The next several weeks will be important for the Minnesota Twins as they try to retool ahead of the trade deadline. Sitting 15 games out of first place in the American League Central, they are likely to be sellers, which is not a scenario that the front office isn’t familiar with.
However, the Twins were in a similar position in 2018 when they sat roughly 10 games out of first place nearing the deadline. With several assets to trade, they decided to ship out what they could in a full-blown fire sale. They brought several exciting prospects to Minnesota, but the long-term impact has come up short and should provide tales of caution heading into this year’s trade deadline.
The 2018 fire sale began on July 27 when the Twins made a pair of big moves. Eduardo Escobar was one of the most popular players on the roster but was in the middle of a career season, hitting .274/.338/.514 with 15 homers. With his positional versatility, Escobar was a coveted asset, and the Twins traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three prospects.
While Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel didn’t work out, Jhoan Duran has become Minnesota’s top pitching prospect. With a fastball that tops out over 100 mph, Duran could be in the majors this year if the minor league season wasn’t canceled last year, but he should be a part of the Twins’ long-term plans.
The problem with this trade, though, was that Escobar’s career season wasn’t an anomaly. In four seasons with the Diamondbacks, Escobar is hitting .257/.310/.469 with 67 homers, including 20 this season. He was named an All-Star this year, and Arizona will likely replenish their prospect pool by trading him.
Worse yet was when they traded Ryan Pressly to the Houston Astros. Pressly didn’t look like a high-leverage pitcher with the Twins; he had a 3.75 ERA in 281 appearances. But the Astros saw something that would make him one of the top relievers in baseball. Since leaving Minnesota, Pressly has cut his ERA down to 1.98 in 140 appearances and was selected to the All-Star Game in 2019 and 2021.
Such a deal makes sense if you can get something in return, but the Twins are still waiting on that investment. Jorge Alcalá has shown signs of being a high-leverage reliever but allows a .895 OPS and six homers in 56 plate appearances against lefties this season. While there’s potential to be had, he will turn 26 on July 28 and may never become a shutdown reliever.
The Twins also acquired Gilberto Celestino in the deal. He made his major league debut last month, but he was called up from Double-A and owned a .228/.317/.348 line in 24 games at that level in his career. He’s only 22, but the Twins would probably like to have an elite arm like Pressly in the bullpen.
Then there was the deal that sent Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the winter of 2017, the Twins had a chance to trade Dozier coming off a season where he hit 42 home runs. During that time, the Dodgers were one of the main suitors and had dangled top pitching prospect Jose De Leon as the centerpiece of a deal.
The Twins balked at the package, and the Dodgers traded De Leon to the Rays. The Twins held onto Dozier, and while he helped the Twins reach the playoffs in 2017, he hit .227/.307/.405 during 104 games before the 2018 trade deadline.
Smeltzer has become a depth arm for the Twins, and Forsythe and Raley had small stints with the Twins before moving elsewhere. Meanwhile, De Leon owns an 8.44 ERA in 48 career innings. But by trading Dozier earlier, the Twins could have had a better prospect who could have contributed to this year’s rotation.
All of this was capped off by a series of smaller deals that didn’t amount to much. Lance Lynn was traded to the New York Yankees for Tyler Austin and Luis Rijo. Zach Duke was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Chase De Jong and Ryan Costello. The deals barely had any impact on the future of the team.
This brings us to the Twins’ current situation. There’s a lot of pressure to sell Josh Donaldson right now, given his injury history, but they can’t be forced into a bad move with a player who is still productive and under contract for two more years.
Nelson Cruz, Andrelton Simmons, and Hansel Robles could be attractive to a playoff contender, but the Twins have to identify the right prospects to fill out a farm system that has been stretched thin. And with players like José Berríos, the Twins must make sure that they don’t hold onto him to the point his trade value completely goes in the tank unless they plan to extend him.
Considering their history, it will be a tall task for the front office. But if the Twins want this to avoid a full rebuild, they need to do better at this deadline than they did in 2018.