Can a trade be inevitable and a gut punch at the same time? That’s exactly how most fans feel after seeing the news break Monday night that the Minnesota Twins had traded Jorge Polanco to the Seattle Mariners for four players.
The Twins are losing their longest-tenured player in Polanco. He’s been in the organization since signing as an international free agent in 2009 and debuted in 2014. It’s a period that spanned 10 seasons, four postseason appearances, three different managers, and one All-Star appearance. Polanco slashed .269/.334/.446 with 112 home runs and a 111 wRC+ mark in 832 games with Minnesota. The Twins became relevant again and broke the infamous postseason losing streak last year with Polanco on the roster.
Twins fans hoped to get some tangible big-league value by dealing away Polanco, especially a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. But that never was going to happen, mainly because of his injury history and how difficult it is to pull off a one-for-one player swap. However, Minnesota got back a starter to fill out the rotation in Anthony DeSclafani and a high-leverage setup man in Justin Topa. Most fans are fixated on the major league return with Minnesota coming off their postseason run. But the Twins received two significant prospects in the deal.
Trading Polanco added in the short-term, but it also helped reload a farm system that’s received a huge boost over the last seven months. Adding to the minor-league ranks won’t get fans pumped up for Opening Day. However, it is an important part of the deal. Gonzalez becomes one of Minnesota’s four best prospects, while Bowen will crack the top 30.
Gabriel Gonzalez is probably the centerpiece of this trade. MLB Pipeline ranks him No. 79 on their top 100 league-wide prospect list. A 19-year-old Gonzalez racked up a .837 OPS with 18 home runs in 116 games between High- and Low-A in 2023. His production slipped to a .677 OPS in High-A, which isn’t ideal.
However, he will be 20 years old this season. A full season in High-A will likely see his numbers come closer to the .933 OPS he logged over 73 games in Low-A last year. Gonzalez’s path to the majors starts with developing consistent power, but he also has good bat-to-ball skills with a 16.6 strikeout rate. He profiles as a corner outfielder because of his cannon right arm.
Darren Bowen is the lesser-valued prospect in the trade, but he’s still intriguing. As a 6’3” college pitcher, Bowen fits an organizational mold. Under Falvey, the Twins seem to prefer the bigger bodies and longer arms, allowing them to squeeze extra velocity out of a pitcher. Bowen threw in the mid-90s in college, and the Twins likely think his build will enable him to throw even harder like Bailey Ober and pitching prospect David Festa. As a 13th-round selection from the 2022 MLB Draft out of UNC Pembroke, Bowen had a 3.88 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 55.2 innings over 19 appearances (15 starts). Bowen may end up being a starter, but he could also shift to the bullpen in the minors.
Adding two prospects who haven’t scratched Double-A seems odd for a club looking to build off its playoff success from a year ago. However, the Twins won the Polanco trade in terms of the value it brought back to the organization. Adding these two prospects can indirectly help the Twins address their short- and long-term goals.
Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, José Miranda, Royce Lewis, Matt Wallner, and Edouard Julien were all top prospects who graduated from the list over the last three seasons. The Twins didn’t have a league-best minor league system, but losing that talent has an impact when you want to make a trade. A contending team like the Twins typically wants to trade from the prospect pool rather than trade away the ones producing at the big-league level. Polanco is the exception because of Minnesota’s young talent.
Minnesota’s farm system still has some good talent, especially in the high minor leagues. Brooks Lee, Austin Martin, and Emmanuel Rodriguez are talented prospects on track to get their first big-league call-up sometime this season. Outside of No. 1 prospect Walker Jenkins, the Twins don’t have much high-ceiling talent who could reach the majors soon. At least Gonzalez hedges against the chances of Minnesota depleting its high-end talent over the next year.
A deeper farm system gives the Twins leverage to make a trade. Maybe the team was in talks for a higher-end starting pitcher and didn’t want to part with a top prospect like Lee or Rodriguez. But a prospect like Gonzalez can potentially fill that void while Minnesota gets to keep its other top prospects. Either that or it allows the team to have more prospect capital at the trade deadline this summer if they are in contention and need extra help for a playoff push.
Two prospects aren’t going to change the overall trajectory of Minnesota’s farm system drastically. Even as a No. 5 overall pick, not even Jenkins can do that. But after trading Polanco, the Twins have more resources in the minors. That allows the front office to build on the team not just for 2024 but in the years to come. It’s how a team still in a competitive window can keep it extended beyond a one- to three-season run. The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the best organizations in baseball, and they constantly stay competitive by adding to their farm system even when they’re winning 90 games a season.
Jorge Polanco was on borrowed time due to Minnesota’s glut of options at second base. Trading him to Seattle helped Minnesota in a couple of areas in the short term. However, Falvey was able to grab a top 100 global prospect and another pitching prospect into the farm system, which is crucial for the franchise’s future. Polanco was an underrated play on the field, and this move may prove to be the last underrated value Polanco brought to Minnesota.