Twins Open Trade Season by Acquiring Marlins Reliever Romo

Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins opened their trade deadline dealings a little early, acquiring right-handed reliever Sergio Romo from the Miami Marlins on Saturday night.

News of a deal broke during the team’s 5-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox earlier in the evening, which dropped the team’s lead to just a single game in the American League Central.

Jeff Passan of ESPN was first with the news, with the Twins confirming via a press release roughly an hour later.

Romo isn’t the only piece coming to Minnesota in the deal, as the Twins are also receiving a player to be named later and pitching prospect Chris Vallimont in exchange for Double-A first base prospect Lewin Diaz.

Diaz, who ranked 10th on Baseball America’s most recent prospect ranking and 30th on MLB Pipelines, took a huge step forward after a difficult season at Fort Myers in 2018. Diaz hit just .224/.255/.344 in 79 games with the Miracle before a broken thumb ended his season in late July.

Jun 16, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida State South infielder Lewin Diaz (11) warms up between innings of the Florida State League All Star Game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Diaz reported to spring training this season considerably slimmed down, and his commitment has shown on the field as well. In 57 games with Fort Myers, Diaz hit .290/.333/.533 before he was promoted to Double-A Pensacola, where it was more of the same with a .309/.348/.602 line in 32 games coming into Saturday night’s action.

Diaz was pulled from Saturday night’s game after three plate appearances — ironically enough, against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. That’s Miami’s Double-A affiliate, and it’s where Diaz is expected to be assigned, meaning he’ll simply have to switch clubhouses prior to Sunday’s game.

Moving Diaz might be a hard pill to swallow for some prospect junkies, but he was eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 draft for the second year in a row this winter. If the Twins opted not to protect him this winter, they could have very likely lost him for nothing.

And with the potential for Alex Kirilloff and Brent Rooker to play first base ahead of him — and even C.J. Cron, for that it’s worth — the Twins dealt from a position of strength to improve a place of weakness with this trade.

Diaz was signed by the Twins as an international free agent on July 2, 2013.

Vallimont, 22, has posted a 3.16 ERA between Low-A Clinton and High-A Jupiter this season, and has made all 19 of his appearances as a starter, fanning 122 batters (10.4 K/9) and walking 37 (3.2 BB/9) with a 1.10 WHIP.

Opposing batters have hit a meager .208/.278/.317 against Vallimont, with just seven home runs in 418 plate appearance despite the fact that the righty has a groundball rate of just 35 percent this season.

This report from MLB Pipeline — which ranked him as Miami’s No. 23 prospect before the trade — should get Twins fans fairly excited as well:

Don’t be surprised if the Twins move Vallimont through the system fairly quickly; at 22, he’s less than a year younger than his average Florida State League opponents after coming out of the 2018 MLB draft in the fifth round from Mercyhurst College.

Recent MLB players Dan Altavilla and David Lough are also alums of Mercyhurst.

But the real key to the trade is the Twins acquiring Romo, the 36-year-old righty who had been closing for the Marlins but figures to work a variety of roles for Rocco Baldelli’s Twins.

Romo has done a little bit of everything over his career, which started with the San Francisco Giants in 2008 and has resulted in a 2.91 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and World Series rings in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Romo’s age and the fact that he isn’t a flamethrower (86.5 mph average fastball) might scare off some people, but the reality is he’s been about as sturdy as ever. He’s keeping the baseball in the park (1.0 HR/9) for the first time in three years — ironic given the state of the game overall — and outside of a really rough April has been good of late.

Take a look at these splits:

  • April – 6.00 ERA (but .653 OPS against)
  • May 1 -> present – 2.83 ERA, .680 OPS against, 26-9 K/BB ratio in 28.2 IP
  • Last 15 appearances – 0.61 ERA, .524 OPS against, 12-1 K/BB ratio in 14.2 IP

Romo’s season swinging-strike rate is a terrific 14.2 percent — 35th among 177 MLB relievers with 30-plus innings, tied with Brad Hand and ahead of guys like Andrew Miller and Sean Doolittle.

Also, for all the worry about his fastball velocity, Romo seldom throws the pitch. He’s thrown it just 50 times this season — far less than any of his other three pitches — and opposing batters have still hit just .154/.154/.462 against it. He’s thrown his sinker a bit more — still just 15.9 percent of the time — and the velocity on that has remained fairly stable for each of the last four years.

Basically, he’s a sinker/slider guy — a good combination for tunneling — who has been through the battles and won’t flinch when the heat is on. The swinging-strike rate on his slider is 16.6 percent, which is beneath his career rate of 19.7 percent but still fairly strong. Add in the sinker — the exact opposite of the slider — and then keep in mind that Romo also throws a changeup, which has a swinging-strike rate of 14.9 percent this season, which is right at his career rate.

In short, he can keep you honest across all three parts of the plate horizontally, and he should take pressure not only off Taylor Rogers in the ninth, but the bridge to him as well.

…and it definitely shouldn’t preclude the Twins from making any more moves. Buckle up.

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