The José Berríos trade was the epitome of life as a Minnesota Twins fan. A prospect is brought to the organization, and fans hear about them for years. They finally make their way to the major leagues and become a solid player. After a couple of American League Central titles, that player has turned himself into a borderline All-Star.
Then it comes time to pay them.
For years, the Twins have cashed out on top players instead of signing them to massive contracts. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were exceptions in the 2000s, but overall, they seem to develop players only to trade them away once they hit their prime.
Berríos is the latest example. He was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, and once again, fans will blame the parsimonious Pohlads, who have spent years focusing on the bottom line. But when the deal is broken down, it’s a move that had to be made.
The Twins and Berríos’s camp had engaged in negotiations for years as the team tried to lock him into a long-term extension. But signing a team-friendly deal that bought out free agent years never made sense for a player as talented as Berríos.
Offers were exchanged between the two sides, but they never reached an agreement. Berríos continued to develop into a nearly ace-caliber starter but one who was also replaceable. With time winding down, both sides needed to make a decision.
When Berríos declined the Twins’ final offer, it was time to make a move. The Twins would have loved to bring back Berríos in 2022, but it was never a realistic situation.
The balance of power in the American League Central has already tilted toward the Chicago White Sox, who have a young roster that will only get better. With Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez ready to return from injury, there was a slim chance that the Twins could catch them even if they had brought Berríos back.
There’s also the possibility that baseball won’t even be played next season. The owners and players can’t agree on what size bases to use, let alone a collective bargaining agreement. The chances that next season will start on time grow bleaker by the day.
By trading Berríos now, the Twins were able to maximize their return. Instead of getting Berríos for a couple of months, the Blue Jays have a full year to use him for a playoff run or flip him next year to recoup some of their assets.
But even if Toronto trades Berríos next season, it’s unlikely they would get back what they gave to acquire him.
Dan Hayes of The Athletic reported that the Twins were adamant about getting two top-100 prospects in return for Berríos. It wound up that they did better, acquiring two top-70 prospects in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson.
Martin was considered to be the best pure hitter in last year’s draft class and has the potential to win a batting title. Although he lacks in the power department, his presence at the plate could give the Twins a true leadoff hitter to turn some of their solo home runs into two or three-run bombs.
But the biggest tell will be the performance of Woods Richardson. A key piece in last year’s Marcus Stroman trade, Woods Richardson was one of the youngest prospects in all of baseball. With a frame that continues to improve, Woods-Richardson could eventually develop into a pitcher of Berríos’s caliber, which would even out the trade if Martin develops as he’s expected to.
Prospects are no guarantee to pan out, but the Twins are doing the right thing — both players are expected to be called up by the end of next season. The wave of prospects that came up with Berríos didn’t translate into a long playoff run, so the best thing to do was create a new one.