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Brusdar Graterol's Strange Journey: What Did We Learn?

First we thought he was gone. Then, we weren't so sure. At one point it looked like he definitely was going to stay.

But once the dust had settled at the end of the weekend, Brusdar Graterol was indeed shipped out, sent to Los Angeles in a trade for veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda. (Obligatory: Pending physicals.)

So what have we learned from this whole ordeal, and what is the fallout?
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Graterol 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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46 Comments

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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 10 2020 10:40 AM

I fully expect Maeda to go about 2 1/3 in his first start just so Twins fans can go bat$*** crazy and then he'll settle into a nice groove like Pineda did last season that too few noticed. I like the move and Maeda starts will be more important than any relievers appearances.

Especially given the Twins bullpen. Graterol is a great arm but the Twins already have a BUNCH of really good arms in the bullpen.

What the Twins *don’t* have is a bunch of really good arms in the rotation and while Maeda isn’t the sexiest target in baseball, adding a fourth guy that slots in with similar numbers to Odorizzi, Pineda, and maybe even Berrios is a pretty big deal over 162 games. The Twins now have a solidly above average rotation and that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because they didn’t go out and get a flashy name.
    • SQUIRREL, Twins33, Riverbrian and 3 others like this

Especially given the Twins bullpen. Graterol is a great arm but the Twins already have a BUNCH of really good arms in the bullpen.

What the Twins *don’t* have is a bunch of really good arms in the rotation and while Maeda isn’t the sexiest target in baseball, adding a fourth guy that slots in with similar numbers to Odorizzi, Pineda, and maybe even Berrios is a pretty big deal over 162 games. The Twins now have a solidly above average rotation and that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because they didn’t go out and get a flashy name.

Out of all the teams in the AL that won more than 73 last year a total of 8 I still think your pitching would rank 8th among those 8. Against 4 bad teams you were 31 games above .500. I'm wondering how well the Yankees or Dodgers AAA team would have done against the Tigers, Royals, White Sox and Orioles.

But it kind of reminds me of the days where pitchers like Johnson and Clemens were averaging 97 on their fastballs.

eh? eh?

There are 83 HOF pitchers. If you can average 95 Mph until you are in your late 30's you are going to the HOF unless they won't vote for you because you use PEDs. Clemons had a down year or two with the Red Sox and then miraculously he's winning Cy Youngs again after going to the Blue Jays and Yankees.
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Nick Nelson
Feb 10 2020 04:34 PM

 

Out of all the teams in the AL that won more than 73 last year a total of 8 I still think your pitching would rank 8th among those 8. Against 4 bad teams you were 31 games above .500. I'm wondering how well the Yankees or Dodgers AAA team would have done against the Tigers, Royals, White Sox and Orioles.

The Yankees went 17-2 against Baltimore so let's not act like they didn't have their own similar advantage. The notion that Minnesota lost to the Yankees in the ALDS because NYY's pitching was wildly better is not really supported by any evidence. 

    • Brock Beauchamp, Riverbrian, DocBauer and 1 other like this
Here's what I think the Dodgers game plan with Price and Graterol is. After all, Dodger pitching since the 1940's is by far the best in baseball during the regular season. I miss the McCourts fighting over their divorce while the Dodgers declined. Oh, the Dodgers lose a lot of deciding last games of the regular season and many last games of the postseason.

The Dodgers don't believe they are getting a subpar David Price. Have him start 20 games in Dodger Stadium and San Diego's ballpark and see if the Dodgers don't win 112 games this year. You will have to outpitch the Dodgers in the postseason.

Now as far as Graterol, it looks like they want him to start eventually. He starts and say wins 16 games with a good WHIP and ERA they will re-evaluate and perhaps trade him before losing him to 2 years with arm problems and rehab. The Dodgers can develop or buy or trade for pitching. Better to trade a pitcher one year too early than a year too late.

Could the Dodgers trade off Price after a great year with 2 years left? Will they get to keep the Red Sox money?

The Yankees went 17-2 against Baltimore so let's not act like they didn't have their own similar advantage. The notion that Minnesota lost to the Yankees in the ALDS because NYY's pitching was wildly better is not really supported by any evidence.

They were 14-5 against the World Champion Red Sox as the Sox won 84.

