Brusdar Graterol's Strange Journey: What Did We Learn?
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsGraterol was freshly of legal drinking age when he joined the Twins last season, so it's only fitting he brought the Fireballs. His average fastball velocity of 99.0 MPH registered as fifth-highest for anyone who threw in the majors. Watching Graterol establish himself at the highest level, flashing boyish enthusiasm while pumping heaters past big-league stars, was a pure delight.
Naturally, I was very eager to see Graterol work his rare magic once again this year, potentially over an entire season (and deeper playoff run). That's why I supported the decision to keep him in the bullpen – it was a win-now move, which this franchise has historically shied away from.
Ironically, Graterol has now been dealt in an even bolder win-now move. With Maeda, the Twins get an established quantity, whose impact on the 2020 team far exceeds what could've realistically been expected from Graterol as a 60-inning reliever. But in making this swap, the Twins are losing a very unique player and special person whose story is yet to be written.
So while I'm excited about Maeda, I do find myself rueing Graterol's loss as the reality of his exit hits.
THE GOLDEN ARM
Los Angeles seems a great fit for Graterol. The Dodgers are a storied franchise, and among the top two or three 2020 World Series favorites – especially with Mookie Betts in the fold. But their bullpen could use a boost.
Formerly elite closer Kenley Jansen has seen a bit of a slide in recent years and is 32. Hard-throwing hothead Joe Kelly, signed to a big deal last offseason, was a disappointment in Year 1. Graterol joins Julio Urias as premium young arms infusing this staff with exhilarating upside. Jansen is under contract through 2021, so the Dodgers closer gig figures to be up for grabs then if not sooner. That's a prestigious (and, as Jansen has shown, lucrative) title.
It's also possible the Dodgers could try moving Graterol back into a starting role. But that's not happening this year, and now seems unlikely in general.
VALIDITY OF INJURY CONCERNS?
Under the original agreement, Graterol would've been heading to Boston, which itself wasn't a bad fit. As to why the Red Sox soured on the deal and reneged at the last moment, we don't know, and may never know. Some have insinuated it was fueled partially by negative public backlash, but the official account holds that a final review of the pitcher's medicals convinced Boston he's destined to stay in the bullpen, thus altering their asset valuation.
It's really unfortunate that Graterol's health – perfectly fine from all outward signs – came under scrutiny in this process. He battled hard to come back from shoulder soreness last summer, delivering in a huge way into October and finishing on a high note. So, to now have his outlook downplayed by subjective evaluations from Boston's staff has gotta be frustrating.
Then again, from the moment it came to light that Minnesota was willing to trade the top pitching prospect in any kind of deal, implications regarding their own assessments of Graterol were plain to see.
The Red Sox apparently reached a similar conclusion upon closer review of his medicals. They are entitled to their opinion, and while it really sucks this all got aired publicly, I'm not sure Boston's new GM Chaim Bloom is deserving of animosity. With an edict from on high to trade Betts, he's trying to make the best of an ugly situation.
The idea that this was a PR-driven course correction doesn't hold water to me. By opting out on Graterol, the Red Sox instead ended up subbing in shortstop Jeter Downs as the second talent received behind centerpiece Alex Verdugo. Downs is, according to most lists, a moderately better prospect than Graterol, but ... enough to meaningfully move the needle on fan sentiment? He's barely played above Single-A.
There's no such thing as a satisfactory return when trading a Mookie Betts, but Graterol is hardly unexciting. Red Sox fans just watched him blow away Yankees hitters in the playoffs at age 21 a few months ago. They weren't being asked to dream on some fanciful long-term project.
So, Boston got spooked on Graterol's medicals. Okay. And while the Dodgers were clearly less spooked, they weren't willing to make the same one-on-one swap that was originally planned. Los Angeles added in $10 million (meaningless to them) and a low-level prospect to extract more value from Minnesota, in the form of outfield prospect Luke Raley and (more critically) the 67th pick in this year's draft.
Based on what we can ascertain from the outside, Graterol alone would've been a fair return for Maeda, if not a bit of a heavy give by Minnesota. The Red Sox initially reached that conclusion. After seeing more files and records, their valuation changed, and LA also needed a bit extra to make it happen.
I think we can conclude, based on all of this, that there is a more valid basis for concern about Graterol's arm holding up than before this whole fiasco started. But you know what? The human body is an unpredictable construct. David Price, also heading to the Dodgers as part of a (now separate) trade with Boston, seems a relevant example to cite; he's been skirting Tommy John surgery for his entire career thanks to his "very unique" elbow. Sometimes red flags just flap in the wind endlessly.
There's a perfectly good chance Graterol goes on to enjoy a healthy career with no abnormal incidence of arm issues. But one thing does crystal-clear: he won't be doing it as a starter.
WHAT NOW FOR THE TWINS BULLPEN?
Graterol was a dynamic weapon and his absence is a negative for the bullpen picture. Duh. Then again, we hadn't been definitively planning around him as a reliever up until a couple weeks ago, and the Twins looked plenty strong on that front beforehand.
Even without Graterol, Minnesota still has proven late-inning firepower in Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May. There's steady veteran support from Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard. A promising project in Matt Wisler. Ready young contributors in Zack Littell and Cody Stashak.
This unit is not hurting for options, who have earned their chances. And in Fernando Romero, the Twins still have a forgotten flamethrower on hand whose raw stuff is nearly as formidable as Graterol's.
That Minnesota possessed the depth to part with a talent of Graterol's caliber speaks to the job this front office has done building a robust bullpen and pitching pipeline. (Don't be shocked if hard-throwing righty Jhoan Duran becomes this year's version of the 2019 Brusdar.)
None of this changes the fact that losing Graterol hurts, and the pain will likely resonate over the years as the phenom gets chances to shine on the biggest stage – probably while exhibiting the same boyish grin we came to love during our short time with him. But those are the sacrifices the Twins needed to make in the same pursuit.
There's a decent chance, I think, that the 2020 journeys of Graterol and the Twins will ultimately converge at the same place: a World Series in late October. Both teams involved in this trade are counting on it.
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