There’s been no denying that Rocco Baldelli needs additional arms at the back of his bullpen. Whether it’s Wes Johnson or Pete Maki helping to set up the pecking order, it’s basically been pray on Jhoan Duran or hope for rain. Griffin Jax has stepped up, and Tyler Duffey has even trended in the right direction. Emilio Pagan has been a flop though, and Caleb Thielbar hasn’t posted numbers in line with his metrics.
In Jorge Lopez, Minnesota gets an All-Star reliever that owns a miniscule 1.68 ERA along with a 2.99 FIP. His 10.1 K/9 will immediately be among the best in Minnesota’s bullpen, and his 19 saves reflect an ability to pitch in high leverage. Lopez may be ripe for some small regression as his xERA sits at 2.99 and his xFIP is 3.10. Both marks would be a substantial upgrade for the Twins unit, however.
What we know about this version of Lopez presents a smaller sample size. He was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals in 2020. Even with the stellar 2022, his career ERA sits at 5.51. With a career 35.6% hard hit rate, the 19.8% mark he’s posted in 2022 stands out as a massive leap forward.
The major difference for Lopez is that he’s now working out of the pen rather than starting. He has jumped his average fastball velocity nearly two mph to 97.4 mph this season. Instead of continuing to throw a traditional fastball though, Lopez now has become primarily a sinker-curveball pitcher with the two offerings combining to dominate more than 70% of his arsenal.
Minnesota is taking a gamble on 48 1/3 innings being reflective of who Lopez is now, which is to say one of baseball’s best relievers, but they’ll have time to see him settle in as well. Rentals aren’t of significant interest to the Twins during this deadline, and Lopez isn’t a free agent until 2025.
Grabbing a reliever like this would always come with a relatively substantial cost. Minnesota was forced to part with 2021 3rd round pick Cade Povich. Drafted out of Nebraska, Povich is seen as a mid-to-back-end starter. The 4.46 ERA at High-A Cedar Rapids isn’t shiny, but he’s got a gaudy 12.2 K/9 and has allowed just 3.0 BB/9. Probably a bit underrated on Minnesota prospect lists, he has looked the part of a very solid selection.
Providing some Major League-ready talent to Baltimore as well, Minnesota is sending Cuban Yennier Cano. Signed back in 2019 as an international free agent, Cano is now 28-years-old. The stuff has played wonderfully for him at Triple-A St. Paul, where he owns a 1.90 ERA across 23 2/3 innings. His 9.5 K/9 there also is something to be excited about translating. Unfortunately he’s been hit around in less-than-deal spots when called up to the Twins, and has routinely been on the shuttle back and forth across town. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Norfolk for the Orioles, but a consistent pen role the rest of the way could help him to settle in.
Completing the deal is 18-year-old Juan Rojas and 21-year-old Juan Nunez. Rojas is a lefty making his stateside debut this season in the Florida Complex League. He owns a 3.60 ERA across 30 innings and owns an impressive 38/4 K/BB. Nunez is right-handed, also making his stateside debut, and owns a 4.85 ERA across 29 2/3 innings. While he’s given up more hits and run production, Nunez also has an impressive 47/10 K/BB while allowing just two homers.
It’s hard not to see this deal as a win for both sides in significantly different ways. Trading a closer when you’re not seriously in contention makes a good deal of sense. The Orioles are working with found money in that their acquisition cost of Lopes was nothing more than a waiver claim. Minnesota then gets an arm that can immediately slot into the back end of their bullpen and help to shore up among the biggest deficiencies for this club.
Povich is absolutely the headliner here, and he could wind up being something similar to Josh Winder or Bailey Ober. At least a couple of years from that promise, tying him to two complete lottery tickets and a project in Cano, there’s no reason the Twins should have any questions about looking back on this one. Should Lopez continue development as a reliever with the Minnesota coaching staff, he’ll be an easy candidate to tender deals to each of the next two winters.
What is your assessment of this trade?