After a hectic day before trade deadline day, the actual deadline day kicked off with a deal between a team scrambling to hold onto a narrow division lead and a team scrambling to relinquish its unexpected status as a postseason contender.
How did Minnesota and Baltimore fare in this swap of pitchers?
The Twins have struggled to find the right back-of-the-bullpen mix since the beginning of the season, when on the day of the postponed season opener against Seattle, Minnesota shipped Taylor Rogers to San Diego in a deal that brought back starter Chris Paddack and reliever Emilio Pagan.
The loss of Rogers is water under the Stone Arch Bridge by now — he’s already moved on from San Diego, as part of the Josh Hader deal on Monday. Paddack was injured early on and hasn’t been a factor. (Oh well.) Pagan, at least, leads the Twins in save opportunities and average leverage index, but he has struggled since — a 4.75 ERA, 4.48 FIP and just nine saves in his 15 opportunities. They’re filling in the gaps with rookie Jhoan Duran, who has looked dynamite, but he was developed as a starter and the Twins like to space out his appearances. In the end, the Twins rank second-to-last in save percentage.
Minnesota has still managed to maintain an unsteady perch atop the very winnable AL Central for most of the season and to stay there, the addition of a high-leverage reliever seemed to be an imperative.
Lopez, meanwhile, has arguably been the most improved player in baseball this season. After entering the campaign as a failed starter with a 6.04 career ERA, he made some drastic changes to his pitch mix and his career suddenly took off.
Lopez has long leaned on a four-seamer opposing batters regularly treated like batting practice offerings. That’s been true of the pitch this season as well, except Lopez’s usage of it has fallen from 21.1% last season to 4.8% this season. In its place, he’s ramped up the frequency of his sinker and slider, which have paired well together. All of this is probably burying the headline: Lopez is also throwing much harder this season, with an average velocity of 97.8 mph on that sinker, 2.5 mph more than a season ago.
While a player making a sudden leap as Lopez has done might raise some regression-related red flags, there is a solid argument that his improvement is based on real changes to his skill set and approach. His BABIP (.231) looks unsustainable, but then again, his hard-hit rate is running about 12% below his career norm. In addition, his homer rate looks regression-ish, but his GB/FB ratio has tilted heavily toward grounders, as you’d expect from the new reliance on sinkers, so maybe that’s mostly real as well.
If Lopez regresses from his current 1.68 ERA, that’s to be expected — because it’s just a really good ERA. His FIP (2.99) is encouraging, though, and it seems more likely to be the baseline for what the Twins can hope for in the near term, rather than an ugly turn toward his former days of a six-plus ERA.
It feels like Lopez has been around forever, but because of how much time he has spent bouncing back and forth from the minors, he entered this season with barely three years of big league service time, so the Twins have two more controllable seasons for him after this one.
That in itself justifies the deal’s prospect return, which is four pitchers, none of whom were highly ranked organizational prospects entering the season. The only quibble with this deal from the Minnesota perspective is whether the Twins might have been able to get a better closer from another club.
The name I’m thinking of here is the Cubs’ David Robertson. But the thing is, I think there are enough reasons to believe in Lopez’s breakout that the difference between them is fractional, if it exists at all. And Robertson is headed for free agency.
In short, I’d rather have Lopez. Not a thing I would have expected to write when this season began.
There is a white flag flying over Camden Yards. Someone should write a song about it.
While the Twins are embracing their narrow, uncertain chances at a playoff run, the Orioles are sprinting away from their still-breathing probabilities as if they were being chased by the ghost of Babe Ruth. I’ve already ranted about Baltimore’s trade of franchise stalwart Trey Mancini, so you can probably guess how I feel about this deal.
With Lopez leading the way, the work of Baltimore’s bullpen has been the backbone of the team’s surprising success this season. I mean, look at this table from baseball-reference.com. The Orioles’ relievers don’t just lead the majors in wins above average, they’ve almost lapped the field.
Even after the Mancini trade weakened the Baltimore roster, the Orioles’ playoff chances went up at the end of the day — from around 11% to 15% — because they went out and won a game. I guess that didn’t sit well with GM Mike Elias, so he picked up the phone and shipped out the standout performer from the most productive position group on his roster.
I know, I know. The Orioles are rebuilding. But you know when a rebuild is over? When your team reaches August with a winning record, is 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and has a break-even run differential even while playing in baseball’s toughest division.
Does that sound like a good time to unfurl the white flag to you? It doesn’t to me. I imagine the Orioles’ clubhouse having a rally-the-troops scene tonight straight out of “Major League,” except Adley Rutschman may be too young to play the role of Tom Berenger.
Anyway, from a value standpoint, I’d rather bet on Lopez outproducing any one of these four prospects over the next three seasons, but he’d be hard-pressed to outproduce the aggregate of the quartet over the duration of all those controllable seasons. Yippee.
Povich is the highest-regarded of the group, pulling a 40 FV from Kiley McDaniel before the season and a No. 31 organizational ranking from Baseball America. McDaniel wrote, “Povich is a projectable 6-3 and worked 88-92 at Nebraska, then was bumping 96 after the draft, with room to add at least another 25-30 pounds.” He sports a 4.46 ERA over 16 starts this season in High-A.
Cano is a 28-year-old righty from Cuba who signed with the Twins back in 2019. He works in the mid-90s with his sinker and also throws a slider and changeup. He has been hit hard so far during his brief time in the majors, but the Orioles might get some production from him in their bullpen sooner than later.
There’s not much to go on with either Rojas, 18, or Nunez, 21, who have both pitched in the Twins’ complex league this season. Rojas’ numbers mark him as a control guy, while Nunez sports a big strikeout rate.
Maybe all of these pitchers will be part of a postseason Orioles team in five years. Maybe they won’t. Either way, it won’t make me any less annoyed about what they’ve done over the last two days.