Can Emilio Pagan Find A Home In Minnesota?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Emilio Pagán has been traded before. The Seattle Mariners dealt him to the Oakland A’s in 2018, and they won 97 games. But Oakland traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays a year later, and he had a career season in 2019. Then Tampa traded him to the San Diego Padres, who aspired to be contenders while he was there.

All of this prepared Pagán for the craziest trade of his life.

Pagán knew he was on the trade block at the end of spring training this year. Padres GM A.J. Preller had given him a head’s up. “Nothing’s imminent right now,” Pagán recalls Preller telling him, “but it looks like you’re gonna be moved.”

However, he admits it was still a little awkward.

“So I was kind of able to prepare myself mentally the last three or four days to being a new team,” he says, “which was weird like being around my teammates because obviously they know what’s going on.”

The Twins traded All-Star closer Taylor Rogers and Brent Rooker to the Padres for Chris Paddack and Pagán less than 48 hours before Opening Day. Paddack was the headliner. He’s a starter who the Twins say they’ve had an interest in since 2017. But Minnesota had lost its closer and needed a reliable reliever to compensate.

Pagán isn’t technically the closer in Minnesota. Rocco Baldelli uses a fluid relief hierarchy, which is more matchup-focused rather than based on traditional roles. Therefore, there is not always a designated setup man or closer. Instead, Baldelli has relievers like Tyler Duffey, Joe Smith, and Caleb Thielbar at his disposal to use in high-leverage innings. Pagán isn’t a one-for-one replacement for Rodgers, but Baldelli has used him in save situations.

“They just said, ‘Be ready to pitch probably towards the end of the game,’” says Pagán. “They didn’t say a specific inning. I know there’s a lot of guys here from Tampa so I was in Tampa. That’s kind of how it ran there, and then I was able to take that ninth inning and roll with it down the stretch.”

Pagán recorded 20 saves with the Rays in 2019, finishing the year with a 4-2 record and a 2.31 ERA. His 190 ERA+ that year is nearly 80 points higher than his career average (100 is league-average). But Pagán had a sub-100 ERA+ in San Diego and only recorded two saves. The Rays had sold high to a contending team.

But the Tampa connection is notable, given that Baldelli coached and played there. A lot of his managerial philosophy stems from his time with the Rays. While Baldelli isn’t using Pagán as a traditional closer, he’s already recorded two saves this year. It’s worth noting that his first save came in Kansas City on April 21.

Why? That’s when his family finally completed their move to Minnesota.

Pagán calls Charlotte home. He went to high school in Greenville, SC, and pitched at two colleges in North Carolina. However, the Padres have their Spring Training facility in Phoenix, and his wife had already moved his dog and their two daughters, Paxtyn (5) and Lexington (18 months) from Charlotte to San Diego. Suddenly they had to get their stuff from Phoenix and San Diego and move to Minnesota.

“She’s a trooper,” Pagán says of his wife. “She’s basically run everything for me.

“She drove from Charlotte to San Diego with my daughters and my dog last week, [then] from San Diego back to Phoenix yesterday. Then [I] got traded, so she hopped on a flight last night to go back to San Diego and then drive back to Phoenix with my car so that we can get both cars shipped.

“Thankfully, I have her. She’s basically done everything for me, so it makes my job easy. I’ve just got to go pitch.”

Still, there’s some relief in finally having the family settled and everything in order. He says the first trade was the hardest. The Seattle Mariners took him in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, and he debuted for them four years later. It’s hard for most players to have the team they came up with trade them away.

But now he has two young children, and they were in the middle of moving from Phoenix to San Diego before the trade. Fortunately, his family was living in an RV resort before the trade. They’re mobile, and they have been through trades before. Still, he’d like to settle in with a team.

“I need to pick some peoples’ brains and figure out how to stay on a team for an extended period of time,” he joked. “But having it be now my fifth club in six seasons, unfortunately, I’ve gotten used to this. Hopefully, I can figure out a way to stick around somewhere for a while.”

The Twins provide an opportunity for Pagán to do so. They need a reliable reliever after trading Rogers to San Diego, and Minnesota has had success with veteran relievers in the past. Fernando Rodney, Sergio Romo, and Tyler Clippard immediately come to mind. Pagán, 30, is younger than all of them. If he can pitch like he did in Tampa and the Twins stay in the hunt, they’ll have no reason to make Pagán pack things up anytime soon.

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