Tyler Mahle talked to reporters in Minnesota on Thursday for the first time since the former Cincinnati starter was acquired by the Twins on Tuesday. The right-hander said he had expected to be traded as far back as spring training, and as time wore on, he suspected it would be to Minnesota.
“I knew this was a real possibility,” he said, “and probably the highest possibility.”
Likewise, Jorge López likely wasn’t blindsided when he became the Twins’ first acquisition on Tuesday. The Orioles closer had a locker next to Byron Buxton for the July 19 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and, having faced one another several times this season, became chatty.
“I told him … ‘We’re trying to get you.’ I told him that,” Buxton said Tuesday. “He was on the radar.”
Everyone with a rooting interest at the trade deadline knew the Twins coveted Mahle and López — from beat writer to blogger, fan to fielder — and that’s generally not a great position from which to begin trade negotiations. Especially when nearly all of your top prospects, trade and otherwise, are injured.
Yet here they are, the all-star closer and big right-hander who was 3-2 with a 2.83 earned-run average in his last nine starts for the Reds. In Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over Detroit, new catcher Sandy León went 2 for 3 with a two-run double, and new reliever Michael Fulmer pitched a scoreless inning.
It’s impossible to know exactly what the trade deadline did for the Minnesota Twins. Ultimate success is a division title and perhaps — just maybe! — a playoff victory or two, something the team hasn’t managed at any rate since 2004. But let’s be honest, it was a big, big win for Falvine Brain Trust LLC.
Regardless of how ugly Thursday night’s loss to Toronto got, there is no doubt the Twins are a better team than they were on Tuesday morning. At the very least, the deadline haul has been a gift, a jolt of adrenaline for the team and its fans.
Certainly, the Twins were going to be buyers of some kind, but with most of their top prospects on the injured list, they didn’t appear to have a lot to bargain with. For fans, some of the adrenaline came from the sheer shock of seeing four players acquired at steady increments over the course of about eight hours, all of them good and exactly what the Twins — their American League Central lead down to one game — desperately needed.
Meanwhile, the Twins’ closest Central Division rivals did just about zip. The Cleveland Guardians, in fact, traded Leon, who was toiling at Class AAA Columbus, to the Twins only to see him immediately kill their chances to grab a piece of the division lead when he drove in the winning run on Wednesday.
The Twins gave up four pitching prospects for López, and three top 25 prospects for Mahle, but both players are under team control next season, pieces of at least one more division contender. Lopez, immediately the Twins’ most successful reliever, is under control through 2024 and could be the go-to closer the Twins still insist they neither want nor need.
These weren’t just go-for-broke trades. They were smart, calculated improvements. If Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had to spend some of their best remaining prospects to do it, so be it. When you’ve held a piece of first place for all but one day since late April — and you have superstar shortstop Carlos Correa for perhaps just one season — you push your chips to the center of the table and take a couple of cards.
A lot of Twins fans, if not the majority, have been cynical about this team, and it hasn’t been difficult. The last time they strung together more than two wins was June 25-27, and they haven’t been 10 games over .500 since July 5. They’ve played just well enough to lead their division, which isn’t nothing. There is something there, and you don’t walk away from a chance to win the division.
The Twins have proven they’re all-in. What about you?