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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Brandon Kintzler trade is the right kind of deal for the Twins

The Twins had a productive day before Monday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline. They sent Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals for a pitching prospect and a half-million bucks of allotted money that they can spend on international free agents. It was the right kind of move for a franchise that’s not yet ready to make the next big jump and win a postseason series.

Monday’s move didn’t signal that the Twins were sellers. That pronouncement came the day earlier, when the team announced it had traded starter Jaime Garcia to the Yankees for a couple minor league pitchers. You didn’t need to wait until Monday’s deadline to know that the 2017 Twins were folding up the tents.

This column presents 5 thoughts on Monday’s trade deadline for the Twins.

1. With a few exceptions, the 2017 season has played out about as well as the front office could have hoped.

I wrote about that thought in my Saturday morning column, in which I suggested it was time for the Twins to throw in the towel after four months of mostly competitive baseball.

That opinion got a little more credence in the past two days, with Minnesota sending Kintzler and Jaime Garcia, free-agents-to-be, to teams vying for the postseason. To some fans (and no doubt some players) there’s a sting to the concession that this team simply isn’t good enough to invest in its improvement. And if you’re not good enough to add win-now players for prospects, then you’d better be selling, because the other contenders around you are busy getting better before the deadline. There’s a real opportunity cost, in other words, for simply hanging onto a guy like Kintzler, and the Twins front office apparently wasn’t willing to pay that price, either, in a long-shot attempt to make up a 7-game deficit in the American League Central.

Here’s what I wrote Saturday:

If you take the long view with this Twins’ rebuilding project, perhaps this season has represented about the best-case scenario. Miguel Sano and J.O. 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 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.

Given the current standings, adding to this team probably would have been a mistake. If they were 2.5 games out, though, to “sell” would have been horribly unpopular decision among the team’s fan base. The recent slide and subsequent hot streaks for Cleveland and Kansas City make that decision a bit more palatable, I think.

2. The Twins sold, but it was more of a garage sale than an estate sale.

They traded two guys who will be free agents this winter. Heck, one or both of them could be re-signed this winter, if the Twins wanted to explore that path.

There were a couple other players that I was extra curious about Monday, and those were players that are under contract for next season. Ervin Santana’s name was in the rumor mill this summer, last winter and last summer. That’s what happens when you’re a competent starting pitcher working for roughly a market-rate contract and posting a sub-3.50 ERA on a losing team.

Ditto for Brian Dozier, whose name filled headlines on rumor aggregation websites this offseason –as much or more than any other player who didn’t actually get traded.

So, if you’re bummed about the Twins selling pieces, you can take some solace in the fact that they’re only giving up on 2017. The 2018 season still figures to be a competitive one. And to that end, you’d expect to see the front office address some needs this winter in free agency or through additional trades.

Someone framed it to me this way Monday, and I’m paraphrasing: In theory, if you were trying to win in 2018 and Ervin Santana was a free agent, would you sign him for one year and $13.5 million (with an option year)? Same question for Dozier. Is he worth one year and $9 million if he’s a free agent this winter?

I think the answer on Dozier is yes, even if he won’t hit 42 home runs again this season. If the Santana contract looks steep to you for a 35-year-old guy with a career 4.06 ERA in the American League, consider that 37-year-old Rich Hill (career 4.01 ERA) signed with the Dodgers last winter for 3 years and $48 million.

So anyway, the two trades this week show the guys who run the Twins are giving up on this year. But they’re not ready to do the same on next year.

3. With the closer now out of town, the natural question is: Who closes now?

My short answer to that question is that it doesn’t really matter. What does it matter who pitches at the end of games if the goal isn’t to win as many games as possible this season? Sure, the guys left in the clubhouse – and the manager – are likely interested in giving this thing their best go the rest of the way. That’s the professional and respectable thing to do. But whether you miss the postseason by one game or 20 games, the end result is the same. (For the record: I’m not suggesting tanking the rest of the schedule to earn a better draft pick or anything. It’s just that on the list of things to worry about for the Twins as a franchise, the guy closing games for the final two months of this season wouldn’t even make my list.)

With that said, somebody has to pitch at the end of games. I guess I’d be surprised, given the roster’s current construction, if one person was assigned that duty. Even Kintzler emerged from a close-by-committee approach after Glen Perkins got hurt and Kevin Jepsen flamed out in the role.

Taylor Rogers had been the primary setup man in front of Kintzler. He was having an excellent year but this past week has been a rotten one for the lefty.

Trevor Hildenberger has looked good in his limited opportunities this season, including some big outs Sunday against the A’s with a nasty changeup.

