ST. LOUIS — The Twins knew changes were coming. Their play through the first four months of the season had prompted it. But it still didn’t make it any easier when Nelson Cruz was dealt last week to Tampa Bay or on Friday, when three more players were swapped ahead of the trade deadline.
José Berríos is a Blue Jay, J.A. Happ a Cardinal, Hansel Robles a Red Sox. In exchange for the four veterans, the Twins brought back a haul of seven players — including three who are now among the team’s top 10 prospects — who they think can help them compete in the future.
“Our view of this is sustainability. We know what this year has been. I’ve talked about that at length,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “It has not been what we wanted, but we feel we still have — we still feel, even as José walked out the door here, and that’s not easy, don’t get me wrong — that we feel we have a lot of talent in that clubhouse coming back in ‘22 and ‘23 and beyon. So how do you build a sustainable group? You’ve got to retool it sometimes. You’ve got to refresh it.”
For Berríos, the Twins acquired shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin, the No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft, as well as pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson. They are now the team’s No. 2 and 3 prospects, per MLB Pipeline. Pitcher Joe Ryan, who was acquired in the Cruz trade, is now the team’s No. 8 prospect. Drew Strotman, also a pitcher included in the Cruz deal, is No. 15.
Six of the seven players the Twins acquired are pitchers as they work to address their biggest need. One, John Gant, joined the major league team immediately — after taking a short walk across Busch Stadium.
Gant, who was part of the return for Happ, began the season as a starter for the Cardinals before moving to the bullpen. The 28-year-old entered the day with a 3.42 earned-run average, but he has walked as many batters — 56 — as he has struck out.
“(It’s the) smoothest trade I’ve been a part of,” Gant said. “Just walked across the hall. Didn’t have to go anywhere, really. But you know, been traded a couple of times now. Excited to hopefully find a home in Minneapolis … and try to help this ballclub as best I can.”
He joins a Twins team that is now down two starters — Griffin Jax started on Friday in place of Berríos, and Charlie Barnes was also recalled from Triple-A — and two late-inning relievers — Robles was dealt and Taylor Rogers is on the injured list with a left middle finger sprain.
The rest of the season now will be filled with opportunities for younger players to get their feet wet, and will serve as an evaluation period as the Twins construct their nucleus moving forward.
It’s a core Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson still feels strongly in, despite a disappointing 2021 season.
“I’m excited to be here for the fact that I still think we have a window to win here,” Donaldson said. “I wouldn’t have signed here if I wanted to go somewhere else. This is where I want to be. I want to win here. I want to help the guys that are here continue to learn that process as well.”
While the Twins had conversations about many players — including Byron Buxton, Kenta Maeda and Donaldson — Falvey said the Twins only completed the deals that “we felt we couldn’t pass up.”
Plenty of work still remains for the front office. But Friday, they feel, was a start.
It was a frenzied, hectic day as well as an emotional one, especially in St. Louis, where the team inside the clubhouse said goodbye to three of members of the present to, they hope, improve the outlook for the future.
“We’re going to have to feel some of these emotions. We’re going to have to feel some of the pain. But I do believe, looking forward, the future is very bright,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We have the pieces already here that we’re trying to supplement right now with some of the moves that we’re making, in order to get to a point where we are a playoff baseball team again. And I don’t think we’re very far away. And we are now making the moves that get us to that point.”