Minnesota Twins: A look back at the 2021 Trade Deadline, One Year Later

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan throws a pitch against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at Petco Park. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan throws a pitch against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at Petco Park. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports) /

After a year of waiting, the jury is in. The Minnesota Twins won the 2021 trade deadline. During a difficult 2021 season, the Twins opted to move some of their players on expiring (or near-expiring) deals for more controllable young talent, so we wanted to take a look back at those deals today.

We look back at the 2021 Trade Deadline for the Minnesota Twins.

In the first trade, the Twins shipped ace Jose Berrios to the Toronto Blue Jays, who then proceeded to sign the pitcher to a seven-year, $131 million contract this offseason. In return for Berrios, the Twins received prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson.

Since the deal, Berrios has struggled north of the border, especially this year, posting a 4.96 ERA and zero bWAR, while the Twins appear to have made out with a good deal.

Industry opinion has shifted on Martin, amid struggles for the Wichita Wind Storm.  Prospect development isn’t linear, and not everyone pops immediately. Some biscuits need more time in the oven. Martin has the talent and pedigree to shrug off a poor season and emerge as a quality big leaguer.

Playing in AA alongside Martin, Simeon Woods Richardson has looked great, posting the best ERA (3.12) of his career. Only 21, he seems to have turned a corner, looking stronger as the season progressed.

If Woods Richardson can carry this momentum forward, expect him to be back on Top 100 lists after a year away. Whatever happens with the development of the two youngsters in Wichita, for good or for bad, the deadline is a success, because the real prize was won in an earlier deal, unbeknownst to all but the most sagacious.

Hitting .294/.370/.537, with robust 147 wRC+ (league average is 100), Nelson Cruz was playing great. An important figure in the community, clubhouse and to the fanbase, Nellie was the heart and soul of the Minnesota Twins. He was the good guy with an outstanding work ethic.

When rumors began to circulate that teams were calling about Nelson Cruz, It wasn’t much of a surprise. The Twins were floundering. At forty-one, Cruz wanted to play for a team with World Series aspirations. The Twins faithful didn’t begrudge him. The Boomstick™ wasn’t translating to wins for Minnie anyway.

The team had too many other problems. The pitching staff had an ERA like a phone number, they didn’t hit with runners in scoring position, and they were ravaged by injury. When it was announced Cruz had been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, I was happy for Nellie, even as I lamented his departure.

Baseball is a business, and it was good business to trade Nelson Cruz.  Beneficial or not, a scarcely watchable Minnesota Twins team got worse. Good for draft position, but bad for TV and team morale. It was a white flag. The Twins were tapping out. The message was loud and clear: Look towards next year.

The two pitchers Tampa swapped for Nellie, Drew Strotman and Joe Ryan, were mystery men. I had a job video editing minor league baseball that summer. I watched and edited hundreds of games, six or seven every night. Being completely honest, I was somewhat disappointed with the haul. Two pitchers I had never heard of? They should have done better.

Nelson Cruz, of course, struggled after the trade. Time had finally caught the powerful masher, for father time is indefatigable. Nellie put up a hell of a fight, but in Tampa he played old. The power remained but the hands slowed, as did his impact and production. Posting a 93 wRC+. Impressive for a baseball geriatric, but the Rays wanted the Boomstick™ and got the Blahstick.

Joe Ryan came back from the Olympics in Japan, reported to the Saint Paul Saints and promptly showed out. In two dominating starts, he struck out seventeen per nine innings, with a two ERA. The Twins had seen enough. Ryan got the call and made his Major League debut September 1st. He looked the part of a major league pitcher, ceding only three runs to the Chicago Cubs.

After he got the jitters out of the way in his first start, Joe shoved In his follow up. A seven-inning clinic against the Guardians. Ryan was confident on the mound, with poise and maturity. In complete command.

I started pricing jerseys on commercial breaks (prices are ridiculous). The Rays had parted with something good. Joe Ryan was an unusual player, and more intriguing because of it, possessing the pitching profile of a flame-throwing death dealer.

Ryan attacks the zone relentlessly, forcing the issue, pumping in fastball after fastball. If you look at his heatmap, homie doesn’t leave the strike zone. Throwing ninety-one to ninety-three, he is bottom quarter of the league velocity-wise. Based on pitch speed and location, he should get hit up and lit up. His Arm slot, release point and spin rate play up, beguiling hitters.

In just 112 Major league Innings it’s clear, the Twins won. It doesn’t matter that Strotman has looked completely lost, toiling away in AAA with an ERA north of seven. Plucking Joe Ryan and his voodoo fastball from the Rays was a coup. He alone made the Minnesota Twins clear winners at the 2021 Trade Deadline.

There is a cost. While Joe is ascending.  Nelson Cruz’s career is circling the drain. An afterthought for the Washington Nationals, Twins faithful no longer clamor for a reunion.

I wish the best for Cruz, but I can’t deny, I won’t miss him. For we fans are fickle. Love flows freely for performers. But when play wavers, the tap runs dry.  Like children, we look to the new toys. Nelson Cruz and Jose Berrios were offerings, sacrifices. We used them up and shipped them out. It’s the cycle of baseball, the cycle of life. The young devour the old.

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