MINNEAPOLIS -- Following an eight-year run with the Twins, Tyler Duffey's time in Minnesota appears to be at an end.
The Twins designated Duffey for assignment Friday following a tough 2022 in which he posted a 4.91 ERA in 44 innings, only two years removed from his peak as one of the most dominant relievers in the Minnesota bullpen and a key cog of the relief corps that helped the Twins secure consecutive American League Central titles in 2019 and '20.
In a corresponding move, the Twins recalled rookie right-hander Cole Sands, the No. 13 prospect in the organization, from Triple-A St. Paul.
"That decision is as tough as it gets, and you do run into times in this game where really, really challenging and sometimes emotional things have to take place," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There are decisions that have to be made. This was one of them that was really hard. It took some time and some contemplation before we got there, but we thought it was something that we had to do."
Duffey was the Twins' active leader in games pitched, with 295, including a 1 2/3-inning appearance in the loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday. He also led the Twins in pitching appearances under Baldelli, with 184 -- many coming in the highest-leverage situations in big games during his two-season peak from 2019-20.
Originally drafted by the Twins in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Rice University, Duffey first came up as a starter in '15 but moved to the bullpen in '17. He finally found his breakout in '19 by essentially scrapping his sinker and relying heavily on a combination of his four-seamer and curve, leading to a 2.50 ERA and a 34.5 percent strikeout rate.
He was even better in 2020, when he had massive improvements in ERA (1.88) and WHIP (0.79).
"It’s just something that you’re not going to do unless you’re sure that it’s the right thing for the organization and for the team," Baldelli said. "To lose someone as meaningful as Duff, who has done so many great things for us as Duff, who has pitched in as many big ballgames over the last basically half decade as probably almost anyone coming out of the 'pen in some very difficult situations time after time and overall doing really a heck of a job for us."
But Duffey's strikeout rate and fastball velocity ticked down in '21 and again in '22, and though he tried to mix things up and revive his career by more heavily mixing in his sinker and introducing a changeup again this season, at one point going 13 straight appearances from June to July without being charged with a run, there eventually wasn't room for him in the Twins' increasingly crowded bullpen.
With Jorge López and Michael Fulmer acquired in trades ahead of Tuesday's Trade Deadline, the Twins needed to make room in their relief corps -- and it ultimately came at the cost of both Duffey and veteran sidearmer Joe Smith, who had been designated for assignment earlier in the week. Both were important personalities in the clubhouse and among the relief corps.
"Two really good guys I've known for a long time, both of them," Caleb Thielbar said. "So it's tough. This game is a business, and you never really understand that until you get to this level, really. But that's just how it goes."
"Losing Duff and Joe is tough," Emilio Pagán said. "It's a hard pill to swallow. Two great dudes. Awesome families. Getting to know them was a pleasure. On the flip side, it's a business and they know that. Duff's been really, really good the last five, six years. One of the top relievers in the game. Joe's been in the game for 15 years. Has been just as dominant, even at the later stage of his career, he's put up good numbers. They'll be fine."