Does Anybody Regret the Jose Berrios Trade Right Now?

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Trading Jose Berríos was one of the biggest decisions the Minnesota Twins made last summer. With the team out of contention, Berríos became expendable, and the Twins traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson.

A few weeks after the season ended, the Blue Jays signed Berríos to a seven-year, $131 million contract extension. The deal drew the ire of the Twins fan base, who believed the team could have made a similar offer to keep the right-hander around. But in the end, this is a deal that still has a story to tell.

The opening act has been an interesting one for both sides. Berríos has struggled in his first full season, and Toronto and the Twins have struggled to find arms. The prospects involved have gone in two different directions, and the Blue Jays find themselves 7.5 games back of the New York Yankees entering Monday night.

The Berríos deal has a hint of buyer’s remorse for both sides. But there’s a chance it could still be a win-win.

Imagine a world where the Twins kept Berríos. Minnesota did a solid job acquiring rotational depth last offseason by trading for Sonny Gray and making the types of free-agent signings you would expect. They signed Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy, which caused consternation in the fanbase, but both players have lived up to their billing.

The Twins have also enjoyed a rapid development curve from Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan. By slotting in Berríos at the top of this rotation, Minnesota would have had their most functional rotation since 2010, when Scott Baker and Carl Pavano did enough to get this team to the playoffs. That’s not a high bar, but it’s the one the Twins have set over the past several seasons.

That’s assuming that Berríos was the pitcher we remember. He was in the middle of the best season of his career when the Twins traded him to Toronto last year, going 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts. Berríos posted similar numbers with the Blue Jays, going 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA in his final 12 starts.

That’s why Twins fans were so upset when Berríos signed his extension with Toronto. But it hasn’t played out the way many people expected. Berríos has struggled so far this season, going 2-2 with a 5.82 ERA. His 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings are a career-low, and his 1.55 WHIP is the highest since his rookie season in 2016.

Berríos’ analytical numbers haven’t been much better. While his 74 percent chase rate is encouraging, hitters have been able to square Berríos up, sending him below the 10th percentile in hard-hit and barrel percentage.

With his curveball and spin rate also below normal, the Twins may signal victory on the trade. However, the book is still out on the two prospects they acquired in the deal.

After a rough 2021 season, Simeon Woods Richardson is thriving. In six starts for Double-A Wichita, Woods Richardson has gone 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA. While his strikeouts per nine innings have gone down from 13 in 2021 to 8.8 this season, he’s cut his walk rate in half, going from 5.7 walks per nine innings last season to 2.5 this year.

Small sample size be damned, this is encouraging. It’s even more optimistic when you consider the young arms coming up through the Twins’ system.

We’ve already mentioned how Ryan and Ober have seized spots in the rotation. But Josh Winder has been a pleasant surprise after making the team out of Spring Training. Jordan Balazovic and Matt Canterino are also on the way, giving the Twins quality homegrown depth if Woods Richardson’s performance isn’t a mirage.

The picture is much cloudier for Austin Martin, though. When Martin arrived in the Twins system, he was the consistent hitter they hadn’t had since Joe Mauer. Perhaps comparing him to a future Hall of Famer is a high standard, but Martin’s power hasn’t translated after Toronto took him fifth overall in 2020.

After a productive collegiate career at Vanderbilt, the Blue Jays sent Martin to Double-A. Although he had questions defensively, Martin’s bat was supposed to provide a quick path to the majors. Instead, he’s hit .263 with a .371 slugging percentage in 560 plate appearances between his time in Double-A with the Twins and Blue Jays.

Martin turned it on in May, hitting .262/.354/.405 with a home run in 11 games. But even if the bat comes around, it’s hard to see where he fits. José Miranda has the same questions defensively but hit 30 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Gio Urshela seems to have third base locked down over the next couple of seasons. Even the outfield seems crowded with Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Trevor Larnach.

There is a chance that Martin could be flipped for a pitcher if Minnesota’s injury woes continue, but if he doesn’t start hitting, he might not fetch a big return.

In the end, we don’t know much about this trade right now. Berríos is struggling, but he could turn it on to be a key piece for the Blue Jays in the coming months. Woods Richardson has been lights out but could suffer the same inconsistencies that have plagued his career. And Martin could start hitting, but a log jam at the top makes it seem like he may not have a future in Minnesota.

Only time will tell how it ends up, but for now, we have an interesting layer in what should be a hotly debated trade.

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