Twins

Trading Arraez Stings But It Shouldn't Be A Surprise

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about a Friday news dump. The Minnesota Twins bolstered their starting rotation by trading for right-handed pitcher Pablo Lopez from the Miami Marlins. Trading for a player like Lopez should theoretically please the fanbase because he’s a high-end starting pitcher. However, adding Lopez meant the Twins had to send 2022 All-Star utility man Luis Arraez to South Beach.

Miami also is sending Minnesota two additional prospects. Jose Salas, 19, is an infielder who MLB Pipeline ranks as Miami’s fifth overall prospect. Byron Chourio, 17, is a switch-hitting outfielder. But whoever came back to Minnesota in return was never going to matter because trading Arraez was never going to be an easy sell to a large part of the fanbase. On a gut level, it’s not hard to understand where those fans are coming from.

Arraez has been Minnesota’s best contact hitter since he came up with the team during the 2019 season. His contact-first approach and ability to take great at-bats endeared him to Twins fans during their best season in almost a decade. And his headshakes when he was at the plate boosted his popularity. He became a well-respected hitter among baseball fans nationwide.

It’s easy to understand why Twins fans like Arraez. His .314/.368/.410 slash line with 14 home runs and a 7.1 fWAR through four major league seasons in Minnesota. What Arraez lacked in power, he made up for by putting the ball in play, getting on base, and creating runs. He’s recorded a 131 wRC+, .350 wOBA, and 1.16 BB/K in his career. Also, being under team control until 2026 would have allowed him to remain with the club for years to come.

Twins fans were especially excited for Arraez following his career year in 2022. He became an All-Star, American League Silver Slugger, and AL Batting Champion with a .316 average last season. Even if batting average isn’t what it used to be, it’s still a notable achievement for Arraez.

Arraez didn’t just make Minnesota’s lineup better; he also made the Twins more fun to watch. Arraez was the perfect foil to what the Twins lineup has become in recent years, focusing more on generating power at the risk of increasing their swings and misses. He was almost a throwback player to the early 2000s teams that featured contact-focused batters who were scrappy at the plate. During a season that saw record-low attendance at Target Field in a non-COVID season, Arraez’s style of play while playing in 144 games last season was one of the lone reasons for fans to make the trip to the ballpark.

Despite all of the accolades and popularity for Arraez, Minnesota’s decision to trade him is well within reason. Pitching has been toward the top of the Twins’ offseason to-do list for every season since Falvey and Levine took over and well before that. Minnesota missed out on adding starting pitching via free agency, so the next logical step to improving the rotation had to come from the trade market.

Everyone loves to be the armchair general manager who can land a trade while giving up nothing notable in return. To get a good major-league starting pitcher, the Twins needed to give up something just as valuable in return. Buying at last season’s trade deadline and having certain prospects from the farm system means the Twins aren’t as deep there as they were a few years ago. MLB Pipeline ranked Minnesota’s farm system no. 23 in baseball after last year’s trade deadline.

Arraez doesn’t have a positional home with how the Twins constructed their roster. Jorge Polanco is at second base, Jose Miranda at third, and Alex Kirilloff profiles best playing first base to help alleviate the logjam of corner outfielders the Twins have. Arraez can play at all of those positions, but he doesn’t play any of them particularly well. He is a negative in terms of outs above average in every defensive position except first base. Even then, it was only plus-1 OAA in 65 games at first base. Yes, his production at the plate made up for his fielding deficiencies in the past, but the Twins need to allow guys like Kirilloff a shot at everyday playing time.

The centerpiece of this deal was to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm in Lopez. The 26-year-old right-hander recorded a 3.75 ERA, a 3.71 FIP, and 8.70 K/9 through a career-high 180 innings in 2022. Lopez showcases a fastball, changeup, cutter, sinker, and curveball in his pitch repertoire. A mid-90s fastball and his changeup are the two pitches he throws the most and relies on to retire hitters.

Lopez likely isn’t going to be penciled in as the Opening Day Starter. However, he should be slotted up high in a Twins rotation that’s become sneaky deep. Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, and now Lopez will favor quality depth over having one true ace. It’s a good rotation on paper despite the lack of a superstar pitcher.

Trading for Lopez gives the Twins added depth for this season. The trade also gives the team some added insurance if Mahle, Maeda, and Gray all leave for free agency after 2023. Lopez is under team control through the 2023 and 2024 seasons and possibly more if the Twins pursue an extension. Plus, the two additional prospects will deepen Minnesota’s farm system, along with a top-five pick in this year’s draft.

Does this give the Twins the bona fide ace they have been searching for? No. However, it throws another No. 2- or 3-caliber starting pitcher to a team that is now stacking up quality arms. Maybe Lopez can unlock another level of his game in Minnesota and ascend into ace status. Until then, it gives the Twins their deepest rotation in an incredibly long time.

Losing Arraez was never going to be easy. The Twins might regret the trade in the long run. Minnesota needs pitching in the short term, though. This trade looks like the Twins were able to maximize their return on a player without a positional home after his career-best season. Losing Arraez stings, but it was necessary to make Minnesota’s rotation more competitive for the next two seasons.

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