The Minnesota Twins made some bold moves at the trade deadline last year. They were the type of acquisitions that move a team’s needle from “fringe contender” to “all systems go” before the playoffs. The effort was there when it came to taking a chance in the buyer’s market, but the execution fell flat.
Instead of acquiring three players who would lead the Twins back to the postseason, they got a collection of pitchers who were either unhealthy or ineffective. Even worse, they gave up some high-end talent in an effort to get better. Now some of those prospects are having breakout seasons in their new organization.
Below are three players that the Twins would gladly take back if they could.
When the Twins traded for Tyler Mahle, they envisioned him being the playoff-caliber starting pitcher that he was for the Cincinnati Reds. Instead, they gave up three of their top 30 prospects for just nine starts from Mahle, about half of which were at less than 100% health. Spencer Steer was seen as the headliner going back to the Reds in that deal. While he currently is an everyday player as a rookie in Cincinnati, Encarnacion-Strand is looking like the piece who will come back to bite the Twins.
The 23-year-old is having one of the better offensive seasons in all of Triple-A this year, slashing an incredible .344/.371/.720 (1.091 OPS) with 10 home runs in only 21 games. That production has been worth 66% better than league average according to wRC+, and he could be forcing Cincinnati’s hands for a promotion in the near future.
While he lacks a clear defensive home, Encarnacion-Strand is showing the kind of bat that transcends roster flexibility. Even if he becomes a full-time designated hitter, the Reds are undoubtedly tantalized by their No. 7 prospect heading into the season. If he were still on the Twins, Encarnacion-Strand would be an enticing replacement for Donovan Solano as the right-handed half of a platoon at first base.
Although he wasn’t one of the premier arms on Minnesota’s prospect list, Povich was the biggest piece going back to the Baltimore Orioles in the Jorge López trade. The Twins should be mostly satisfied with what they’ve received on their end, as López is a key cog in their bullpen plans for the rest of this season and next year. But Povich continues to blossom in his new organization, where he entered the season as the No. 12 prospect in the game’s best farm system.
Baltimore currently has Povich pitching in Double-A, where he has a modest 3.82 ERA across seven starts. His calling card coming out of college was his swing-and-miss stuff, a four-pitch mix and pinpoint control. Povich has used those tools to accrue 48 strikeouts in only 30⅔ innings (14.1 K/9). His walks remain at a passable 10.1%. If Povich can continue to rein in that control, he should be due for a promotion to Triple-A in short order.
Minnesota’s starting rotation is now at its strongest level in years. However, having Povich back in the pipeline would be a welcome sight for a depth chart that is sorely lacking a southpaw starter in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Not to mention, his stock has certainly risen this year, which would’ve given the Twins a better chip at this season’s trade deadline.
Thought to be a throw-in in the López deal, Cano suddenly finds himself as one of the premier high-leverage relievers in the American League. His raw stuff has always raised eyebrows, but a lack of control was his kryptonite. The Twins gave Cano a look in their bullpen last year. However, his 9.22 ERA with nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (14) in 13⅔ innings pitched was enough to decide that he wasn’t worth waiting around for. Not to mention, he was already 28 years old.
Now, he’s an absolute force out of Baltimore’s bullpen. So far this season, Cano has yet to give up a single run in 21⅔ innings pitched, and he’s striking out 37.3% of his opponents. Oh, and that control issue he showed with the Twins and throughout his minor league career? That’s virtually nonexistent this season. He has yet to walk a single batter in 17 games.
So while López has been about what the Twins expected when they acquired him (2.98 ERA, 7.4 K/9), Cano has been far better than anyone could have guessed. He hasn’t just been good, Cano has been elite when it comes to expected batting average against (99th percentile), strikeout percentage (97th percentile) and chase rate (94th percentile).
It’s hard to say if Cano would have found the same success if he remained with the Twins, and it’s a moot point because they probably would have been dropped off of the 40-man roster in the off-season. But like Encarnacion-Strand and Povich, he is somebody that the Twins might be kicking themselves over for years to come.