Someone mentioned the Pirates were similar in the NL Central. But, the Pirates were only 2.5 out at the ASG break one game below .500 before losing 93 games. Only the Marlins were awful the entire season.

 

Do we really know that it "took a toll" on Graterol? I guess it was revealed that one team expressed skepticism about his medicals, which might be weird but hardly surprising. No real details were leaked about those medicals. Being traded in general is probably a bit of a weird experience, especially the first time, but I wouldn't necessarily describe it as "taking a toll". On the positive side, Graterol saw that two powerhouse organizations were both interested in his services, which might be a bit of an ego boost.

 

Also, I'm guessing it was more chaos among media and fans than with the teams and players. The Twins likely informed Graterol of the deal when it was first announced and kept him updated on the process. The process wasn't even that long when you think about it -- yes, longer than the average trade, but it appears the teams agreed in principle on Tuesday evening, spent Wednesday reviewing medicals, Thursday and Friday renegotiating based on those medicals, Saturday the original configuration of the deal was abandoned, then on Sunday all parties came to new agreements. Considering it's still technically the offseason, that's hardly an egregious timeline.

 

If Graterol pitches well... He will be fine. He will control his fate through performance. The front offices around the league will determine his value ultimately and if he pitches well he will be fine. 

 

However, of course it took a toll on the kid. 

 

He's famous now. Pulled out of the darkness and branded fragile for all to see. The press and fan base will play the fragile card every time he hits the DL. Yes, players need to learn to ignore this stuff because it's always out there but this turns the amp up to 11. The louder the amp, the harder it is to not hear it. 

 

If he pitches well... he will be fine. But, I won't minimize the damage done. 

    • SQUIRREL and Vanimal46 like this

The Yankees went 17-2 against Baltimore so let's not act like they didn't have their own similar advantage. The notion that Minnesota lost to the Yankees in the ALDS because NYY's pitching was wildly better is not really supported by any evidence.


We sure had a hard time hitting them in that series.
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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 10 2020 07:26 PM

 

Out of all the teams in the AL that won more than 73 last year a total of 8 I still think your pitching would rank 8th among those 8.

And you'd be wrong. The Rangers had a team ERA nearly one full run higher than the Twins last season. Boston was half a run higher.

 

The Twins had a deceptively competent pitching staff last season.

 

They had the second highest pitching staff fWAR and the third lowest FIP in the American League.

    • Nick Nelson, DocBauer and IAMNFan like this

 

Out of all the teams in the AL that won more than 73 last year a total of 8 I still think your pitching would rank 8th among those 8. Against 4 bad teams you were 31 games above .500. I'm wondering how well the Yankees or Dodgers AAA team would have done against the Tigers, Royals, White Sox and Orioles.

 

The 5 worst records in the AL:

Tigers

Orioles

Royals

Blue Jays

Mariners 

 

Against those 5 teams:

Twins were 43-15

Yankees were 42-16

 

If you insist on substituting the Blue Jays and Mariners for the White Sox to make your point. 

 

OK... The Yankees were 3-4 against the White Sox, which doesn't speak well for the Yankees, and it should also be pointed out that the Yankees went 13-13 against the WEAK WEAK AL Central. 

 

However, this isn't your point. Your point is that you believe the Twins have the worst rotation out of Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, Indians, Astros, A's and Rangers.

 

You could be right but you are going to have to try something else in order to slide it past us.:)

If Graterol pitches well... He will be fine. He will control his fate through performance. The front offices around the league will determine his value ultimately and if he pitches well he will be fine.

However, of course it took a toll on the kid.

He's famous now. Pulled out of the darkness and branded fragile for all to see. The press and fan base will play the fragile card every time he hits the DL. Yes, players need to learn to ignore this stuff because it's always out there but this turns the amp up to 11. The louder the amp, the harder it is to not hear it.

If he pitches well... he will be fine. But, I won't minimize the damage done.


It’s sad, RB. You’re right and this all happened out of his control. He didn’t ask to be traded, nor did he ever want leaked information his medical report, whatever it contained, that caused Bloom to get cold feet...
    • Riverbrian likes this

The 5 worst records in the AL:
Tigers
Orioles
Royals
Blue Jays
Mariners

Against those 5 teams:
Twins were 43-15
Yankees were 42-16

If you insist on substituting the Blue Jays and Mariners for the White Sox to make your point.

