As the Twins complete their three-game series today against a familiar-looking Cincinnati team, they should have no regrets.
They have spent this week at Great American Ball Park facing the revitalized Reds, who have gone from 100 losses last season to battling for a National League wild-card spot thanks to an injection of talent that will keep them relevant for the near future. This talent wave includes two former Twins prospects and one pitcher they passed on in the draft who was considered a generational talent.
Of course, Spencer Steer greeted the Twins with three hits on Monday. No one with his former organization is surprised that Steer has 22 home runs, 89 RBI and an .815 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He showed that potential at Oregon and was selected by the Twins in the third round in 2019.
The Twins traded Steer in a package deal for righthander Tyler Mahle in August of last season. Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Steve Hajjar joined him in the trade.
That deal makes you cringe now, based on what the Twins got out of Mahle, which was nine starts and a 3.64 ERA before needing season-ending Tommy John surgery as his contract expires.
Encarnacion-Strand, who had some eye-popping games in 2022 as a Twins minor leaguer, tore up the International League this season before getting called up in July. He has five multi-hit games in September and is batting .273. Hajjar is now in Cleveland's organization. Steer and Encarnacion-Strand are under several years of contract control by the Reds. That's enough time for the club to determine their best defensive positions.
I would make that trade today under the same conditions.
No one knew that Mahle, whose Twins career is likely over, was about to break down when the deal was made. Reds manager David Bell told Twins manager Rocco Baldelli that Mahle could pitch deep into games, which was desperately needed. And the Twins were dealing from their strength. Edouard Julien, a fine hitter who needs to work on his defense, was moving up the chain. Jose Miranda, who was promising last season but perplexing this season before he was injured, looked like the future third baseman. And Royce Lewis was going to fit in somewhere.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over baseball operations in October 2016. Since then, they have made 55 trades. It took previous Twins front offices 13 years to swing that many deals. "Fal-Vine" doesn't sit on prospects — they are tradeable commodities.
Look at another deal with the Reds in March of 2022 that landed Sonny Gray for young fireballer Chase Petty, the 26th overall pick just a year earlier. Gray has given the Twins 5.2 WAR this season, 7.5 WAR since the deal and should get Cy Young votes. Petty, who touched triple digits in high school, is more of a mid-90's thrower now but remains one of Cincinnati's top prospects. His innings have been limited because of elbow issues and he could be shifted to the bullpen. It was a prospect-for-proven-talent swap that's rare for the Twins. You make the trade if you are trying to win now.
The Twins didn't draft Hunter Greene but still had a role in him landing with the Reds in 2017. The Twins had the first overall pick that season and chose between Lewis, Greene and Brendan McKay. A club official on Tuesday confirmed that there was a razor-thin edge between Lewis and Greene in their deliberations. Lewis' makeup was a plus. They met with him at his father's restaurant, The Winery, in Tustin, Calif., before the draft. I've been told the pork belly lollipops there are to die for. Hopefully, that wasn't the deciding factor in the Twins' selecting Lewis and leaving Greene and his 100-mph fastball for the Reds, who had the second pick.
On Wednesday, Greene is starting for the Reds against the Twins. Perhaps Lewis will be in the lineup. Both have dealt with career-delaying injuries, but the future is now — and it's tantalizing. Lewis, Mr. Grand Slam, has recovered from two knee surgeries. Greene still throws gas following Tommy John surgery in 2019. It will be a neat Batman vs. Superman moment if they face each other.
So even if Greene, Steer and Encarnacion-Strand help turn the Reds into a force — and even if Petty joins them in a couple of seasons — there's no reason to wonder what could have been if they had remained Twins.
Some decisions you make, then don't look back.