Hey, the Minnesota Twins finally added some impact pitching!
They added starting pitcher Tyler Mahle from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for a trio of prospects: Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Steve Hajjar. The move came just a couple of hours before baseball’s trade deadline. While the Twins and Mahle seemed like a logical match since March, this trade seemed to ramp up and finalize rather quickly.
Twins fans have overlooked Mahle because of the fanbase’s interest in getting guys like Frankie Montas or Luis Castillo – Mahle’s former teammate. There was never a widespread meme of Mahle like there was for Montas, but there’s plenty to be excited about with Minnesota’s new pitcher.
It was painfully obvious over the last month that the Twins were desperate for pitching. After being a top-10 rotation through the first couple of months, Minnesota’s 4.03 team ERA is the worst for all contending teams. Outside of Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, the rotation has been bare following injuries and poor performance. So adding Mahle will give the Twins rotation a much-needed boost for their stretch run to try and win the AL Central for the third time in four years.
A first glance at Mahle’s stat line can be a bit deceiving. Mahle has compiled a 4.40 ERA in 19 starts (104.1 innings pitched) for the Reds this season. It doesn’t blow you away. But he has been a good starter for Cincinnati when you take a deeper look at the stats and who Mahle is as a pitcher.
Mahle’s pitch repertoire consists of fastballs (51%), changeups (25%), sliders (13%), and a cutter (11%). His slider usage is pretty low, although the Twins seem fond of trying to unlock that pitch with guys like Mahle. His fastball isn’t known for its velocity. Instead, he can generate spin and movement from the pitch. Despite the pin and movement, Mahle is a flyball pitcher. A 46 percent fly ball rate paired with pitching in a short field like Cincinnati’s can explain how his home run numbers have such a disparity between his home and away starts.
The ERA is high, but it shouldn’t discourage Twins fans. Pitching at Great American Ballpark is part of the reason he has an inflated ERA. Mahle has a 4.76 ERA pitching at his former home ballpark. Conversely, his ERA goes down by almost an entire run with a 3.83 ERA on the road. Getting Mahle to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Target Field will almost certainly help his numbers reflect how well he’s been pitching.
Another reason to get excited for Mahle is that he’s been heating up in recent weeks. He recorded a 5.53 ERA with a .295 BABIP in 11 starts during the first two months of the season. However, his 3.67 FIP suggested that he was getting unlucky. Mahle bounced back during the last two months with a 3.20 ERA and .283 BABIP with a 3.53 FIP as his numbers adjusted back to what has been an excellent season for him.
Mahle isn’t considered in the top-tier of starting rotation options available at the deadline. But it would be difficult for the Twins to reach those top arms, given how their farm system compared to other contenders. Realistically, Mahle was about as good of an option the Twins could have hoped for. He gives them much-needed depth in the rotation while also complementing Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan.
The first round of the playoffs will be a three-game series. If the Twins reach beyond that point, later series have enough off days, where having three dependable starters can be enough to carry a team if things go right. Some order of Ryan, Gray, and Mahle make this team respectable in the postseason.
Teams have shifted their thinking in recent years at the deadline. The big names at the deadline always seemed to be guys who were in the final years of their contracts. They were often dealt by teams that couldn’t receive any more value from them. In recent years, players, especially starting pitchers, are being moved with a season or more left of team control to maximize their value. The Twins did this last year with José Berríos and landed two top-10 prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays in return. Minnesota not only landed a pitcher to bolster their staff for a playoff run, but Mahle will also be in a Twins uniform through next year.
The Twins liked all three prospects they sent to Cincinnati. Steer, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, was having a great season. He slashed .269/.361/.528 with 20 home runs between Double- and Triple-A this season. Christian Encarnación-Strand (No. 23) was Minnesota’s fourth-round pick in 2021. He was developing nicely in his first full professional season after college, slashing .302/.374/.986 with 25 home runs in Double-A.
Both are infield prospects. With Minnesota’s infield locked in with other young talent, they didn’t really have a path for significant playing time. Steve Hajjar (No. 18) is a nice, left-handed pitching prospect still in Single-A. He has a long way to go until he can contribute at the big league level.
Getting a starting pitcher like Mahle with another year of team control was going to cost the Twins some promising players. That’s the price of doing business. All things considered, though, the team made a significant upgrade. They are now in the driver’s seat for the division and can run all three of their top guys back for next season.
Adding Tyler Mahle to the Twins rotation is a boost for a team that desperately needed one. Another steady arm can help them try to win the division; heck, maybe even their first postseason game since 2004. This trade has the potential to provide an immediate impact on the Twins, even if it’s not seen as a “big ticket” arm like Montas or Castillo. Pitching away in Target Field and coming to an organization with a better team around him like the Twins should help Mahle not just continue his success but thrive in Minnesota.