OK... The Yankees were 3-4 against the White Sox, which doesn't speak well for the Yankees, and it should also be pointed out that the Yankees went 13-13 against the WEAK WEAK AL Central.

However, this isn't your point. Your point is that you believe the Twins have the worst rotation out of Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, Indians, Astros, A's and Rangers.

You could be right but you are going to have to try something else in order to slide it past us. :)

The Rangers added Corey Kluber and your former pitcher Kyle Gibson. I don't think Kluber is finished as he turns 34 in April.

I'm not entirely sold on Pineda as he accidentally swallowed a masking agent. He was recovering from an arm injury which effected his 2017 season and he missed all of 2018. His 2016 season for the Yankees was bad.

And I don't think you can count on the worst SP in the NL for 3 years and last year in mid-August his ERA was 5.5. The last month he was pitching every 6 days and he vastly improved. Took years to do so. And an experimental procedure on 40 year Rich Hill who will need sometime to heal and stretch his arm?

Minors need to keep producing a starting pitcher one or more a year.

The Rangers won only 78 last year so they were allowing more runs than giving up.

 

The Rangers added Corey Kluber and your former pitcher Kyle Gibson. I don't think Kluber is finished as he turns 34 in April.

I'm not entirely sold on Pineda as he accidentally swallowed a masking agent. He was recovering from an arm injury which effected his 2017 season and he missed all of 2018. His 2016 season for the Yankees was bad.

And I don't think you can count on the worst SP in the NL for 3 years and last year in mid-August his ERA was 5.5. The last month he was pitching every 6 days and he vastly improved. Took years to do so. And an experimental procedure on 40 year Rich Hill who will need sometime to heal and stretch his arm?

Minors need to keep producing a starting pitcher one or more a year.

 

And the Rays only have 3 starters.

 

Here's the deal... I'm not the type to drown in subjective opinions. I won't agree or disagree with your opinion.  

 

Personally, I'm not counting on anybody's pitching until the pitching can be counted. I'll know more as the season progresses.:)

 

I just happened to disagree with your original methodology. 

What did we learn?

Everything is fluid.

Graterol, with a lightening arm, is a TANTALIZING prospect! To think, even for a moment, that the Twins didn't like him is foolish. And he is talented enough, and young enough, that if nurtured and brought down the right path, he might yet turn out to be a good to fantastic SP. If he does, the Twins don't look so great here. At worst, he could be a good to great BP arm.

And I am NOT disparaging Graterol or hoping for poor results or a poor career from him. But I was recently reminded about Prior and Alex Meyer. Prior had the perfect build, the perfect delivery, and was the next can't miss stud All Star, Ace, possible HOF SP. And he was done by about 25yo. Meyer was imperfect, but had real top of the rotation potential. There were even crazy comparisons as to him being a RH Randy Johnson given time.

You just never know. Initially, after some setbacks, limited IP, the Twins decided Graterol, for NOW at least, felt he was a quality pen pitcher. Only time will tell if they were wrong. Other scouts and experts felt this would be his role. Maybe Graterol proves everyone wrong and becomes a stud.

But TODAY, he is not. TODAY he is a lightening armed young pitcher with potential. And sometimes you give up potential and hope for something more proven and substantial and hope it turns out. The Twins did that.

There was a reason Maeda couldn't crack the Dodgers starting rotation when eveyone was healthy. He just is not much for a #3 prospect. I know they got a bit more, but the Dodgers got Raley back too. I hate this trade. An innings eater for a star prospect that is ready for the show and to be the next Kenley Jansen. So much for getting a great pitcher with all that money available. Damn.

 

There was a reason Maeda couldn't crack the Dodgers starting rotation when eveyone was healthy. He just is not much for a #3 prospect. I know they got a bit more, but the Dodgers got Raley back too. I hate this trade. An innings eater for a star prospect that is ready for the show and to be the next Kenley Jansen. So much for getting a great pitcher with all that money available. Damn.

 

Except that's not the reason the Dodgers kept shifting him to the bullpen: they did it because they thought he was better suited to handling it than any of their other pitchers, not that he was necessarily the worst of their starters.

