Jorge Lopez Is A Bridge To A New World For the Twins

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Correa moved around a lot when he was younger. He was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but his parents raised him in Barrio Velázquez, a fishing village half an hour west of Ponce in Santa Isabel. However, he moved to Caguas at age 11, a city inland about 50 minutes northeast of Santa Isabel. There he met Jorge López, a pitcher two years older than him.

“I grew up with him, playing with him,” Correa said on Tuesday, the day of the trade deadline.

“I’ve known him since I was like 15. So yeah, I got to face him. I got to spend a lot of time with him when we go to the Perfect Game showcases. Know him very well. We stay in touch throughout it all, and I’m very happy. I texted him when it was official, and he said he’s super excited to join us and help us win.”

The Minnesota Twins traded for Lopéz on Tuesday. English is his second language, so Lopez can communicate with everyone in the clubhouse. That’s increasingly important given how many Latin players, and Puerto Ricans in particular, are on Minnesota’s roster.

“He’s down to earth. He’s just such a great kid,” says Correa.

“Bilingual, speaks both languages. So he’s going to interact with the Americans as well as the Latins. He is a guy that you can give information, and he’s going to make the necessary adjustments. He’s not close-minded, very open-minded, very coachable. And when you have guys with the stuff that he has that can still improve, and they’re willing to listen, it’s always a good combination.”

Lopéz and Correa’s paths separated as they grew older. Lopéz attended the Caguas Military Academy, and the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft. The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School offered Correa a scholarship, and he moved 20 minutes north to Guerabo to attend. In 2012, the Houston Astros drafted him first-overall at age 17.

Correa experienced a meteoric rise, reaching the majors and earning Rookie of the Year in 2015. He made his first All-Star Game and won the World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017, and signed a 3-year, $105 million contract with the Twins last season. He can opt out next year and will likely earn a $300 million contract next season. Still, Correa is an established star who Minnesota’s front office leaned on as the trade deadline neared.

“Carlos has tremendous observations, perspective,” says Rocco Baldelli. “He knows what’s going on. He has a pretty good feel for a young ballplayer, too, of the different sides of the game and how it all works together.

“I think he actually has some interest in it. The way his mind works, I think he enjoys all sides of it. He loves this game, and he loves playing, and he loves competing, and he loves winning more than anything else. But I also think he likes understanding how things work, and I take what he says and value it very highly.”

Correa says he talks to Baldelli because he doesn’t want to go over his manager’s head when making recommendations. It’s a practice he says he established in Houston, where the Astros management picked his brain while adding to their perennially contending teams.

“It’s all about being on the same page,” says Correa. “The organization where I came from, all the players were in the office all the time and letting the front office and the managers know, especially near the deadline, our needs and how we felt about certain players. So I just want to make sure that — it worked over there. So I want to make sure that the culture we’re building here, that stuff is also taken into consideration.”

“He knows a lot of people in this game,” says Baldelli. “Information that you get on different guys, the best way to find out about players is to ask people who’ve spent time with them, and that’s the way it seems like it’s always worked, and I’ll continue to value that really highly.”

Naturally, Lopéz’s name came up in their conversations.

“I respect Rocco, and I have all the confidence in the world that whatever I tell him, it will be known up there,” Correa says, referring to Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. “And he’s just such a great communicator that I feel like I can go to his office and talk about all these things whenever, and we always have great conversations.

“So last night, we had a really good one, and Lopéz’s name popped up, and I reassured him that he’s a guy that we have got to have here in this clubhouse and is going to help us big time. I’m glad we got it done.”

It’s in Minnesota’s best interest to keep Correa in town. He’s a winning player who promotes positivity and cohesiveness in the clubhouse. Furthermore, ownership could show fans they’re serious about winning by spending $300 million on a proven player. The Twins needed pitching at the deadline. What better way to do it than add an All-Star closer who is also Correa’s friend?

Trading for Lopéz and Tyler Mahle wasn’t just about this season but solidifying their pitching staff for the future. Mahle’s contract is up in 2024; Lopéz isn’t a free agent until 2025. The Twins mostly gave up lower-level prospects for Lopéz, but they ponied up for Mahle. Still, Minnesota’s front office believes both pitchers will be around for a while.

“What we were able to do, in the first two deals in particular, Jorge Lopéz and Tyler Mahle, we were able to find a way to add guys who help us in the future as well,” says Falvey. “When you’re trading young players who are going to be part of your organization for a long time, if you can get control, future impact, those guys have that.

“We felt like we were able to add guys that now supplement in really key areas, for this year and for next year.”

Lopéz didn’t have the ascent Correa experienced. Like Correa, Lopéz reached the majors in 2015, but he spent most of 2016 and ’17 in the minors. Milwaukee traded him to the Kansas City Royals in 2018, and KC dealt him to the Baltimore Orioles two years later. Lopéz owned a 6.07 ERA as a starter in Kansas City and Baltimore but became an elite closer this season.

The O’s mostly used Lopéz in the ninth inning. But the Twins have a fluid bullpen, and Baldelli may ask him to pitch earlier in the game.

“I’ve already thought about that a lot, talked with our pitching guys about it a bit,” says Baldelli when asked about Lopéz’s role. “He’s a guy that’s fairly new to the bullpen. For as long as he’s pitched, he’s only been in the bullpen for a little while. He’s taken to that ninth-inning role really well. It’s really all he’s known as a bullpen arm for the most part, so I do think he’s going to pitch a fair amount in the ninth inning.”

The Twins have Jhoan Durán, an elite reliever they use in various high-leverage situations, and Griffin Jax has become a reliable bullpen arm. But they need a closer to win games that Durán keeps intact. They also needed an elite reliever who could pitch in high-leverage situations where the matchups don’t favor Durán.

“I always say that when you get a new opportunity, you keep learning at your uncomfortable things,” Lopéz says. “You just go out there and compete. I don’t think you get any comfort in any spots. You just have to do it and work for it. Just put yourself in the position where you can just stay positive, and you can do this.”

Lopéz can be the bridge between innings or a direct path to more winning. More importantly, if he and Mahle do their jobs, they can bolster a pitching staff with good young hitters to support them. If the Twins have enough pitching to run away with the AL Central and compete in the playoffs, it will only help them keep Correa in Minnesota.

A Twins organization with competent pitching that can, ahem, win a playoff game sounds far-fetched. Fans have also long complained about ownership being parsimonious. Winning in the playoffs and signing Correa long-term solves a lot of things. Trading for Lopéz is one small step that would allow the organization to make a giant leap into a brand new world.

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