The Twins never meant to keep playing Roster Roulette right up to the season’s first pitch, never planned to charge into 2022 with 13 players — nearly half their temporarily expanded roster — who have never before worn a Twins uniform, never intended to cash in their only experienced closer for an extra starting pitcher.
But then the phone rank.
“This really came together quite quickly in the last 24 hours,” Derek Falvey said after pulling off his fourth major trade in less than four weeks, this one triggered, the Twins’ president of baseball operations admitted, by Padres General Manager AJ Preller’s sudden desire to obtain an established closer.
Falvey obliged by dealing All-Star reliever Taylor Rogers — and $6.6 million in cash to cover most of his $7.3 million salary — plus slugging prospect Brent Rooker, their first-round pick in the 2017 draft, to San Diego. In return, the Twins will receive a starting pitcher they have long coveted, righthander Chris Paddack, veteran middle reliever Emilio Pagan, and a Padres minor leaguer whom they’ll select later this month.
“Ultimately, I feel like this sets us up better for now,” Falvey said, “but also for the future.”
In part, that’s because Rogers and Rooker probably didn’t have much of a future left in Minnesota. Rooker, already 27 and with only 65 games of major league experience, found himself largely blocked by the Twins’ surplus of young outfielders and outfield prospects, and his own defensive deficiencies.
And Rogers, one of the most popular players among his teammates and the Twins’ most reliable reliever for the past four seasons, is six months away from free agency at an age (32 next season) and price (more than $10 million a year if he has a strong 2021 season, in a multiyear deal) that likely gave Falvey doubts about keeping him in Minnesota.
Instead, he added in Paddack a 26-year-old strike-thrower who had a breakthrough rookie season in 2019, then had difficulty following it up behind a deep Padres rotation. Paddack’s ERA rose from 3.33 as a rookie to 4.73 in the shortened 2020 season, to 5.07 last year, but the Twins believe he can recover the form that has interested them since 2017, Falvey said. He’s also three years from free agency.
The Padres, having traded for Oakland’s Sean Manaea on Monday, were finally willing to listen to the Twins’ longstanding inquiries about Paddack, especially when Falvey was willing to discuss his best reliever.
“He’s done some things, when you look underneath the surface, that have been really positive,” Falvey said, though home runs have been a problem and Paddack’s strikeout rate has declined each season, too. “We’ve heard enough good things about the makeup and the chance to add a guy … who we see having real upside potential was something we really wanted to pursue awhile ago.”
Paddack adds depth to a Twins pitching rotation that enters the season relying upon veterans Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy to turn around their recent difficulties, and second-year players Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober building upon strong, though partial, 2021 seasons. He’s the sixth member of the Twins’ starting rotation, with those four and veteran Sonny Gray, but only temporarily; Falvey said the Twins will go to a six-man rotation during the season’s first homestand, then sort out roles from there.
Pagan is a 30-year-old righthander who has pitched for four teams in five seasons, and who saved 20 games for the 96-win Rays in 2019 but also blew nine save chances. His ERA ballooned to a career-high 4.83 in San Diego last season, largely due to a big jump in his home-run rate to 2.3 per nine innings.
“His 2019 season was among probably the best in baseball out of the bullpen, among guys who pitched as much as he did [70 innings],” Falvey said. “We have some ideas on pitch mix and where he’s attacking, some things we think he can continue to improve upon. … We’re excited about his fit.”
Both players were recommended by former Padres manager Jayce Tingler, now Rocco Baldelli’s bench coach, Falvey said.
So who will inherit Rogers’ role as the Twins’ closer? It’s too early to say, though Falvey indicated that veterans like Tyler Duffey, Joe Smith and Pagan figure to get most of the late-inning opportunities while young hard throwers like Jorge Alcala and Jhoan Duran learn the craft more slowly.
“My sense is, [Baldelli will consider] matchups toward the back end of the game,” Falvey said, “usage based on who’s available, who’s fresh, who’s got some of those experiences.”
But losing Rogers’ experience wasn’t the most difficult factor to consider in this deal, Falvey said; losing Rogers was.
“These are the most challenging aspects of the job by far — having a conversation with somebody you’ve developed a relationship with and saying we need to make this move that we think is best for our team,” Falvey said of Rogers, a member of the AL All-Star team last July. “I would say this one was as tough as any that I’ve seen or had. He’s a pro’s pro, all the way through. … I will always admire Taylor Rogers and be a huge fan of his.”
Rogers thanked the Twins for his decade in the organization — he was drafted out of Kentucky in 2012 — but is excited, Falvey said, to pitch in the same division as his identical twin Tyler, a reliever for the Giants.
The trade, completed around breakfast time Thursday, allowed the Twins to finalize their Opening Day roster. They did so by assigning outfielder Kyle Garlick and optioning reliever Griffin Jax to Class AAA St. Paul, placing reliever Cody Stashak on the injured list with bicep tendinitis, and recalling outfielder Gilberto Celestino, who had been optioned out less than a week ago, from the Saints.
Puzzled? The roster overhaul might not be over, Falvey explained.
“All I’m saying is, our roster is set today,” he said. “A week from now, you don’t know where things go. … [Celestino] fits our roster right now, and we’re going to need him.”