Minnesota Twins: After one season, the Maeda Trade looks like a Win-Win

The Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers have seen a full season pass by since they made one of the biggest trades of the offseason. It’s worked out well.

On February 10, 2020 the Minnesota Twins made a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where they gave up young, flame-throwing pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol and Luke Raley in exchange for veteran starter Kenta Maeda and Jair Camargo, one of the biggest trades the Twins have made in a while.

This trade will be remembered for a big reason: Graterol was supposed to go to the Boston Red Sox originally as part of a rare three-team trade. Here was the original deal:

  • Superstar Mookie Betts and solid starter with massive contract David Price would go from the Red Sox to Los Angeles.
  • Boston would get Graterol from the Twins and Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers.
  • Minnesota gets Kenta Maeda.

The Red Sox were harassed for this deal (and rightfully so) for getting so little for Betts. Because of the public berating (and a concern about Graterol not being a starter…which they should have already known). They asked for more prospects from the Twins, and the Twins left the deal.

Eventually the Red Sox and Dodgers got a deal done, but more importantly, the Twins and Dodgers made a deal themselves. The biggest point to take away from all this is that this trade was a rare win-win for everyone involved.

For a win-win situation to happen, both sides needed to have a hole to be plugged and some surplus value at another to give both teams the balance they were looking for. That happened for both sides here, so let’s break it down.

 

Minnesota Twins

Brusdar Graterol of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the New York Yankees. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Why the Minnesota Twins made the deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers

The Twins had formed an impressive bullpen in 2019, even before Graterol entered the picture in September, but Graterol was expected to be a welcome addition. Graterol’s incredible heat was something the Twins had never had. He was an extremely hyped prospect (who had starter potential before injury) who was turning into one of the best relief prospects in baseball.

The thing that made Graterol expendable for the Twins was that while Graterol has an impressive skillset, the team had other hard throwers on the way (like Jorge Alcala). It’s not that the Twins thought Graterol wasn’t a good player, but rather that they believed the value of having a starter like Maeda outweighed another piece in the bullpen that they already felt confident in.

It’s a lot easier and cheaper to find relievers than it is to get a starting pitcher at the caliber of Maeda who boasts years of success and postseason experience. This made the Twins feel comfortable enough to make a trade.

 

Minnesota Twins

Kenta Maeda of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out Yan Gomes of the Washington Nationals. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Why the Los Angeles Dodgers made the deal with the Minnesota Twins

The Dodgers had the opposite problem. With a rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buhler who were followed by several top prospects, the team was fairly loaded in that group. Because of this, Maeda began seeing less time as a starter and more as a long reliever/bullpen option, especially in the playoffs, something Maeda wasn’t happy with.

There are some conflicting reports, but it’s been said Maeda told viewers on his YouTube channel in February he had requested a trade from the Dodgers. The Dodgers, on the other hand, said they knew of his desire to be a starter but that he never officially asked to be dealt. Regardless, it looked like a change of scenery was on the way.

 

Minnesota Twins

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Brusdar Graterol pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

How the Trade has worked out for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers since

Since Maeda made his Minnesota Twins debut in July, he’s been the solid ace the staff needed. The 60 game season might be a small sample size, but he set career records in ERA, strikeout percentage and career lows in exit velocity and launch angle.

His efforts led him to be named a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award. While he ended up finishing second behind Bieber (who had a historically great year), he’s the first Twins pitcher to be a Cy Young finalist since Johan Santana in 2006.

The Twins didn’t just trade for Maeda to be a staff ace and veteran leader though. They needed a guy who could handle the pressure of pitching in October. He was as good as advertised, even if the Twins weren’t.

In his lone playoff start in 2020, Maeda didn’t skip a beat. He was in-control all 5 innings, giving up no runs and only 2 hits with five strikeouts. A case could be made that he should have gone longer into the game, but when he was on the mound, he was truly excellent.

The best part? The price to gain Kenta Maeda (who put together the best season by a starter that anyone has had in a Twins uniform since 2006) was a reliever with some upside. That feels like a win.

For the Dodgers, Graterol stepped right into their bullpen and quickly became a key piece for a group that ended up winning the World Series. In his first “full” big league season, Graterol logged over 23 inning with an ERA just over 3 and 13 strikeouts. He kept that momentum in the postseason where he appeared in 9 games and only gave up 3 runs in over 7 innings.

This feels like a perfect deal for the Dodgers. After making the Betts trade, L.A. needed to save money and wanted to use their young elite arms more. They gave up an arm they wouldn’t use for a very good set-up option, then won a World Series. That’s a win. The Twins gave up an extra bullpen arm for an ace with leadership and postseason experience. That’s a win.

On top of all this, both players aren’t going anywhere either. As a rookie in 2020, Graterol won’t be eligible for free agency until 2026 at the earliest. Maeda on the other hand is still under contract through the 2023 season, making just $4.3 million annually (the deal is loaded with incentives).

Trades have an interesting perspective in sports, as they are almost always seen as zero-sum games. While one-sided trades are out there, this one wasn’t it. There was no loser who got robbed blind (like the Red Sox). Both teams became better after this trade, making it a true win-win.