Twins acquire López from Marlins for Arraez

January 20th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- After weeks of trade rumors, the defending American League batting champion is, indeed, on the move.

The Twins have traded fan favorite contact king to the Marlins in exchange for right-hander , infield prospect José Salas -- previously ranked No. 5 in Miami’s system -- and outfield prospect Byron Chourio.

Twins receive: RHP Pablo López, INF José Salas (Marlins’ No. 5 prospect), OF Byron Chourio
Marlins receive: INF Luis Arraez

López gives the Twins another experienced arm in an already deep starting rotation that still carries plenty of injury risk, a continuation of this front office’s commitment to building out pitching depth. That looms particularly large considering how injuries derailed Minnesota’s 2022 season. In Salas, the Twins also gained a top-tier prospect to bolster a farm system depleted by a plethora of trades over the last two years.

But it will indeed be difficult for large swaths of Twins Territory to part ways with Arraez, who captivated fans with his throwback approach, extreme contact ability and showmanship on the field since he debuted for Minnesota in 2019 -- culminating in his first batting title, Silver Slugger Award and All-Star nod last season.

"When you have a player of that caliber, you know teams are interested in him," Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "And the only way you’re talking about a player of that caliber in a trade is if you’re acquiring a player of Pablo López's caliber. Pablo is somebody that comes incredibly highly recommended.

"What we’ve learned about him, and even just in the brief conversations we’ve had so far, this guy is a leader, this guy is a worker, this guy is a winning player all the way through."

Arraez hit .316/.375/.420 in a career-best 144 games in 2022, persevering through a hamstring injury to clinch his first batting title in the season’s final game. That’s the hitter he has been at every level of the game since he was a prospect, most notably showcased as a rookie when he inherited an 0-2 count as a pinch-hitter against fireballing closer Edwin Díaz in the ninth inning and eventually worked a walk.

So, why would it make sense for the Twins to trade away one of their most productive hitters with three seasons of control remaining?

For one, there’s an argument to be made that Arraez’s value will never be higher due to the aforementioned batting title and club control, with his health questions and lack of defensive fit perhaps leading to more uncertainty in his future. He has been on the injured list five times in parts of four MLB seasons, including twice for knee issues -- and that goes back to right ACL surgery as a Minor Leaguer in 2017.

He also had no clear defensive position on the roster, as currently constructed, which is what led to many of the trade rumors in the first place. With on track to be healthy for 2023, it was unlikely that Arraez would have found consistent playing time again at first base; the same goes for second base () and third base (). The Twins preferred to keep Arraez at first in part to limit the stresses on his body.

It also likely won’t be long before the Twins call up Edouard Julien, their No. 14 prospect, who is poised to make a major leap in MLB Pipeline’s rankings following an outstanding 2022 season and performance in the Arizona Fall League. Julien profiles similarly to Arraez in that he’s a left-handed hitter with sterling on-base ability and defensive questions in the infield, and he was added to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason.

“I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished, and [winning the batting title] at the end of the year, but ultimately, we feel like when we look across our diamond, we’ve got a lot of good players and a lot of good middle-of-the diamond players, and depth,” Falvey said.

López isn’t an ace-level starter that will elevate the ceiling of the Twins’ rotation, but he has been consistently effective with a career 3.94 ERA -- including a 3.52 ERA in the last three seasons. His challenge has been in staying healthy: He has missed significant time in his career with a pair of right shoulder strains and a rotator cuff strain. But he finally pitched a full season in 2022, throwing 180 innings across 32 starts.

But if there’s any question as to his upside, just look at López’s performance on July 11, 2021, when he set a Major League record by striking out the first nine hitters of the game, or his stats from last April, when he was named National League Pitcher of the Month after allowing one earned run in 23 1/3 innings (a 0.39 ERA).

"To this point, 2022 was the year where a lot of things clicked," López said. "I really found my identity as a pitcher, my identity as a teammate. In 2022, I was able to really just come to the field excited. Excited to be on the field, excited to find new ways to get better. And the process of getting better is really encouraging."

Between López, , , and , the Twins now have their deepest starting five in recent memory – and that’s not to mention the likes of Bailey Ober, Josh Winder, Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson behind them, ready to step up when needed.

“We have some real premium guys near the top of the rotation, and Pablo makes it even better today,” Falvey said. “So, that’s why you make a trade like this today, because we know pitching is really hard to acquire. It’s hard to get good starting pitching. Certainly, it’s hard to get good, young starting pitching. Pablo checks all of those boxes.”