Almost exactly a year ago, the Twins emerged from the trade deadline with a sense of somber resignation.
It was clear — for months before that point, honestly — that the squad wouldn’t be a playoff team in 2021 and probably not in 2022 without a dramatic overhaul of the pitching staff. So the team dealt away beloved players, including starter Jose Berrios and designated hitter Nelson Cruz and refocused on the future.
The atmosphere was markedly more optimistic Tuesday, as the AL Central-leading Twins brought in three pitchers — starter Tyler Mahle, reliever Michael Fulmer from the Tigers and closer Jorge Lopez from the Orioles — that can immediately contribute on the field without giving up anyone on the active roster.
“It feels a lot better, no other way to put it than that,” said Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations. “… We felt like with the group that we have in that room, the culture we have, we wanted to try and add to it and not to take it apart.”
The Twins resistance to parting with any of their active players was part of the reason why all of the club’s deals happened hours before the 5 p.m. deadline on Tuesday. Falvey said the team was working on the Lopez deal late Monday night but made it official the next morning. Mahle followed in the afternoon before Fulmer had the unique experience of walking from Target Field’s visiting clubhouse to the home one — with gathered media filming his every step — fewer than two hours before his former team faced his new team.
For Lopez, the Twins parted with four minor league pitchers, three of whom were international free agent signings: Yennier Cano, who pitched in 10 Twins games this season; 2021 third-round draft pick Cade Povich; and rookie league arms Juan Nuñez and Juan Rojas. For Mahle, minor league infielders Christian Encarnacion-Strand (a fifth-round 2021 draft pick) and Spencer Steer (a third-round 2019 selection) as well as minor league pitcher Steve Hajjar (a second-round 2021 choice). For Fulmer, minor league pitcher Sawyer Gipson-Long, who was a sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft.
The Twins also made a Class AAA swap. Catcher Sandy Leon will report to the Saints while pitcher Ian Hamilton will now be part of the Guardians’ system.
In 29-year-old Lopez, the Twins gain a 2022 AL All-Star with a 1.68 ERA and 19 saves in the midst of his first full-time closer role of his seven-year career. In 27-year-old Mahle, a 19-game starter this season with a 5-7 record and 4.40 ERA. In 29-year-old Fulmer, a bullpen arm with a 3.20 ERA who holds opponents to a .203 batting average.
And all are coming in with some sense of familiarity. Fulmer is an Oklahoman and was a first-round pick in 2011, just like Twins starter Dylan Bundy. Mahle and Sonny Gray were in the Reds’ rotation together from 2019-21. Lopez will join fellow Puerto Rico natives Carlos Correa, Jose Miranda and Jovani Moran.
“It seems like we’re making the right moves to bulk up, and that’s always great. As a player, you want to feel like the front office is putting the best product on the field to help you win a championship,” Correa said. “And so far during this deadline, we feel like they’re doing that. They’re giving us a chance, a better chance, to go out there and compete with the best of them.”
Correa said he had many discussions with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli in the past week or so with his ideas on what the front office should do at the deadline. Correa’s priority was protecting “untouchable” Miranda, who just won the AL Rookie of the Month award after hitting .353 in July.
One topic Correa hasn’t yet discussed with the Twins, though, is his long-term future in Minnesota. Correa has options for the next two seasons, and there was some speculation the Twins might want to trade him at the deadline and not risk losing him for free in the offseason. Falvey said that was never a consideration. Correa just conveyed how his wife and young son are both happy here, which is a big factor in his ultimate decision.
But that’s a decision both parties will table for now and return to once the Twins have hopefully won the World Series.
A goal that doesn’t seem so far off after Tuesday’s fortifications.
“It gives you energy. Like, you show up, and you feel like we have a few more weapons in here than we did the day before,” Baldelli said. “… It should be a fun next couple months. I know we’re looking forward to it, and [Tuesday did] wonders.”
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