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How does Maeda trade affect Twins roster?

February 10, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins fans have had nearly a week to digest the news of Kenta Maeda's acquisition from just about every possible angle as Minnesota, Boston and Los Angeles kept the baseball world in a state of limbo in reworking and finally finalizing the pieces between Tuesday and Monday. That

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins fans have had nearly a week to digest the news of Kenta Maeda's acquisition from just about every possible angle as Minnesota, Boston and Los Angeles kept the baseball world in a state of limbo in reworking and finally finalizing the pieces between Tuesday and Monday.

That deal is now complete in a revised form, bringing Maeda, Minor League catcher Jair Camargo and cash considerations to Minnesota, while right-hander Brusdar Graterol, outfielder Luke Raley and the No. 67 selection in the 2020 MLB Draft are headed to the Dodgers.

In the end, all the chaos didn't ultimately change much in terms of how the deal will impact the Twins, as there weren't any significant changes to the major pieces coming in and going out. But with Spring Training just around the corner, let's take an updated look at how this deal should impact the Twins' short-term and long-term outlook moving forward.

Dodgers get: RHP Brusdar Graterol, OF Luke Raley, 67th pick in 2020 Draft
Twins get: RHP Kenta Maeda, C Jair Camargo, cash

Why does this move make sense for the Twins now?

Simply put: Maeda, as a starter, is likely more valuable to the Twins in the immediate future than Graterol as a reliever. The Twins spent all these years building up this young core of position players and waiting for them to mature -- and they did. They won 101 games last year and they have a well-rounded team ready to win now. Minnesota's area of need was in the rotation, and it dealt from an area of current strength -- the bullpen -- to create a deal.

Maeda greatly fortifies the club's starting depth, as he joins the veteran-laden group of Homer Bailey, Rich Hill and Michael Pineda to form the body of Minnesota's rotation behind José Berríos and Jake Odorizzi. Bailey showed encouraging signs with the A's in 2019, but there could still be some uncertainty in his improvement. Hill is elite when healthy, but the 39-year-old will be coming off surgery on his throwing elbow when he returns this summer. Maeda is proven and durable -- and comes with a relatively low guaranteed salary into the foreseeable future.

Graterol could have provided tremendous upside in the Twins' bullpen this season, but the club already has a strong late-inning core in Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard, and it appeared unlikely that Graterol could make the transition to the starting rotation quickly enough to impact the Twins in 2020 at a time when they need an extra rotation arm.

Isn't Graterol too steep a price to pay for one player?

It's always tough to part with a top prospect, particularly when he came up to the Majors for a month after years of hype, dazzled in his short stint with the club and made a strong appearance in the playoffs. But Graterol could also have been less valuable to the Twins in the short term as a reliever than as a high-upside starter -- and his immediate future as a starter could have been hazy due to the history of his workload.

That's not to say that Graterol won't be a starter one day, and that's something that general manager Thad Levine didn't rule out when asked about the hard-throwing right-hander earlier this offseason. But doing so would likely have required a stretching-out period at Triple-A Rochester, and even with Graterol stretched out, Graterol's innings could have been difficult to project due to his injury history and the fact that he has exceeded 71 innings in a season just once in his career.

The Twins will be in need of high-upside rotation arms in the near future, particularly with Odorizzi, Hill and Bailey potentially bound for free agency next offseason. That's an area where the club still has options, with touted prospects Jordan Balazovic (No. 86 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list) and Jhoan Duran set to arrive in the Majors within the next year or two. Even with Graterol's departure, there's still plenty of upside remaining in the system.

Where would Maeda fit in?

Immediately? Maeda could be the No. 3 starter in the Opening Day rotation behind Berríos and Odorizzi, with Bailey providing additional depth. There could still be a Spring Training competition for the fifth rotation spot between several young pitchers and a veteran non-roster invitee like Jhoulys Chacín.

Come July or August when everybody could be healthy, the Twins could have a logjam of starting pitchers, with Berríos, Odorizzi, Maeda, Pineda, Hill and Bailey all in the fold. That's not to mention the young guys like Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer, all of whom impressed in their Major League debuts last season. Where would they all fit? That's a fair question. It's also a good problem to have.

Injuries and other setbacks are commonplace in any Major League season, and the Twins have armed themselves with strong depth in their rotation to weather most of that. In particular, Maeda's 3.31 career postseason ERA in 32 2/3 innings could be solid insurance in case of any setbacks for Hill, whom the Twins signed to provide meaningful innings in October, but is coming off the arm surgery. Another thing to consider is that Maeda also has plenty of experience pitching in relief with the Dodgers -- particularly in the postseason.

What does Maeda's contract look like?

That relief flexibility was significant for the Dodgers in light of the unique structure of the eight-year, $25 million contract that Maeda signed when he came to the United States from Japan. The incentive-laden deal guarantees Maeda a $3 million annual salary, with a $150,000 bonus for making the Opening Day roster.

He can make up to an additional $6.5 million in performance bonuses based on games started and an additional $3.5 million in bonuses based on innings thresholds. Most -- if not all -- of that salary in 2020 could be offset by the $10 million in cash considerations reportedly coming to the Twins in the trade. Maeda didn't hit some of those bonuses because the Dodgers shuttled him between the starting rotation and bullpen, but his starting role on the Twins should be secure.

How does this affect the rotation battle in Spring Training and beyond?

It likely makes the road to the Twins' roster tougher for someone like Chacín, who should compete with Dobnak, Thorpe and Smeltzer for the final slot in the Twins' Opening Day starting rotation. Given the wealth of starting depth at the Major League level, this move could also open the door for the likes of Dobnak and Sean Poppen to move more toward their hybrid starter-reliever roles from late last season instead of focusing solely on starting throughout the year, as the need arises.

In any case, the addition of Maeda to the starting rotation early in the year could give the Twins more wiggle room as they await the return of Pineda from suspension in mid-May and Hill from his recovery sometime in June or July. That could prove significant due to the Indians' strong rotation and the much-improved (and aggressive) White Sox.

How do the departures of Graterol and Raley affect the Twins in 2020?

Immediately, this creates less congestion in the back of the bullpen and likely opens an opportunity for a young pitcher like Cody Stashak or Fernando Romero to crack the Opening Day roster. When the Twins initially decided to use Graterol as a reliever, it appeared likely that he would compete with Stashak, Romero and Matt Wisler for the final two spots in the Minnesota bullpen in Spring Training.

Wisler initially looked to have a leg up on Stashak or Romero due to his lack of remaining Minor League options. There could now be room for another one of those arms to come north alongside Wisler.

Raley had been added to the 40-man roster earlier in the offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, but there might not have been a clean fit for him on the Twins in either the short term or the long term. In addition to Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, the Twins also have LaMonte Wade Jr. and Jake Cave (and Marwin Gonzalez) as outfield depth for now, with top prospects Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff soon to surface in the Majors.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.