 

And Raley is pretty irrelevant, unfortunately. He's 25 and hasn't played a day in MLB yet. In the Twins org he's got 2 LH OFs ahead of him trying to get a 4th OF spot in Wade & Cave, and he's already been passed in the prospect pipeline by Kirilloff and Larnach (also LH bats). For Raley to crack the roster would take something catastrophic. He's the epitome of a surplus, marginal prospect I'm afraid. 

 

You made the kenley jansen comp: which Kenley is Graterol going to be? The one in 2016 & 2017 was one of the best closers in the game and fantastically valuable. The one from the last 2 years? Trevor May has been better. My goodness, Blake Parker was better over the last 2 years than Jansen and we cut him. It's one of the dangers with relievers: their value can seriously fluctuate. Even during Jansen's peak run, he had a couple of years where he was good but not elite.

 

A good starter is more valuable than a good reliever. A good starter is about as valuable as a great closer. A good starter is more consistently valuable over time than relievers.

 

I guess if you don't think Maeda will be a good starter, period, then there's not much else to say? But the numbers and track record suggest differently. 

    • h2oface likes this

 

Except that's not the reason the Dodgers kept shifting him to the bullpen: they did it because they thought he was better suited to handling it than any of their other pitchers, not that he was necessarily the worst of their starters.

Looking at the Dodgers rotations entering the postseason each year from 2017-2019, it does look like Maeda was no better than 6th best performing SP.

 

Now, that may be due more to Dodgers SP depth than any failing on Maeda's part -- he's certainly better than virtually every 6th or even 5th SP around the league, so I wouldn't dismiss his value on those grounds. But his upside value is likely capped a bit by average range performance and age.

    • h2oface likes this

 

Except that's not the reason the Dodgers kept shifting him to the bullpen: they did it because they thought he was better suited to handling it than any of their other pitchers, not that he was necessarily the worst of their starters.

 

Well, I listened to (radio) and watched tons of Dodger games the last two years, and heard tons of "Dodger Talk" programs, and that is the main spin, for sure. And he wasn't the only one. Same with Ross Stripling (15 starts), who had a great run as a starter last year. Hey, the Dodgers had a very deep staff. Still will with Urias (8) and May (4) and Gonsolin (6) and Ferguson (2) coming up. But let's get real. You don't get pushed to the pen if you are one of the top four starters, unless it is for a spot inning in the post season. It was to his credit that he could handle the pen pretty well. But Maeda (26) was not one of the top 4 starters, even, but the ones that were were on the IL. Being 5,6, or 7 out of 11 that they used to start games last year is not the worst, either.

 

Blake Parker better than the last two years of Kenley? Seriously?

I won't even answer "which Kenley Jansen....."

 

 

Blake Parker better than the last two years of Kenley? Seriously?

I won't even answer "which Kenley Jansen....."

 

Blake Parker bWAR: 2018 1.0, 2019 0.3. 

Kenley Jansen bWAR: 2018 0.6, 2019 0.2

 

(the number of appearances are similar across both years)

 

I'm not saying I want Blake Parker over Kenley Jansen. My point is about how variable relief pitching can be in MLB. Jansen was one of the top relievers in the game, looked like he might be on a HoF track...and he's been just another guy the last 2 years. He might, in fact, be cooked which is one of the reasons Maeda went to the pen and why Graterol is attractive to them...but even for the Dodgers they're not loving paying a reliever $18M. Sure, he might bounce back, but it doesn't take a lot for a reliever's performance to fall off a cliff and fast.

 

Blake Parker bWAR: 2018 1.0, 2019 0.3. 

Kenley Jansen bWAR: 2018 0.6, 2019 0.2

You're right that Jansen has been mortal the past two years, and not worth $18 mil per year, but bWAR may not tell the whole story.

 

2018-2019

fWAR (Fangraphs, based on FIP)

Jansen 1.5

Parker 0.0

 

FWIW, Jansen has a notable advantage is leverage usage too (1.64 vs 1.18) -- I don't think that's a factor in fWAR, although it should be a factor at B-Ref, so I'm not sure what's going on there.

 

For fun, since I just remembered it existed:

 

WARP (Baseball Prospectus)

Jansen 3.3

Parker 0.5


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