CLEVELAND – The Twins were willing and able to trade away a starting pitcher after all. Just not the one everybody expected.
Ervin Santana remains with the Twins despite several inquiries from interested teams, as does catcher Kurt Suzuki and closer Brandon Kintzler. But just before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Twins upgraded their rotation by dealing Ricky Nolasco to the Angels in exchange for lefthander Hector Santiago, a 2015 All-Star.
The Twins included righthander Alex Meyer, apparently the Angels’ top priority, in the deal, and $4 million in cash to offset the anticipated differences in the veteran pitchers’ 2017 salaries. In addition, Minnesota received Class AA righthander Alan Busenitz.
Earlier in the day, Twins interim General Manager Rob Antony also swapped relief pitchers with Boston, sending veteran lefthander Fernando Abad to the Red Sox for hard-throwing righthander Pat Light, currently at Class AAA. Including Thursday’s trade of Eduardo Nunez, Antony acquired four pitchers at the deadline, three of them 25 or younger.
“We get younger and we’re hoping to build a nucleus and a core,” Antony said at Target Field.
At 28 and with five seasons of major league experience, Santiago might or might not be part of that, but “he certainly knows how to pitch,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re getting a starter we can plug right in in Hector. … He’s excited. It’s a change of scenery. … He’s not an overpowering guy, but he’s lefthanded and when he’s good he’s really good.”
Santiago, originally drafted by the White Sox in the 30th round in 2006, had a breakout season for much of 2015 — his ERA in mid-August was 2.91 before he faded in September — and was selected to the AL All-Star team. He’s 10-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 22 starts this season, though he leads the AL in walks with 57 in 120 innings. His ERA over five major league seasons, two with the White Sox and three with the Angels, is 3.68.
“He’s got a four-pitch mix, and throws enough strikes,” Antony said. “He’s not a big strikeout pitcher, but he’s always been a guy who has some damage control.”
Santiago, who earns $5 million this season and cannot become a free agent until after next season, will start Thursday’s game against the Indians.
Antony acquired the veteran by cutting ties with two of the Twins’ most disappointing pitchers. Nolasco is 4-8 with a 5.13 ERA this season, but that’s by far the best of his three seasons in Minnesota since he signed a four-year, $49 million contract in December 2013. Nolasco is 15-22 with a 5.44 ERA during his time with the Twins, though he finished with a flourish, holding the White Sox to one run and three hits over eight innings on Friday.
“[Telling] Ricky was tough for me. … His tenure might not have left the best taste in the mouths of Twins fans. But that was misguided,” Molitor said. “He brought it all out there on the mound in every start this year, the way he competed, and I’m grateful for that.”
Meyer was the Twins’ top pitching prospect for a couple of seasons after he was acquired in December 2012 from Washington in exchange for outfielder Denard Span. A former first-round pick with a 98-mph fastball, Meyer never could harness his 6-10 frame well enough to command his pitches, and injuries have marred his career. Meyer has pitched only four games in the major leagues, allowing 10 runs in 6 ⅓ innings. His lone start, May 3 at Houston, lasted only eight outs, and included three hits, three walks and three runs, and he hasn’t pitched since then due to shoulder stiffness.
Still, the Angels insisted that Meyer, 26, be part of the trade. “That’s who they wanted and they keep pushing for that,” Antony said. “For us to make the deal work, we had to part with him.”
They’re parting with Abad, too, a nonroster player who made the team in spring training and resurrected his career, becoming a valuable situational reliever. In Light, the Twins exchanged the veteran for a 6-5 righthander whose fastball can approach 100 mph. He will be assigned to Class AAA Rochester and will be a candidate to be called up in September.
Busenitz, a 25th-round pick in 2013, had a 1.93 ERA with three saves in 24 games for Class AA Arkansas before being promoted to Class AAA Salt Lake. In 10 games there, he had a 7.62 ERA, with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings. He will be assigned to Class AA Chattanooga.
Staff writer La Velle E. Neal III contributed to this report.