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Wetmore: 3 things the Jaime Garcia trade tells us about the 2017 Twins

The Twins on Sunday announced that they’ve traded Jaime Garcia to the Yankees — after he pitched just one game in a Twins uniform –for a couple of pitching prospects.

Trading a guy who was expected to fill out the rotation (Garcia) for a pitcher headed to Triple-A (Dietrich Enns) and one headed to Double-A (Zack Littell) is a clear sign the Twins plan to be sellers ahead of Monday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline. It makes you wonder if Brandon Kintzler will be in a Twins uniform for much longer.

That’s the first of 3 things that this trade signaled to me when I learned about it Sunday morning.

Twins trade Jaime Garcia to Yankees for two pitching prospects

1. The Twins are sellers

Yes, Hector Santiago may return soon from his rehab work and yes, Kyle Gibson pitched well in his final game before being sent back to Triple-A Rochester. So the Twins can probably get by in terms of filling out the innings for the rest of the season. But make no mistake about it: Trading Garcia to the Yankees is the equivalent of raising a white flag up the flagpole of the 2017 season. Pack it in. It was a good run.

I can’t say that I blame the front office for the way that they treated this season. I wrote a column Saturday morning asking if it was time to throw in the towel on the season. If you’re a Twins who is upset by the notion they’re selling, I’d suggest reading the column. If you’re excited about the prospect of selling on this year to build for a better future, you might like the column as well.

In short, the Twins didn’t add many pieces this winter after the team lost 103 games last season. Then they sat back and watched what happened for 3 ½ months. When they were still in the hunt for the postseason, they showed a willingness to add pieces for the stretch run. When the standings math took a violent swing and left them on the outside looking in this week, they quickly pivoted and decided to try to load up on prospects. Here’s an excerpt from my Saturday column:

If you take the long view with this Twins’ rebuilding project, perhaps this season has represented about the best-case scenario. Sano and Berrios look like great pieces around which to build. You kept fans interested all the way up to the trade deadline (and maybe beyond). Some veterans played well, increasing their hypothetical trade value. And just in the nick of time, the Indians and Royals sprinted out in front, which relieves the pressure the Twins otherwise might have felt to trade prospects for win-now players.

Wetmore: Time for the Twins to throw in the towel?

2. They’re targeting pitching

This much we could have all guessed over the winter. We didn’t need the trade evidence – or the near-daily roster moves – to reinforce the belief that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine don’t believe the organization has enough pitching talent right now.

Let’s look at the sum of the recent trades to this point. Remember, the Twins made a minor league trade with the Diamondbacks for catcher John Ryan Murphy.

In recent days the Twins have traded:

Huascar Ynoa, pitching prospect, 19
John Ryan Murphy, minor league catcher, 26
2+ months of Jaime Garcia
and Cash

FOR

1 start of Jaime Garcia
Anthony Recker
, minor league catcher, 33
Dietrich Enns, pitching prospect, 26
Zack Littell, pitching prospect, 21
Gabriel Moya, pitching prospect, 22

The Garcia trade (the first one, with the Braves) allowed the Twins to add another depth catcher in Recker, which in turn freed them up to trade John Ryan Murphy to the Diamondbacks. Their target? Pitching. Now, the Twins have essentially flipped Garcia from the Braves to the Yankees. Their target in that trade? Pitching.

The great Woodward and Bernstein, legend has it, were told to “follow the money” the in the midst of the Richard Nixon Watergate scandal. In this case, we just have to follow the transaction wire. It’s no secret that the flurry of roster moves – and now, trades – come from a front office that doesn’t think the organization has enough pitching. They’re trying to do something to fix that.

Without having seen any of the minor leaguers headed back to the Twins in these trades, I have no idea where they’ll rank in terms of prospect cachet. I also think we get a little too hung up on “ranking” prospects, but that’s another column for another day.

I’m definitely intrigued by Moya as a reliever.

Enns is a former 12th round pick that has worked his way up to Triple-A. This season for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, he’s got a 1.99 ERA in just 45 1/3 innings, mostly as a starter. He also has a 47:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’ll go to Rochester, with a chance to make the big leagues this September or next year.

Littell appears to be the more highly thought of prospect in the Yankees deal. Littell is just 21, and he’s in Double-A. You likely won’t see him in the big leagues this year, but he could be in the Twins’ starting rotation in the future. Between High-A and Double-A this year, he’s combined for 115 1/3 innings with a 1.87 ERA and 109:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

3. They’re willing to buy prospects

I never heard exactly how much money changed hands in the Braves-Twins Garcia trade. What it looks like to me, from the outside looking in, is that the twins were willing to send money both ways in the two trades. They effectively paid money (a non-capped resource) for prospects (a hot and limited commodity).

Consider that the agreed to pay salary for Garcia in the trade with the Braves. That allowed them, theoretically, give up a lesser prospect than they would have had to part with for the Braves to pay Garcia’s salary. There’s a transaction cost there, and my personal belief is that money is the more expendable resource in this game.

The Twins traded Huascar Ynoa, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic who is still pitching in Rookie ball, in exchange for Garcia and the catcher mentioned earlier, Recker. It’s possible that Ynoa becomes a future rotation stalwart in Atlanta. But for now, he’s a lottery ticket with a wide range of outcomes, from “ace” to “bust.” I don’t know where he’ll settle on that continuum, but either way, he’s a few years away from that future portrait.

Littell, on the other hand, is a 21-year-old prospect who’s reached Double-A. He’s closer to realizing whatever his future potential will be. If you like Ynoa better as a prospect, that’s fine. He might have a higher potential than Littell at this point. (As in, what will he be if he becomes the best version of himself as a pitcher.) Littell’s range of outcomes, it seems, are narrower than Ynoa’s. Since he’s in Double-A at age 21, it’s less likely that he’ll be a “bust.” He’ll probably pitch in the Majors in the next couple years. So if you’re comparing these two pitchers in a vacuum, maybe the Twins thought they were trading a higher upside for a little more certainty, a little more proximity to the Majors, anyway.

Of course, either or both pitchers could get hurt, because pitchers get hurt.

It’s just interesting to me that on both sides of the ledger – whether they were adding a win-now pitcher in Garcia, or sending him out for future value – the Twins were willing to add money to the deal. It shows a willingness to trade a plentiful resource (money) for a scarce resource (in this case, pitching talent). To me, that’s an interesting strategy from the front office, and it says good things about ownership to be willing to make that kind of transaction.

In summary…

It felt a little bit at times these past 8 months that the 2017 Twins are trying hard to be the 2012 Cubs – the first season that Theo Epstein took over the show in Chicago’s North Side. The Cubs that year basically told their fans “we’re going to suck but please trust us that it’s going to get better.” The Twins, on the other hand, have basically said, “I don’t know, we’ll see!”

I don’t intend to take the comparison between the two situations any further than that. (The Cubs won 61 games that first year, 66 the following year, then 73 wins, 97 wins and an NLCS appearance, and finally 103 wins and a World Series championship. It’s safe to say that they weren’t actively trying to win in the early years.)

I’m not sure where the road will end for the Twins. But objectively, I do think that now the system has more talent – especially pitching talent – than it had at this time a year ago.

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