Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
Last week, Minnesota’s playoff odds officially hit the mark they have spiritually occupied for weeks now: 0.0%.
After a steep tumble over a disappointing spring, and the sour trudge across a miserable summer, the numbers at last matched the vibe. And within a few hours of their postseason chances hitting rock bottom, as if some internal mechanism had been triggered, the club made their first move of trade season: Nelson Cruz was sent to the Rays. This week should almost certainly have more to come from the Twins—possibly much more. But just how much? And in what form?
The marked disappointment of this season is reflected in the fact that the club has so many players to potentially deal—there’s a good amount of talent on this roster, which is why it originally looked so strong on paper. But that also means there will be some tough decisions about exactly who to move. This is not a team with a clear need to rebuild entirely—its core is much better than that—but neither is it one that feels limited to dealing just its most obvious expiring contracts. The Twins’ path forward is likely somewhere in between. Where in between? Well … there’s a lot of space there.
But the Minnesota’s earlier move with Cruz might offer some clarity on its plan here. Just look at the pair of pitching prospects it got in return for the slugger—Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman—and how the front office framed that acquisition: “To get two upper-level pitchers who we think are Triple-A, major-league level in the context of a player obviously as great as Nelson is, who is expiring at the end of this year, was just a really good outcome,” Twins president Derek Falvey told reporters last week. They wanted to focus on players who were close to major-league ready—ideal for a simple roster refresh rather than a straight teardown.
Yet there are still a variety of ways this refresh could go down. Here’s a rundown of who Minnesota might move this week and what it could mean:
The Easy Calls: Free-agents-to-be
These are the no-brainers: Twins players on expiring contracts, where the club has no incentive to hang on for the rest of the season and every reason to look at what might be available in exchange.
Cruz led the pack here. He should be joined by some combination of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose bat has been dreadful this season, though his glove remains sharp enough to hold trade value; reliever Hansel Robles, who has rebounded from his weak performance last year thanks in part to increased fastball velocity; and starter Michael Pineda, this group’s most in-demand player, because at this time of year, what contender doesn’t want to pick up some perfectly average middle-of-the-rotation depth?
The Twins would probably love it if this set could somehow include fellow impending free agents Alex Colomé and J.A. Happ—but both pitchers have seen their play disintegrate so much this season that it should be difficult to get much back. Still, Minnesota will almost certainly try.
The Gray Area: More talent, more control
Maybe the Twins will be satisfied after dealing the players listed above. Maybe they internally see this year’s miserable performance as more akin to a freakish blip, rather than anything worthy of serious concern, and they’ll keep as much of the core as possible around for next year. Or maybe they’ll decide to retool with a slightly bigger splash—which would require moving a player with at least one more year of team control, such as relievers Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey and Caleb Thielbar.
Rogers would have been the most enticing pick here. But he left Monday night’s game with a finger sprain and will undergo imaging Tuesday to determine the extent of the damage. If he’s sent to the IL, that will probably rule out any serious trade, which could be a real blow to Minnesota. But if this is a route the team wants to take, Duffey and Thielbar should still attract interest, with a particularly serious return possible if they’re packaged with one of the aforementioned rental players. (Duffey, like Rogers, is under team control through 2022; Thielbar is through 2024.) It would mean taking apart a small piece of the vision for this team for next year. But it might be worthwhile.
The Big Question: José Berríos
This one didn’t seem quite so likely a month ago. It still doesn’t seem particularly likely. But if the Twins believe that the White Sox are in a better position to control the AL Central for the foreseeable future—or if they believe this season revealed more serious issues with their plans for this core—or if they just believe the potential return here is that good—they could move José Berríos.
It doesn’t track with what they’ve said publicly about the situation. (Owner Jim Pohlad was asked by The Athletic over the weekend whether this season changed his view on rebuilding and said, “Absolutely not. We want to be in the win window all the time.”) But Berríos’s name has still bubbled up consistently in recent weeks. The 27-year-old would be one of the best starters available, a slew of teams would likely be interested and the price would be accordingly high. Previous reports suggested conversations with the Dodgers and Padres.
But even a sizable return package would still leave the Twins feeling the loss of Berríos. This core is built around hitting, not pitching, so removing a singular rotation presence like him would be a serious blow to their hopes for 2022 and 2023. Maybe there’s a package that would make it worthwhile—likely a few prospects with some major-league-ready talent, too. But it would have to be juuuust right. And the fact that the price is set so high says as much about the Twins as it does about Berríos himself: They’re not ready to give up on the chances for this core so easily.
More MLB Coverage:
• What Should the Yankees Do as the Trade Deadline Looms?
• Inside Alex Cora’s Second Chance After Scandal
• Rays Find New Sense of Urgency to Heat Up AL East Race
• Trade Deadline Roundtable: Let's Make a Deal