Terry Ryan delivered on his promise Friday to acquire help for his team, which is clinging to the final AL playoff spot. But after adding veteran righthander Kevin Jepsen to the Twins bullpen, the general manager sounded like he wanted to do more.
“Just because you already made one [trade] doesn’t mean you shut it down,” Ryan said. But he couldn’t find another willing seller. “There were a lot of teams looking for relief. … and not everybody who got talked about ended up moving.”
Still, Ryan, manager Paul Molitor and a couple of Jepsen’s former teammates were happy with what they did acquire: An eight-year veteran who throws a 95-miles-per-hour fastball, has late-inning experience, and is particularly hard on righthanded hitters. Ryan swapped a pair of low-minors pitching prospects — Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia — to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jepsen, a longtime Angel who will be in uniform No. 49 on Saturday.
“I have memories of him coming up and being a big contributor to some very successful Angels teams,” Molitor said. “His average against righthanded hitters is very good, [and] lefthanded hitters is good enough. An average velocity around 95 mph with a really good breaking ball. And we got really good reports on [his] makeup, wanting the ball, clubhouse personality. It’s a nice piece for us to have to lengthen the backside of our bullpen.”
Molitor said he hasn’t made any decision about what role the 31-year-old Jepsen may assume when he arrives. He handled the seventh inning most frequently in Tampa Bay, but often worked the eighth as a setup man in Anaheim. And he even has 10 saves in his career, too.
“He’s pitched in the back of the bullpen on contending teams. He’ll help us, no question,” Ryan said. “He’s a hard thrower, he’s a durable guy, he’s got good depth on his breaking ball. I would say he’s an effectively wild guy.”
That explains the career-high 4.32 walks per nine innings Jepsen has allowed this season, but it’s accompanied by a 7.34-per-nine strikeout rate, which is higher than any active Twin but Glen Perkins and Trevor May. Jepson also owns a 2.81 ERA and 22 holds in 49 appearances for the Rays this year.
Ryan emphasized that he was almost entirely focused on relief pitchers as Friday’s trade deadline approached this week, not position players or starting pitchers. The Twins were linked to negotiations over relievers like San Diego’s Joaquin Benoit and Shawn Kelly, or onetime Rays closer Jake McGee, none of whom switched teams. Ryan said he also had talks about a few relievers who did change hands, though he didn’t name them. Jim Johnson, who went from the Braves to the Dodgers, and Steve Cishek, who went from Miami to St. Louis, were among high-profile relievers who switched teams.
The Twins may restart talks in August, Ryan said, though asking waivers on potential targets makes trading more difficult.
Torii Hunter was thrilled with the acquisition of his former Angels teammate, telling another ex-Angel, Ervin Santana, that “We got Jeppy!” when he heard the news. “It’s tremendous. He’s one of the guys who knows how to pitch. He throws gas. He’s nasty,” Santana said. “Anywhere you can put him, he’s going to get the job done.”
Hunter said Jepsen is a good clubhouse presence, too. “I definitely think that arm is going to help us out,” Hunter said. “I can tell you, he’s a quality guy in the clubhouse and he’s going to pump these guys up.”
To make room for Jepsen on the 40-man roster, the Twins designated Caleb Thielbar, a lefthanded reliever from Randolph, Minn., for assignment. Thielbar had a 5.40 ERA in six games with the Twins this season and a 2.81 ERA in 29 appearances at Class AAA Rochester.
Hu, a 21-year-old native of Taiwan, rose quickly through the Twins system. He was 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA for Class A Fort Myers, and made one spot start at Rochester when they were out of options. In three seasons Hu is 16-5 with a 2.31 ERA.
Tapia, a 19-year-old Venezuelan, was 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA between rookie-level Elizabethton and Fort Myers.