Glen Perkins is on the comeback trail. I don’t know if his shoulder will ever fully recover to allow him to be the pitcher he was pre-injury, but if he gets close, you could see him with the Twins, and maybe closing games.

Matt Belisle is a veteran pitcher and has been better lately after a disastrous start to the season out of the bullpen.

Ryan Pressly has the best stuff of the group, in my opinion, but he hasn’t gotten the job done this year in lower-leverage roles. If you had asked me in spring training who would take the closer’s role if Kintzler was traded, I would have said Pressly. Now that seems like a stretch.

Deep sleeper: John Curtiss has had a terrific year in the minor leagues, and his stats make him look like a future contributor for the Twins. But it’d be really hard to imagine Minnesota calling up a reliever and asking him to close games for them.

If you’re worried about the fact that the Twins don’t have an experienced closing option, consider their previous closers. Kintzler was a minor league signing who was invited to Twins spring training last year. Before that, Perkins was a failed starter before transforming into one of the most successful closers in Twins history. And his predecessor, Joe Nathan, was a shortstop-turned-starting-pitcher-turned-All-Star-closer. The short point is that closing experience can at times be overrated.

4. The Twins quietly added 4 pitching prospects to their system, which looks stronger today than it did two weeks ago.

You might look at this trade deadline for the Twins from afar and not think too much of it. The takeaway for me is that you can never have too much pitching. At least that appears to be the belief of Twins CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine.

The prospect they got from the Nationals, Tyler Watson, is interesting. He’s 20 years old and still in low-A ball, so he’s got a ways to go before he makes it to the big leagues. Maybe he never will. Maybe he’ll be great. There’s a wide range of possible outcomes. If you consider a guy like Watson to be a lottery ticket, then the Twins are buying them in bulk to increase their odds of hitting the big one.

With the Nats’ A-ball affiliate this year, Watson has a 4.35 ERA in 93 innings, mostly as a starter. He’s got a 98:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is pretty good. According to numbers from Baseball America, that translates to a 25% strikeout rate and a 6.1% walk rate. You can’t just fast forward a couple years and expect to plunk those same numbers into a Major League rotation, but early minor leagues success is, of course, a good thing.

Baseball America ranked him the 27th best prospect in the Nationals’ system this winter. MLB.com had him at No. 17 before the trade to the Twins. MLB.com has already slotted him in as No. 18 in the Twins’ farm system. I try not to get too hung up in individual rankings. He’s a good pitching prospect — but not one of Washington’s best — in the eyes of those evaluators, anyway.

And he’s not the only prospect added to the ranks this week. The Twins paid something like $4 million of Jaime Garcia’s remaining salary so that the Yankees could get him at a better price – and so the Twins could raise their asking price on the caliber of prospect in return.

They got pitchers Zack Littell (No. 16 in the system, per MLB.com) and Dietrich Enns from the Yankees for 2 months of Garcia and some cash.

And don’t forget that since the Twins got a minor league catcher (Anthony Recker) from the Braves in the original Jaime Garcia trade, they were freed up to flip catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Diamondbacks for an intriguing reliever prospect, Gabriel Moya.

That’s four young pitchers the Twins didn’t have two weeks ago. And all for the cost of giving up on this season, selling two months of Kintzler closing games, paying Jaime Garcia’s checks, and swapping minor league catchers from Murphy to Recker. It’s subtle, but it might matter in a few years.

Touch ’em All podcast: Twins trade deadline extravaganza!

5. Brandon Kintzler was feeding a rhino when he found out he’d been traded.

At least, that’s what the former Twins closer told MLB Network Radio shortly after the deal was announced. The Twins had an off day in San Diego following a series in Oakland, and I guess Kintzler was on a safari?

Just a foot note in the great story of a career. A career that almost ended twice and took Kintzler through independent baseball, where players tend to be forgotten unless they’re exceptional. Kintzler had some decent years in Milwaukee, but then he latched on with the Twins on a minor league deal last year. All he did was wait his turn, then pounce on the closer’s role when it was offered to him, and he never let up.

He has the kind of story you share with young ballplayers when you’re trying to get a point through about perseverance.

Monday must have been a bittersweet afternoon for Kintzler. On one hand, he’s now headed to the postseason on a run-away division winner, where he ought to get the chance to pitch in important situations in the postseason. On the other hand, the word I heard is that Kintzler was sad to leave Minnesota, the team that gave him a real opportunity last year when apparently few believed in him.

He rewarded that faith over the past year, and exceeded even the most optimistic expectations during his time in a Twins uniform.

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Previous Story Twins trade Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals for a pitching prospect Next Story Zulgad: Shortsighted will complain but Twins’ new brass made right moves