Twins add Mahle to rotation in deal with Reds

August 3rd, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Would this finally be the season in which the Twins would add an impact starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline under this regime?

The answer: An emphatic yes.

The Twins signaled their commitment to the 2022 team by securing three pitchers at Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, headlined by the acquisition of right-handed starter Tyler Mahle from the Reds in a deal that sent three of the club’s Top 30 prospects to Cincinnati: infielder Spencer Steer (No. 7, per MLB Pipeline), left-hander Steve Hajjar (No. 18) and infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand (No. 23).

Twins acquire:
RHP Tyler Mahle
Reds acquire: INF Spencer Steer (Twins’ No. 7), LHP Steve Hajjar (No. 18), INF Christian Encarnacion-Strand (No. 23)

Minnesota’s most immediate need at this Deadline was in the bullpen, which it addressed by adding Jorge López from the Orioles and Michael Fulmer from the Tigers. But the question also remained: Who could the Twins confidently use in a playoff rotation behind Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan?

They now have their answer.

“I think [Mahle is] a guy that we know has the stuff and ability to pitch toward the top of the rotation,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “And hopefully, he's doing that amongst a whole group of peers over the next couple of seasons for us."

Mahle, 27, has a 4.40 ERA and 114 strikeouts across 104 1/3 innings in 19 starts this season. However, he has been better of late, posting a 2.83 ERA in his past nine outings, including a pair of quality starts since returning from the right shoulder strain that landed him on the injured list in early July.

Mahle, a former seventh-round Draft selection, is a year removed from posting a career-high 210 strikeouts. To find the last time a Twins pitcher had that many strikeouts in a season, you have to go all the way back to 2007, when Johan Santana fanned 235.

Moreover, the Twins have had their eye on Mahle and have engaged with the Reds in discussions about the right-hander for years. Minnesota feels that the quality of Mahle’s pitches has him poised to outperform those surface-level stats, including a 4.35 career ERA -- and getting him away from the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park will likely help some, too.

“I mean, we see really good pitches,” Falvey said. “Underlying pitch qualities, characteristics of, a lot of people talk about that these days in terms of movement, how his pitches work together. I have a lot of respect for [director of pitching] Derek Johnson with the Reds, someone I know well, and I know he's done a really good job to help develop him and kind of put them in a good position.”

“It’s a hell of an arm to be adding to the group,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

A big part of the appeal in acquiring Mahle is that he is under team control through 2023, currently earning $5.2 million this season in his second year of arbitration eligibility. It’s no secret that the Twins value team control when making trades, considering their recent acquisitions for the rotation like Kenta Maeda, Sonny Gray and Chris Paddack.

There’s now a universe in which the Twins could have Maeda, Gray, Mahle, Ryan, Bailey Ober, Josh Winder and, eventually, Paddack as rotation options entering ‘23 -- and that’s a prospect that’s quite exciting to them.

“We were able to find a way to add guys who help us in the future as well,” Falvey said. “When you’re trading young players who are going to be part of your organization for a long time, if you can get control, future impact, those guys have that."

Though the Twins avoided dipping into their highest caliber of prospects, all three Minor Leaguers were quite highly regarded. Both Hajjar and Encarnacion-Strand are poised to move into the top 15 in the upcoming August rerank. Steer is the most highly regarded of the group, and he sits just outside of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball.

But that’s what it took for the Twins to shore up their rotation upside ahead of Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy -- and it’s a price they were willing to pay for a pitcher they’ve long wanted. Gray was Mahle’s lockermate for three seasons in Cincinnati and looked forward to greeting his former -- and new -- teammate to his clubhouse.

“A lot of times, you just have to have experience that takes you through those moments,” Gray said. “His split got good. He really started learning how to spin the ball, throw a slider for strikes, put it away. He strikes a lot of guys out. His fastball is electric. All good things.”