Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Hello, Maeda, goodbye Graterol

There is a lot to unpack in the Mookie Betts trade that burst into the open Tuesday evening, but for the Twins the part that matters is a classic win-now move.

Gone is Brusdar Graterol, the flamethrowing righty we saw for a few innings last September. Arriving is Kenta Maeda, an established major leaguer. Graterol has the higher ceiling; Maeda has the higher floor.

The trade, to be sure, isn't official yet; there are medical reviews to come, and since one of the key components is David Price, who

  • missed significant time last season and
  • has a lot of mileage on his arm

clearing a physical may not be a mere formality. But assuming the deal goes down as reported Tuesday night, the Twins have a 2020 rotation well stocked with veteran hurlers:

1) Jose Berrios
2) Jake Odorizzi
3) Maeda
4) Michael Pineda (suspended into May)
5) Homer Bailey
6) Rich Hill (recovering from surgery, expected mid-summer)
7) Jhoulys Chacin (minor-league deal)

Even with Pineda and Hill unavailable at season's start, there appears no room for the Randy Dobnak-Lewis Thorpe-Delvin Smeltzer trio of prospects who were penciled into the April rotation as late as Tuesday noon. Of course, we're talking pitchers here, and somebody is likely to come up lame in Fort Myers.

The Twins had not included Graterol in that rotation competition. The plan for him in 2020 was a bullpen role. It's not difficult to see why: he has imposing velocity, a violent delivery and, despite his young age, a growing injury history. In five years in the Twins system, he's maxed out at 102 innings. It's certainly plausible that the Twins concluded that he's not destined to be a starting pitcher period.

Maeda isn't going to hit triple digits on the speed gun. But he can pitch. And with four years left on his contract, he's under team control almost as long as Graterol would have been had the younger hurler remained with the Twins.

But there are cautions about Maeda beyond being a 30-something pitcher:

  • He's coming from the National League to the American League; as a rough rule-of-thumb, add a half-run to his ERA for a reasonable expectation now that he's facing lineups with the DH.
  • Dodger Stadium is a better park for pitchers than is Target Field. (Counterbalanced by far fewer trips to Coors Field.)
  • The Dodgers have consistently shifted him to the bullpen for postseason, partly because of problems against left-handed hitters, and perhaps partly because of innings-related bonus clauses.
I slot Maeda behind Berrios and Odorizzi, and probably behind Pineda once he serves his time. The Dodgers clearly slotted him behind a healthy Hill also. If everything goes the way the Twins want them to, there may not be room for Maeda in Minnesota's postseason rotation either. That may disappoint him -- he is said to have been unhappy with the swingman role in Los Angeles -- but it's a pretty good situation for the Twins.

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