It was a difficult decision, Derek Falvey recalls. Jake Westbrook had been a mainstay of Cleveland’s rotation for more than five years, had won 14 or more games three different times, had recovered from Tommy John surgery. But the Indians were in fourth place, far out of the 2010 pennant race, and Westbrook would be a free agent in two months.
“It’s never easy to trade away an established player off the major league team. That guy’s been contributing for you, sometimes for a lot of years, so it can be an emotional thing,” Falvey said. “You never take that lightly.”
But Falvey’s boss at the time, Cleveland General Manager Mark Shapiro, made the tough call a couple of hours before the July 31 trade deadline: They would deal Westbrook to the Cardinals in a three-way trade, even though all they would receive in return was a little-known former fourth-rounder pitching for San Diego’s Class AA team. “I wish I could tell you we all knew Corey Kluber would develop into a [two-time] Cy Young winner,” Falvey says of one of the best trades in Indians history, “but I’d be lying.”
Still, the Kluber deal, one of a series of deadline trades the Indians made during his nine years in Cleveland, was revelatory for Falvey, now in his second season as the Twins’ chief baseball officer and top decisionmaker. Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Michael Brantley were, like Kluber, largely anonymous minor leaguers when Cleveland acquired them for established big-leaguers in deadline deals, and all now are important players on a team headed to its third consecutive AL Central championship.
Consulting on those trades gave Falvey the confidence to make similar deals with the Twins. Trading well-known veterans for teenagers who fans have never heard of can be pretty unpopular, in the clubhouse and in the stands.
But “because of how I learned the game — it was a much more common practice in Cleveland — it feels like a normal course of action. We have to convert those shorter-term assets into potential opportunities for long-term benefit,” Falvey said. “… But I recognize now that, especially in the volume [of transactions], it’s a departure from the norm in Minnesota.”
He’s right, the Twins hadn’t ever made six trades in 10 days. Their success in vets-for-prospects trades, in-season or after it, is pretty spotty, too. Alex Meyer, prize of the Denard Span trade, washed out here. Kris Johnson, the pitching prospect acquired for Justin Morneau, had a three-game Twins career. And while Carlos Gomez had two memorable seasons with the Twins, the relatively paltry return for Johan Santana damaged the team’s future.
Then again, in July 2012, the Twins turned a fading Francisco Liriano into a two-prospect package that included Eduardo Escobar, a productive hitter and utility player for nearly six years. In the winter of 2004, the Twins dealt their All-Star catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Liriano, all little-known at the time. And at the deadline in 1996, Seattle wanted third baseman Dave Hollins, who led the Twins in homers at the time, and gave up a 21-year-old Class A first baseman for him: David Ortiz.
Fans may not know the names of the players the Twins received in their recent deals, but Falvey said they’re not mere lottery tickets; his staff has known them for a while. Jorge Alcala, a 23-year-old righthander acquired for Ryan Pressly, has the potential to head their rotation someday. Righthander Jhoan Duran, 20, the return for Escobar, is only in Class A but projects as a big-league starter.
“The challenge at the deadline is, you have to be really well prepared to make the decision when it’s presented to you. There’s not a lot of time to negotiate,” Falvey said. “As you get closer, decisions start to get made about which young players to target, and by then you have good information and good analytic systems in place.”
Is there another Corey Kluber in the lot?
“It’s fun to contemplate,” Falvey said with a laugh. “There’s just no way to predict that.”
Six weeks remain in the 2018 regular season, and there may be some notable farewells around the AL Central once Sept. 30 passes. Here are some figures who may be in their final days in the division:
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Indians: Trading for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller helped Cleveland reach the World Series in 2016, and while a balky knee sidelined him in June and July, Miller’s arm remains elite. But the lefthander’s $9 million-a-year contract is about to expire, and his 1.10 postseason ERA figures to draw offers beyond the Indians’ budget.
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Royals: Ned Yost, above, has said he wants to return in 2019, and the Royals appear supportive. But the World Series-winning manager turns 64 today, his contract expires at season’s end, and the Royals are headed to a 100-loss season. Might he walk away after nine years? KC reportedly may hire Mike Matheny in some role, too.
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Tigers: He may be one of the most popular players among his peers in baseball, but Twins fans probably won’t mind Victor Martinez, who turns 40 in December, retiring this winter, as he said last week he “is pretty sure” he will do. Martinez’s 49 career RBI at Target Field, entering the weekend, are the most by any visiting player.
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White Sox: Their young roster isn’t going anywhere, but Chicago is losing an icon: After 29 seasons of calling Sox games, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, who turns 75 in September, will “grab some bench” once the season ends. Harrelson, an All-Star outfielder during his nine-year playing career, was Chicago’s GM in 1986.
According to baseball-reference.com, 10 players in major league history have had the first name Logan, and four of them have played for the Twins in the past five seasons. None has had anywhere near the impact that Logan Forsythe has made in less than three weeks, however. Wins Above Replacement totals for the Twins careers of the Logan Four:
0.8 Logan Forsythe
0.1 Logan Schafer
-0.3 Logan Morrison
-0.4 Logan Darnell
This comes as no relief
Why does the AL Central have the worst overall record in baseball? The bullpens have a lot to do with it. All five teams are among the seven worst bullpens, by ERA, in the American League. Worst AL bullpen ERAs:
5.33 Kansas City