MINNEAPOLIS -- March Madness may be over, but the Twins and Padres have dropped one more buzzer-beater with a major deal just hours before the deadline to set Opening Day rosters.
The Twins brought in a pair of controllable pitchers in 26-year-old starter Chris Paddack and hard-throwing reliever Emilio Pagán, who are under contract for three and two seasons, respectively. That cost them Taylor Rogers, their closer and longtime fan favorite, in addition to once-top-prospect outfielder Brent Rooker, who was set to be involved in the club's final roster crunch.
There's a player to be named heading to the Twins and cash considerations going to the Padres as part of the deal.
Twins acquire: RHP Chris Paddack, RHP Emilio Pagán, PTBNL
Padres acquire: LHP Taylor Rogers, OF Brent Rooker, cash considerations
Why this trade makes sense for the Twins
This deal builds out Minnesota's starting depth with Paddack, who was once ranked as high as the No. 5 prospect in the Padres' organization by MLB Pipeline and had a big rookie season in 2019 before regressing over the last two years, posting a 4.95 ERA in 35 appearances (34 starts) with 157 strikeouts in 167 1/3 innings.
Still, he's a controllable, young starter with upside who flashed the ability to get big league hitters out during that rookie campaign, when he had a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts. The easiest way to look at this deal for the Twins is that relievers are volatile, and Rogers is a reliever coming off an injury entering his final year before free agency who will fetch a 26-year-old former top starting prospect.
"The last couple years, we feel like [Paddack has] done some things, when you look underneath the surface on the way he’s thrown, that have been really positive," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "We’ve heard enough good things about the makeup and just a chance to add three years' control of a young starter who we still see having real upside potential was something we really had wanted to pursue a while ago."
But Rogers isn't just any reliever. It is tough for the Minnesota clubhouse to part with Rogers, who is one of the longest-tenured Twins and a clear leader of the pitching group in both his presence and his performance, which made him one of the elite relievers of the game across the last four seasons. He'll bring a career 3.15 ERA to San Diego, where he'll be in the same division as twin brother Tyler, who pitches for the Giants.
The Twins will also get Pagán, who has pitched for the Mariners, A's, Rays and Padres across a five-year career, during which he owns a career 3.73 ERA with 308 strikeouts in 267 2/3 innings. His batted-ball metrics took a steep downturn while with San Diego, but his fastball averaged 94.9 mph last season and the Twins could continue working on his cutter. His acquisition should help the bullpen not take too big of a step back with Rogers' departure.
Rooker hit at every level of the Minors before arriving in the big leagues in 2020, but injuries and a roster logjam in the corner outfield have limited the opportunities for the 27-year-old, to the point where he might have been pushed off the roster altogether ahead of Opening Day. In this way, the Twins resolved that roster crunch as part of a productive trade.
What could go wrong
Of course, this puts the Twins in the very unusual position of being a hopeful contender trading away its unquestioned closer on the eve of Opening Day. There wasn't all too much depth in that bullpen even before this trade, with Rogers having anchored a leverage group featuring Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala, Joe Smith and Caleb Thielbar.
They'll be counting on a big step forward from Alcala, who showed signs of a big breakout in last season's second half with a 2.88 ERA, 30 strikeouts and five walks with a 0.88 WHIP in 25 innings pitched following the All-Star break. A major immediate contribution from No. 6 prospect Jhoan Duran, a converted starter, could also go a long way in lengthening the bullpen if he quickly works into the leverage conversation.
"We think some of our young arms ... maybe they work their way back there like [Rogers] did a few years ago," Falvey said. "So we have high hopes for that group and hopefully that collection of guys are ultimately going to be able to close out games in somewhat the way Pagán found his way into that role back in 2019 in Tampa."
But that's a lot of ifs on a pitching staff already laden with ifs -- starting with the remainder of the bullpen, which is currently slated to involve relative unknowns like Jharel Cotton and Jhon Romero alongside newly converted reliever Griffin Jax and even top prospect Josh Winder, who could pitch in an unfamiliar long relief role if he makes the roster. There's not much -- if any -- proven depth there.
Couple that, too, with the fact that the Twins will immediately rely heavily on continued success from youngsters Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan in the rotation, while putting reliance on bouncebacks from Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer and, now, Paddack. Compounding that uncertainty, Paddack already underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 and received an injection last September after suffering a slight UCL sprain in his pitching elbow.
There's a lot of boom-or-bust potential in this pitching staff in particular, and the acquisition of Paddack does little to alleviate that in the short term.
Questions that remain
It's unclear how Paddack will immediately fit into a roster configuration that already has Sonny Gray, Ryan, Ober, Bundy and Archer holding down five rotation spots, with Winder also on the roster as a long reliever.
The Twins maintained throughout the spring that they intended to run a five-man rotation, but Falvey indicated on Thursday that the Twins have discussed a six-man rotation to open this season, though it's unclear how or when Paddack will fit into that. It will likely depend on how Paddack feels upon his arrival in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Just as significantly, who will close in Rogers' departure? Will there even be a defined closer at all?
Duffey has pitched late, leverage situations since 2019 and is a proven go-to arm for manager Rocco Baldelli in such situations. But as the power throwers in the bullpen, Alcala and Duran could also fit with their overwhelming stuff if they're able to handle the pressure. The "closer-by-committee" configuration is making a surge across baseball, though, and perhaps that's where the Twins will turn by playing matchups.
"Obviously, we don’t have a guy who has that track record of just having pitched the ninth consistently over the course of his career only," Falvey said. "But we have guys who have done it and done it effectively. That’s really helpful, when you have a few guys who know what it feels like to come in in that moment and pitch through that inning. My hunch is that Rocco is going to want to use those guys first in that role, while moving some guys toward the back end."