Chris Paddack left his start in the middle of the third inning on May 8. It was his fifth start of the season, and he entered it with a 3.15 ERA. The Minnesota Twins put him on the injured list two days later, and he had his second Tommy John surgery on May 18. Unless Paddack comes back better than ever after undergoing the knife, it’s going to be difficult for Minnesota to get fair value from their Opening Day trade with the San Diego Padres.
It didn’t help that Taylor Rogers had a 0.56 ERA and 14 saves for San Diego on May 18. Nor did it help that Emilio Pagán’s ERA ballooned from 1.54 to 5.26 by the end of June. The Twins also only had one lefty in the bullpen, 35-year-old Caleb Thielbar, and Tyler Duffey couldn’t hold down the closer role. Jhoan Durán was propping up an unreliable relief corps. It was Durán, Griffin Jax, and a whole lot of uncertainty in Minnesota’s bullpen.
On Monday, the Padres traded Rogers and prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for closer Josh Hader. Milwaukee’s All-Star closer since 2018, Hader owned a 15.00 ERA in June. Rogers had a 1.64 ERA through May but owned an 11.00 ERA in June and lost the closer role. It’s a change-of-scenery trade for both sides. But Hader, 28, is still in his prime. Conversely, Rogers, 31, is at the end of his. San Diego had to throw in three good prospects to make things square.
The Twins weren’t wrong to trade Rogers. He had one year left on his contract and is on the wrong side of 30. They were also wise to target Paddack, a reliable starter who isn’t a free agent until 2025. It’s also reasonable that they targeted Pagán in the deal. They needed pitching depth. But this trade was never Rogers for Pagán. It was Rogers for Paddack, and it became more difficult for Minnesota to get fair value for Rogers as soon as the Sheriff got Tommy John surgery.
To better understand this trade, let’s lay it out in detail.
The Twins traded:
- Brent Rooker, their first-round pick in 2017
- And cash
- And Brayan Medina, the player to be named later
You may not love it presented that way, but let’s remove the names to observe it objectively.
The Twins traded:
- A 31-year-old reliever who has a 4.35 ERA and is a free agent next year
- A 27-year-old left fielder who hit .201/.291/.397 last year
- And non-player compensation
- A 26-year-old starter who has a 4.20 career ERA and is under team control for two more years
- A 31-year-old former closer who owns a 3.85 career ERA
- A 19-year-old pitcher who has a 4.42 ERA in rookie ball
Was the trade a surefire win for the Twins at the time? No. Paddack tore his UCL in July 2016 and missed the 2017 season. He owned a 5.07 ERA last year. Pagán was the Tampa Bay Rays closer in 2019, but it was an outlier season. He had a 3.85 ERA and hadn’t recorded a save in 2017 and ‘18, and he had a 4.75 ERA in his two years with the Padres.
His ERA this year? 4.75.
Don’t fault the Twins for asking for Pagán. They probably saw upside in a pitcher who throws 97 MPH with a cutter, even if he has control issues. Pagán has settled into a lower-leverage role, unsurprising given his track record. Minnesota needed bullpen depth, but they weren’t trading for a Rogers replacement.
The Padres wouldn’t give up a starter entering his prime and a Rogers replacement. At least not intentionally. Pagán isn’t the sole reason the bullpen is struggling, and he wasn’t the principle of the trade.
Paddack was the primary target. Was he guaranteed to turn into Minnesota’s third starter? One who they could rely upon in the playoffs? No. But as we’ve learned at the trade deadline, there aren’t many of those guys available, and teams have to overpay for them. Might as well try to get value in the offseason.
Paddack could have been that guy. He would have had to have been better than Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy but could have slotted behind Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan. Is he a playoff starter? It’s hard to tell, the St. Louis Cardinals beat him up in one game, but that’s a small sample size.
It’s fine if you’re not bought in on Paddack. Perhaps you’re not sold that he’d be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter or that he wouldn’t perform in the postseason. Maybe you don’t love that the Twins traded for a player who had Tommy John in the minors, although many pitchers do. It’s reasonable to be upset at the result.
But consider the process. The front office didn’t know that Paddack would get hurt. In a vacuum, trading a 31-year-old reliever on the last year of his deal for a decent starter entering his prime is a wise decision. And until they start developing enough pitchers to fill out a rotation, they’re going to have to trade for them.