St. LOUIS — After manager Rocco Baldelli and interpreter Elvis Martinez left his hotel room Friday morning, Jose Berrios picked up his phone and called his wife, Jannieliz, back in Minneapolis. And that's when it hit him: Ten years with the Twins, seven seasons in the major leagues, three playoff games, two All-Star appearances and the only place their three young children had ever called home.
"We both cried together," Berrios said of that phone call to relay the news that the Twins had traded him to Toronto. "It was tough. I'm going to be honest, we're a little bit sad about it."
But trades are part of baseball, and the Twins, hopelessly out of the 2021 pennant race but with ambitions for 2022 and beyond, made three of them at Friday's deadline, sending starter J.A. Happ to the Cardinals and reliever Hansel Robles to the Red Sox. In each case, they received players, all but one minor leaguers, that they believe will help them revive the momentum of back-to-back AL Central titles that was lost this season.
None more than Austin Martin, an athletic young hitter who might wind up at shortstop, third base or center field, and righthander Simeon Woods Richardson, a 20-year-old who has already climbed to Class AA. Those two, widely considered among the top 100 or so prospects in the game, were the price for Berrios, the most successful pitcher drafted and developed by the Twins since Brad Radke a generation ago.
Martin, 22, is a player the Twins have coveted since the June 2020 draft, though they knew they had zero chance of choosing him. "We had him, I don't know if it was first or second on our draft board," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations, who hinted that he fielded several impressive offers for Berrios. Martin, drafted fifth by the Blue Jays and now ranked by Baseball America as the No. 21 prospect in baseball — higher than any Twins draftee —"is truly a top-of-the-draft talent. We think this guy is a very special player. There's a reason he's ranked where he is."
Martin was assigned to Class AA Wichita, along with Woods Richardson, a hard thrower who has piled up 67 strikeouts — and 26 walks — in 45⅓ innings this season. Woods Richardson, a second-round pick in 2018, is playing for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, a teammate of another recent trade addition, Joe Ryan, who was acquired from Tampa Bay in the Nelson Cruz trade last week.
"We think he has a chance to rise [quickly] and be a major league pitcher for us here soon. So you get two upper-level guys … and they're going to be a big part of the future," Falvey said. "Just felt like something we couldn't pass up."
The return obviously wasn't as impressive for Happ and Robles, two pitchers who signed one-year free-agent contracts last winter and had only fleeting periods of effectiveness in Minnesota. For Happ, the Twins received righthander John Gant, an occasional starter who will pitch out of the bullpen for now, and Class AA lefthander Evan Sisk, who was teammates with Bailey Ober at College of Charleston.
In exchange for Robles, the Twins received another Class AA righthander, Alex Scherff, a fifth-round pick in 2017. In both of the latter trades, the Twins included cash to help offset the salaries of Happ, who is still owed roughly $2.5 million of his $8 million salary this season, and Robles, who still has about $750,000 left on his $2 million contract. Gant earns $2.1 million this season and can become a free agent after the 2022 season.
"I do believe, looking forward, [that] the future is very bright," 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."
But if they get there, they will do it without Berrios, quietly one of the leaders of the Twins pitching staff and one of the most sought-after players on the trade market. Berrios, who earns $6 million this season, can become a free agent in 15 months, and said earlier this month that he wouldn't accept a less-than-market-value salary to remain with the Twins. With another year of team control, though, he became a target of several pennant contenders, with the Blue Jays' deep farm system enough to convince Falvey to make the move.
Not that it was easy, for player or team.
"It's very sad and it's very emotional. That's a part of the game that gets looked past a lot," said Baldelli, who addressed the team once the trade deadline passed. "We're losing some wonderful people. People who have set the tone for everything that is Minnesota Twins baseball for awhile."
Same for Berrios, who worried about how the news will affect his three children, who have made friends in Minneapolis schools and preschools. "It'll be tough. My daughter [Valentina], she's 7 years old. It's going to be harder because she knows more and she cares more about life and persons," he said. "We'll see how we can handle it."
Playing for a wild-card contender in Toronto, though — embarking on a new chapter of his career with star first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — that part, he believes, will help the pain fade.
"It's good assignment. They are competing and trying to get that [push] to the playoffs, and I'm so happy to be part of that," Berrios said in a farewell news conference. "I can help them make good things for the team. That makes me proud."