It’s not every night that a big trade happens in Minnesota sports.
And I can’t recall a night, ever, during which TWO such trades happened within just a few hours of each other on the same night.
But that was the scene during a wild Tuesday. First, the Twins nudged their way into a three-team blockbuster with the Dodgers and Red Sox. For their part, they traded away promising flamethrower Brusdar Graterol while acquiring steady No. 3-style starter Kenta Maeda.
Then a little after 11 p.m., the Wolves one-upped the Twins by being part of a four-team trade that involved 12 players total — the biggest deal in terms of volume in the NBA in 20 years. Minnesota traded seemingly its entire roster (OK, really five players) with Robert Covington being the key outgoing piece. The Wolves got back four players (shooting guard Malik Beasley is the best of that bunch) and Brooklyn’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick.
It might not make much sense to think about these deals in tandem, but in reality there are some striking similarities (and it’s fun as well because two men at the center of the deals are good friends). Let’s try, then, to dissect where the big night of deals leaves both franchises.
*The deals are highly reflective of where both organizations are in their building process and the trades were, in a way, mirror images of each other.
The Twins won 101 games last season and have an open window spanning several upcoming seasons in which to theoretically contend. A known commodity like Maeda makes sense, particularly given the terms of his contract (more on that in a minute).
Dealing a prospect like Graterol hurts and could come back to haunt, but at this point he’s not much more than a hard-thrower with big upside who has excelled in the minors but has also been injury prone. His career could span a pretty wide range of outcomes; Maeda’s floor and ceiling are much closer together. The Twins likely have concerns about Graterol’s long-term viability and health, and they also probably see something in Maeda that makes them think he can be more of a No. 2 starter.
The Wolves, on the other hand, are remaking themselves (again). Their biggest asset in a quest to create salary cap space, acquire younger players and accumulate draft picks for future use was Covington. They were able to achieve that in the deal in part because of his ability and in part — like Maeda — because of his contract (again, more on that in a minute).
*A large part of the attractiveness of both Maeda and Covington is how they hit a sweet spot between proven production and “team-friendly” contracts — a rare thing given salary structures in sports, particularly for players their age (Covington is 29, Maeda will turn 32 right after the season starts).
“Team-friendly” is a nice euphemism for underpaid, as much as millionaires can be underpaid. Covington is under contract for two more years after this one, at roughly $12.5 million per year. In a league of bloated contracts, he is an exception.
Maeda’s deal is even more interesting. He has FOUR years left on the eight-year deal he signed before the 2016 season after playing in Japan, and his base salary is a ridiculously low $3.25 million per season each year. He has incentives that can push that to around $13 million a year, but even if he reached those it would likely mean he far “outpitched” the value of his contract.
For perspective: FanGraphs says Maeda produced $76 million value in his four years with the Dodgers, an average of $19 million per season. Even with incentives, he didn’t even make half that during four good years with the Dodgers during which he won 47 games, posted a 3.87 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning while being used mostly as a starter.
A cost-controlled starting pitcher signed through 2023 with a track record of production is a great asset, particularly for a team with question marks at that spot beyond 2020.
*While the Twins deal represents an upgrade to the rotation, the Wolves deal represents a complete roster makeover for a team that started 10-8 but has gone 5-26 since then.
Combined with the trade of Jeff Teague and Treveon Graham in mid-January, the Wolves have dealt five of their top 10 and seven of their top 15 players in terms of minutes played this season.
It also left them without an experienced point guard, since Shabazz Napier was included in Tuesday’s trade. As configured now, and at least for Wednesday night vs. Atlanta, two-way player Jordan McLaughlin is the Wolves’ only true point guard while Jarrett Culver and Andrew Wiggins figure to handle the ball some as well.
Combined with lingering buzz about a possible Wolves trade for D’Angelo Russell — made more possible, perhaps, by the acquisition of that first-round pick from Brooklyn — it makes you wonder if there’s another crazy night ahead of us in advance of Thursday’s trade deadline.
If not, it’s going to be a very long final 33 games of the season for the Wolves — even longer than Tuesday.