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The Twins Couldn’t Make A Good Win-Now Trade If Their Season Depended On It

Jorge López looks defeated (and probably was defeated) during one of his final appearances for the Minnesota Twins.
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Minnesota Twins, to their limited credit, behave as if they are the big dogs of the insanely shitty AL Central. Minnesota won 101 games in 2019, in manager Rocco Baldelli's first season in charge. They won the division again in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Things went sideways in 2021, but this was chalked up to fluky injury misfortune and even flukier competence among their AL Central fellows.

At the 2022 deadline the Twins were six games over .500 and atop their division, operating like a team with serious playoff aspirations. They made two moves during the 2022 regular season. They traded four prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for closer Jorge López, and three prospects to the Cincinnati Reds for starter Tyler Mahle. These were aggressive moves, but Minnesota's braintrust wanted improvement and what the team needed was pitching.

These trades did not work out. Mahle pitched 16.1 innings in four starts down the stretch for the Twins, ending his 2022 season with two rough innings in a Sept. 3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He lost a few ticks on his fastball over his final two starts, and spent the remainder of the season on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. López, who'd been an unlikely All-Star for the Orioles following six solid years of mediocrity, blew two of his first three save opportunities and was out of the closer role within a month. The Twins stumbled along through August, then lost 18 games in September, and finished the season six games below .500, an ignominious third in their division.

The failure of these acquisitions have been following the Twins around like vengeful ghosts, intent upon teaching the team a painful lesson about win-now trades. Mahle pitched competently through five starts in 2023, but then his elbow fell apart in late April; in May he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He will enter unrestricted free agency this winter. López started this season well and didn't give up his first earned run until his 14th appearance, but by mid-June his ERA had ballooned to 5.00, and in late July the Twins dealt him to the Marlins for ho-hum reliever Dylan Floro. Through 12 appearances for Minnesota, Floro's WHIP sits at 1.97, so some part of the López curse clearly lives on in his arm. López continued to stink in Miami, and last week the Marlins finally dumped him on the waiver pile. In a gruesome and humiliating twist, López was claimed on Saturday by the Baltimore Orioles, who are now taking a shot on a player they traded just last season in exchange for four valuable prospects.

About those prospects: Two of the four youths the Twins shipped out for López—Cade Povich and Juan Nuñez—are now ranked among the top 30 in Baltimore's league-best farm system, and another, Yennier Canó, is the seventh-best relief pitcher in the majors by the FanGraphs WAR metric. All three prospects traded for Mahle started the season ranked in the top 30 of Cincinnati's well-regarded farm system, and two of them—infielders Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand—have played very respectably for the frisky Reds this season.

Add to that the 2022 trade for Padres pitcher Chris Paddack, who started five games before requiring his second Tommy John surgery, and the Twins have had some astonishingly poor trade luck lately. They took some fair criticism this season when they declined to make any deadline moves beyond dumping López for Floro. In any division other than the shit-ass AL Central, holding pat at one game over .500 would be roughly the same thing as folding up the tents. But this year, the Twins might get away with it: They currently hold a five-game division lead, even after the crummy Cleveland Guardians swooped in to block them from a sudden deluge of competent waiver guys. However the AL Central race turns out—more of a fun run, really—it's understandable that Minnesota would be gun-shy about using in-season trades to fortify a roster playing to a mediocre record. The Twins would prefer to win now, but the trouble is all their recent win-now trades have produced the opposite result. They can be forgiven for trying something else.

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