The Twins went all-in on 2020 by trading for Kenta Maeda

The Twins snuck into a blockbuster deal and upgraded their "win-now" rotation.
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The blockbuster drama between the Twins, Dodgers and Red Sox concluded Sunday evening as the deal that was first reported Tuesday finally came to fruition as two separate trades, with the Twins bolstering the starting rotation with right-hander Kenta Maeda while giving up right-hander Brusdar Graterol, who goes to the Dodgers rather than the Red Sox. 

Now that your head is spinning, it's time to analyze just what the Twins were thinking sending their flame-throwing phenom to Boston in exchange for someone that registered in the 37th percentile in fastball velocity (per Statcast) and will turn 32 in April.

Before getting into all of the numbers, there's one thing clear about the way the front office views this team: While it's not an up-and-coming ace making his way to Minnesota, the deal to acquire Maeda signals an all-in mentality for the 2020 season.

Why acquire Maeda?

On the surface, this looks like a deal in which the Twins got the short end of the straw. Graterol just had a meteoric rise through the Twins system last summer and even made a cameo at the end of the season in a bullpen role. 

With a fastball that touched 103.8 mph last season, the Twins planned on keeping Graterol in the bullpen to establish an MLB routine, but obviously that has been scrapped to acquire a veteran that can help them win now.

Maeda's overall numbers aren't going to make a Hall of Fame case, but are the type of solid numbers the Twins didn't have in their rotation last season. In 2019, Maeda went 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA and has gone 47-35 with a 3.87 ERA during his four-year career. But still, why does a 32-year-old warrant giving up a top prospect?

The answer is that Maeda knows how to miss bats. During his career, Maeda has registered a 9.8 K/9 rate and in 2018, he was off the charts, striking out 11 batters per nine innings. Those numbers tell one story, but there's also a sense of consistency as SKOR North's Declan Goff points out.

Long story short, hitters can't figure out a way to square Maeda up. The right-hander thrived in exit velocity (96th percentile), hard-hit percentage (95th percentile) and ranked in the 73rd percentile with a 27.1% strikeout percentage, all of which would be a welcome change for a team that ranked 12th in strikeouts last season.

Why give up Graterol?

To get something, you have to give up something and in this case, that means parting with Graterol. His rise through the system was exciting late last summer, but it was also one that seemed to be accelerated with reckless abandon.

Graterol began the season at Double-A Pensacola and put up terrific numbers going 5-0 with a 1.89 ERA in nine starts (47 2/3 innings). But that would be the bulk of his work after a shoulder impingement knocked him out for roughly two months. That left him in the bullpen and although he found his way to Minnesota, he's still a raw prospect.

The Twins' plan to put him in the bullpen was a solid way to get him more exposure at the major-league level and keep him as a contingency plan in case the rotation tanked at the end of the year. But for someone that hasn't thrown more than 102 innings in his career and averaged just over 55 innings in his two full professional seasons, this might be a question of if he'll ever be durable enough to become a full-time starter.

Another thing to consider is that pitchers who throw that hard don't tend to last that long. A name that comes to Twins fan's minds should be Joel Zumaya, who threw 98.6 mph during his rookie season in 2006, but only lasted five big-league seasons. More locally, the list of Twins prospects with the hardest fastballs (provided by Twins Daily's John Bonnes) isn't loaded with superstars.

  • Juan Morillo 100.3 mph
  • Trevor May 99.8 mph
  • Ryan Pressly 99.0 mph
  • JT Chargois 98.9 mph
  • Fernando Romero 98.7 mph

Graterol has considerable upside and was ranked as a top-100 prospect by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, but he also had concerns that made him expendable. With the opportunity to swap him for a player with MLB experience and success, that's what made him appealing to a team that is officially in "win-now" mode.

How the Twins are going all-in on 2020

The Twins entered the offseason with the dreaded "impact pitching" quote, but their real objective may have been to upgrade the starting rotation heading into 2020. While they couldn't land a big name, they acquired several legitimate big-league arms that should provide a boost and even some upside in the opening months.

  • Jose Berrios 14-8, 3.68 ERA
  • Jake Odorizzi 15-7, 3.51 ERA
  • Kenta Maeda 10-8, 4.04 ERA
  • Homer Bailey 13-9, 4.57 ERA

This list doesn't include Michael Pineda (11-5, 4.01 ERA) and Rich Hill (4-1, 2.45 ERA), who will join the rotation at a later stage, likely mid-May for Pineda and sometime around June for Hill. But they'll have options until they're ready with the recently signed Jhoulys Chacin battling with Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe and Randy Dobnak for a chance to hold the fort down. As BMTN's Joe Nelson pointed out, this is significantly more than they had at the end of last year.

This also doesn't include prospects Jhoan Duran or Jordan Balazovic, who also could become this year's Graterol and force their way to Minnesota in the next couple of seasons. Duran and Balazovic have each posted incredible strikeout numbers in the minors. 

If the Twins were dipping their toes into the water with the signing of Josh Donaldson, they executed a full-blown cannonball by acquiring Maeda. The loss of Graterol is tough, but Twins fans were also enamored by Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero once upon a time. 

With a team knocking on the doorstep, this is a great deal for the Twins.

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