By virtue of winning 101 games last year, signing Josh Donaldson and improving their pitching staff, the Twins rank as one of the eight to 10 teams most likely to win the 2020 World Series.
Sunday, they belatedly consummated a trade that involved two other supposed favorites, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox.
The Dodgers received Mookie Betts, perhaps the second-best player in baseball, and veteran pitcher David Price from Boston, and pitcher Brusdar Graterol and the 67th pick in the 2020 draft from the Twins.
The Twins received starter Kenta Maeda and $10 million to fill perhaps the only worrisome opening on their roster.
With Betts, the Dodgers should join the Yankees atop the list of teams most likely to win it all this year. The Twins advanced their cause by improving their pitching staff.
The Red Sox? Scratch them from the list of contenders. Baseball’s sign-stealing scandal cost them manager Alex Cora, and their front office’s handling of negotiations with the Dodgers and Twins indicates that their organization lacks savvy and guts.
The original deal featured Graterol going to the Red Sox. The Twins were willing to make that trade for the same reason the Red Sox backed out of it — Graterol projects to be a talented reliever with injury risks, not the dominant starting pitcher the Red Sox wanted.
If Graterol was ready to be a dominant starting pitcher, the Twins wouldn’t have traded him. You would think the Red Sox would have figured that out.
So the Sox were willing to give up their best player and acquire a pitcher they knew too little about. This is a strange way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Boston selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000.
The Red Sox made at least three mistakes in this sequence:
1. They didn’t properly evaluate Graterol as a pitcher and injury risk.
2. They traded away a great player because he could walk away as a free agent but didn’t get proper value for him. As one of baseball’s richest franchises, they could have afforded to take a run at a title with Betts this year, knowing they can compete with anyone in free agency.
3. They bowed to public pressure, allowing blowback about Graterol and Betts to cause them to nix the portion of the deal that included the Twins.
Graterol could make the Twins look terrible by becoming a dominant pitcher, whether as a starter or reliever. But the Twins are following a tenet favored by quality personnel evaluators: If you’re going to trade talent, do so before your trade partners fully appreciate the player’s flaws.
The Red Sox are not operating like a championship organization. The Houston Astros can’t be taken seriously as contenders until they prove they can hit pitches when they don’t know what’s coming.
That means the Yankees are the only AL team clearly better positioned than the Twins to win the World Series. Twins fans can lament a possible postseason rematch with their least favorite roadblock, or realize that the Yankees have won just one more World Series than the Twins since 2000.
The Twins did well in the original deal, and did well in the revamped deal. Maeda won’t sell tickets, but in baseball only winning games sells tickets. For a team with a powerhouse lineup and an excellent defensive outfield, Maeda should win a lot of games for the Twins.
The Twins and Red Sox train a few miles apart in Fort Myers, Fla. The teams will face each other for the first time on Feb. 24, and will be able to avoid any on-field awkwardness with Graterol removed from the scene.
Twins fans should look forward to another date: May 26 in the Bronx, when the Twins and Yankees play for the first time.
Baseball is fickle. Injuries and unexpected slumps can alter the best of plans. But I believe the teams playing at Yankee Stadium on that date are the two AL teams most likely to finish the regular season with 100 victories.