BOSTON – Eduardo Escobar was, by all accounts, the most popular teammate in the Twins clubhouse, his ever-present smile, cheerleading personality and enthusiasm even at being the victim of practical jokes helping win him, just three days ago, the Heart and Hustle Award.
So what’s the feeling like when he’s abruptly traded? “It’s kind of a punch in the gut,” Joe Mauer said shortly after the Twins confirmed the rumor that had disrupted the team’s pre-batting practice routine Friday. “There are a lot of guys hurting right now.”
And that was only the personal level. The news that Escobar, who leads MLB in doubles, had been dealt to Arizona for three minor league prospects who are likely years from the majors is also a stark front-office rebuke to the players’ insistence that they can rally to win the AL Central.
And the Twins weren’t done. Following Friday’s 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Red Sox, they announced reliever Ryan Pressly had been traded to Houston for two more minor leaguers. The deal had been secured during the game, so Pressly was unavailable to pitch when the Twins likely could have used him.
Four days before the trade deadline, the Twins are officially sellers, and such players as Brian Dozier, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Fernando Rodney understand they could soon follow Escobar out the door.
“We kind of thought each win might delay [potential trades]. Obviously, it didn’t,” said Gibson, who pitched the Twins to their fourth consecutive victory on Thursday. “That’s a tough roller-coaster to be on. You’re feeling really good about where you’re going, and then you have a piece of the puzzle taken out.”
The three young players the Twins acquired from Arizona — righthanded pitcher Jhoan Duran, 20, and outfielders Ernie De La Trinidad, 22, and Gabriel Maciel, 19 — all were with Class A Kane County. From Houston, the Twins landed Class AA righthander Jorge Alcala, 23, and Class A outfielder Gilberto Celestino, 19.
None of those players will be playing for the Twins any time soon, but the Twins did immediately fill Escobar’s vacancy with a player they hope can. Miguel Sano, sent to the minors to reset his season six weeks ago, was summoned from Class AAA Rochester and will join the Twins on Saturday.
Though rumors of potential deals have circulated all month, the Escobar trade shocked the Twins, who first learned of it from the big-screen TV in the middle of their clubhouse as they went through their daily pregame rituals in the visitors clubhouse at Fenway Park. Even manager Paul Molitor was taken by surprise. Escobar was in the posted lineup, and when the news broke during the manager’s daily pregame media session, Molitor initially dismissed it.
But the Twins soon closed their clubhouse and Molitor conducted an emotional meeting.
“Mollie thanked [Escobar] for everything he’s done for the team. He’s a big part of the reason why we’re even in the race right now,” Gibson said. “So yeah, it was a tough few minutes and a tough little bit.”
Escobar, acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade exactly six years ago Saturday, was enjoying his best season just in time to become a free agent this November. He is batting .274 with a .514 slugging percentage, and hit his 15th home run Tuesday at Toronto. (He also was a bargain, earning just $4.85 million this season; Arizona will assume the $1.68 million he’s still owed.) When Sano got off to a terrible start to the season, Escobar stepped in, provided solid defense and threatened the franchise record for doubles in a season: 47 by Justin Morneau in 2008, a mark safe for another year.
The 29-year-old Venezuelan also had become a clubhouse leader, nicknamed “Caballo” — Spanish for “horse” — by teammates. “He’s a guy I’ve grown to love, him and his family. They’re great people and I hate to see him go,” Gibson said. “His family has put down some roots and put a lot of community work in. Any time you invest yourself in your community, when you get ripped out of it, it’s a little harder.”
Even Mauer, normally the most stoic of Twins, said he had a hard time expressing his feelings. “It’s happened so fast, there’s a lot of emotion running through me. I don’t want to elaborate on a lot of it right now,” Mauer said. “Esky means a lot to me personally, and to a lot of guys in that clubhouse.”
Escobar, reportedly emotional over leaving the Twins, departed without speaking to reporters, though he later tweeted his thank you to Twins employees and fans who “day after day supported me and challenged me to be a better baseball player, a better person. Know that the Twins will always mean a lot to me.”
Marciel, an outfielder from Brazil, is the most highly projected of the players received for Escobar, ranking 15th among Arizona prospects by Baseball America. He is batting .287 with one homer and 14 stolen bases for Kane County. Duran, a 6-5 Dominican righthander, is 5-4 with a 4.73 ERA, with 71 strikeouts in 64 innings, and is rated the Diamondbacks’ No. 21 prospect. De la Trinidad, a 2017 19th-round pick from UNLV, is batting .306 in two seasons in Arizona’s system.
Both players acquired from Houston are Dominican. Alcala ranked as the Astros’ No. 8 prospect and is a combined 3-7 with a 3.29 ERA at Class A Buies Creek and Class AA Corpus Christi, with 82 strikeouts in 79⅓ innings. Celestino hit .317 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 33 games at Class A Tri-City.