The baseball world thought that the Twins were on the verge of upgrading their starting rotation just last week.
Minnesota was close to acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Braves ahead of his Friday start against the Dodgers, but he ultimately pitched in Los Angeles due to the lack of a deal. And, for what its worth, Garcia pitched extremely well, throwing seven innings, allowing just three runs with four strikeouts and one walk. He also hit a grand slam.
Due to uncertain medicals on the prospect heading back to Atlanta — which was reportedly right-handed pitcher Nick Burdi — the deal fell through. The Braves then went looking for other suitors for Garcia, but in the end, they took a deal from the same team just three days later.
The deal, though, was much different. With Garcia, the Twins also acquired catcher Anthony Recker from the Braves. In return, just one prospect — minor league right-hander Huascar Ynoa — headed to the Georgia-based franchise. What does this trade mean for each club?
The Twins want to make a run in 2017
Garcia isn’t a splash by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a rental, signifying the Twins’ ever-so-slight willingness to make a push for the playoffs right now.
Minnesota has played surprisingly well this year; at the time of this writing, the team is 49-48, just three games out of the AL Central lead, and only one game out of a playoff spot overall. It’s not impossible to envision a postseason scenario with the Twins in it. However, their -66 run differential concerns me when thinking about the sustainability of their success. It is not a secret that Minnesota is better this year than last (59-103), but they probably aren’t playoff-ready... at least not yet.
But here they are, and I don’t blame them for trying to make a run. Garcia wasn’t a costly option for them, and he fills a definite need. The Twins’ rotation has been one of the worst in the Major Leagues, ranking 27th in fWAR with a 2.7 mark. Their 4.92 ERA as a unit ranks 7th-highest. The rotation has generally been centered around Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia, Hector Santiago and Jose Berrios this year, none of whom have impressed. In just 79 2⁄3 innings over 13 starts, Berrios has the highest fWAR of the group at 1.4.
That brings them to Garcia, who would already be tied with Berrios for the team lead in fWAR among starters had he been with them the entire season. He’s made 18 starts this year, pitching 113 innings to the tune of a 4.30 ERA and a 85:41 strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.14 FIP). His strikeout rate is down below his career-average, and, conversely, his walk rate is above his career-average. This may be signaling a decline for Garcia, but it won’t be the Twins’ problem, as he is a free agent after this year.
Garcia wasn’t the only piece the Twins got. Backup catcher Anthony Recker was also dealt to their club. He has a career .199/.283/.348 line over 630 plate appearances spanning seven seasons in MLB. He was in Triple-A at the time of the trade.
The Braves get a nice return on a low-risk investment
In December, the Braves acquired Garcia from the St. Louis Cardinals for John Gant and two throw-in type prospects. In the deal, they agreed to take on his $12 million salary for the 2017 season. That isn’t terrible, considering the amount of money starting pitching is gifted in today’s game.
Today, the Braves dealt Garcia to the Twins, and they got the minor league righty Ynoa in return. Ynoa, 19, was already ranked as the Twins’ No. 22 prospect on their Top-30 list from MLB Pipeline, praised for his 95 mph fastball and his ability to throw multiple offspeed pitches. Some believe that, if he progresses well enough, he could end up as a No. 3 or a No. 4 starter.
Atlanta will have the unique opportunity to shape the young prospect’s career early on. He’s only at Rookie-level ball this year, throwing 25 2⁄3 innings so far this season with a 5.26 ERA and a 23:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Over the entirety of his professional career, Ynoa has only served as a starter, making 31 starts over three different seasons.
In theory, do I think that Ynoa is a good return for Gant? Yes, and perhaps due to upside alone. It’s hard to develop good, young starting pitching — just ask the Mets. It is much easier, though, to find a collection of arms, either by virtue of the minor league or free agency system, to fill your bullpen. The Braves know this, and as a result, they are probably happier taking a chance on a young starter than an almost-25-year-old reliever who hasn’t impressed at the big league level yet.
For both sides, the teams made a deal with their current interests in hand. And I can’t really blame either side for making the move that they did. Well done all around.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.