KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Twins came up with an unusual answer to the annual “buyers-or-sellers” debate at the non-waiver trade deadline Thursday.
They were both.
Minnesota made a classic veteran-for-prospect deadline deal Thursday morning, but then chose not to do the same with All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki. Instead, the Twins cemented him in place behind the plate for a few more years by agreeing to a contract extension that will pay him $6 million in each of the next two seasons, and an additional $6 million in 2017 if he plays enough in 2016.
“We’re going to have some good young pitchers coming up here,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “and we need a catcher like him to handle them.”
One of those pitchers might be Tommy Milone, a 27-year-old lefthanded breaking-ball specialist who already has won 32 big-league games. The Twins added Milone by returning outfielder Sam Fuld to Oakland, where he started this season before being waived in April, in their only deadline deal of the day. The Twins also called up Class AA first baseman Kennys Vargas to fill Fuld’s spot.
Milone, who was optioned to Class AAA Sacramento on July 5, will be assigned to Class AAA Rochester for the time being. Milone was likely available, and Fuld coveted by Oakland, after the A’s acquired lefthander Jon Lester from Boston on Thursday in a deal that sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox.
The Twins are happy to accept the fallout from that deal, because Milone, drafted in the 10th round by the Washington Nationals in 2010, already has had major league success. He has a 3.84 ERA in 78 starts over four big-league seasons, winning 13 games in 2012 and 12 more last season.
“He’s a competitor. He’s not going to light up the radar gun, but this kid knows how to pitch,” Suzuki said of Milone, his teammate with the A’s in 2012, whose fastball tops out in the mid- to high 80s. “He knows how to get guys out.”
And Suzuki knows how to help pitchers do it, which is why, when the Twins received inquiries from other teams about their starting catcher, they declined to even discuss potential trades. They wanted to see if Suzuki, who signed for just $2.75 million in December after Minnesota failed to attract one of their other catching targets, would agree to an extension rather than choose free agency again.
“He’s done a nice job behind the plate, he has a good rapport with the pitchers, and they like throwing to him. He calls a good game, he works hard, he prepares well,” assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “Rather than going into the next offseason looking for a veteran catcher and hoping to get lucky again and find somebody like Suzuki, we would rather keep the known commodity.”
Suzuki said both sides compromised on their original positions to reach the $12 million guarantee. “I made it pretty clear I was happy here, comfortable,” he said. “I love this place.”
And Twins pitchers love having him. “I know everyone on the pitching staff was excited to hear the news,” said closer Glen Perkins. “He knows all the hitters, he runs our meetings. He’s just a great guy to work with.”
Now he’ll get to work with Milone again, assuming he returns to the majors this season. Milone lost his starting job not because of poor pitching, but because the A’s, loading their pitching staff with veteran stars for a postseason run, acquired All-Star righthander Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs earlier this month. After starting the season 0-3, Milone had won six consecutive decisions, and in his final start for Oakland, he shut out Toronto on four hits over six innings July 4.
Milone hasn’t been as good since being demoted to Sacramento, posting a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings over four starts, which is why he is being assigned to Rochester rather than joining the Twins right away. But “if they trade a guy like [Fuld], you know how valuable Sam’s been to this club, they probably got a guy they want in the big leagues right away,” Suzuki theorized. “The way Tommy’s pitched, I expect he’ll be here sooner rather than later.”