Neal: Berrios, the Twins’ best trade chip, should stay in Minnesota

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In about three weeks, the Twins will be right up against the trade deadline with a chunk of their roster possibly swirling in trade rumors.

They will have five players — Nelson Cruz, Michael Pineda, Andrelton Simmons, J.A. Happ and Hansel Robles — heading into free agency this offseason. If they don't believe they are bringing any of them back next season, now is the time for the Twins to get what they can for them.

These gentlemen, however, pale in comparison to the most valuable trade chip the Twins have to play before the deadline: righthander Jose Berrios.

Teams have been sniffing around Berrios in recent weeks and are expected to continue to do so right up to the deadline. The Twins, as they should, are in listening mode. But this is a good time to manage expectations as to what to expect from the Twins as the deadline approaches:

Do not expect a fire sale.Do not expect them to receive a lot for any of the players headed into free agency.And: Do not expect them to trade Berrios.

Some background is needed here. The Twins have approached Berrios multiple times in recent seasons about a long-term deal. This is totally understandable from the club's standpoint for several reasons:

Berrios is good. The righthander is 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA this season. He's been on two All-Star teams. He's 55-40 in his career. Of his 2012 draft class, he's fourth in wins and third in career WAR among pitchers.

Berrios is durable. He's on track to make 30 starts for the third time in his career. It could have been four without the 2020 pandemic games.

Berrios is not controversial. The most noise Berrios makes on the field is when he's screaming at himself for failing to execute a pitch. The most noise he makes off the field is when he posts videos of his offseason workouts on social media.

Berrios is all they've got. From a developmental standpoint, that is. He's the best starter they have developed since Matt Garza. Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic and Josh Winder are well-regarded, but not ready to step in for Berrios if he leaves. Berrios is part of the solution going forward.

There's one problem with keeping him. Berrios, who will be a free agent after the 2022 season, has not accepted any of their offers. Indications are that he wants a five-year deal between $100-$125 million to stay in the Twin Cities.

Under normal circumstances, that would be enough for a team to wish Berrios well in his future endeavors and take the best trade offer they can get. While Berrios is good, he is not an ace who can log big innings and handle big pitch loads. He's 28th in innings pitched this season. The last time the Twins offered a free agent north of $100 million was Zack Wheeler, who signed with Philadelphia and currently leads baseball in innings pitched.

The Twins, however, feel they can compete in 2022. Their pitching decisions have not worked this season, and their core of Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano aren't tearing it up at the plate while Byron Buxton and Mitch Garver need to stay on the field. And don't even suggest trading Buxton, whose value as a trade chip or an extension candidate is impossible to determine because of his injuries.

But they have a better chance of winning with Berrios next season than without him. Unless they are overwhelmed by a multi-player offer, they are not afraid to head into 2022 with Berrios on the roster in his walk year.

So you might see the Twins make a few moves before the deadline. This a front office that doesn't like to sit out a trade deadline.

This month, they will be declaring their intentions for 2022. If they think they can compete next summer and decide to keep Berrios, they will then need to make better choices this offseason than they did a year ago in who joins him in the rotation. Maybe they should start by figuring out a way to clone him.

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