason race this year, defying preseason expectations by many. The Orioles hold a small lead on the Rays in the AL East, while the Reds have surprisingly hung with the Brewers near the top of the National League Central.
Orioles Add Arms
Baltimore has the best bullpen in baseball, aided by Yennier Cano, one of the players acquired from the Twins for Lopez at last year’s deadline. The 29-year-old Cano carries a 1.80 ERA through 45 appearances this season and with closer Felix Bautista supplied roughly 4 WAR to the 5.4 total by the Orioles’ bullpen, according to FanGraphs.
The Orioles also added minor league lefthander Cade Povich in the Lopez deal. The 23-year-old has climbed into Baltimore’s Top 10 Prospects and ranks inside the top 10 for strikeouts in the minors this season. The Orioles just promoted him to Triple-A.
But the contributions of Cano alone make the Orioles’ trade with the Twins a big win, possibly a big enough win to account for Baltimore’s present cushion in the standings.
Reds Lengthen Lineup
The Reds added a couple productive hitters with proximity when they traded Mahle to the Twins last year.
Spencer Steer has started at least 15 games at first base, third base and left field this season while producing offense at an above-average rate. The 25-year-old righthanded hitter was especially dangerous with the platoon advantage and has a .949 OPS versus lefthanders.
The Reds also added Christian Encarnacion-Strand in the Mahle deal. The 23-year-old hit .321/.392/.620 with 20 homers in 65 games for Triple-A Louisville, ranking top 10 in the minors in home runs and slugging prior to his July 17 callup. He was playing mostly first base and DH early in his MLB career.
Like Steer, Encarnacion-Strand is a powerful righthanded hitter who should, at worst, offer offensive production at a lower salary early in his career.
Hindsight being 20/20, the Twins’ loss of those two young players is acutely felt this season because Minnesota has struggled mightily versus lefthanders, with an 83 wRC+ that ranks 29th in baseball. Both Steer and Encarnacion-Strand could have worked their way into the Twins’ lineup mix, at minimum versus lefthanded starters.