Twins stock up with starter Mahle, relievers López, Fulmer
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins badly needed pitching and weren’t afraid to part with multiple promising minor leaguers to get it.
They weren’t willing to budge with some of the youngsters they already have in the majors, though. Despite their injuries and flaws, the Twins were adamant about adding to their first-place club.
The Twins stocked up their sputtering staff Tuesday leading right up to the trade deadline, acquiring All-Star closer Jorge Lopez from the Baltimore Orioles, starter Tyler Mahle from the Cincinnati Reds and reliever Michael Fulmer from the Detroit Tigers as they gave up a total of eight prospects in three separate deals.
“It’s exciting for the people in the clubhouse. It’s exciting for the people upstairs in the room who are pulling all of these discussions together and making these things happen. I think it’s equally as exciting for the fans at home, too,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It gives you energy.”
The 29-year-old Lopez is in the middle of a breakout season for the Orioles, with a stellar 1.68 ERA and 19 of his 20 career saves. The 27-year-old Mahle is 5-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 19 starts with 114 strikeouts over 104 1/3 innings for the Reds. The 29-year-old Fulmer has a 3.20 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings for the Tigers, who sent him down the hallway in the last-minute swap before they played the Twins at Target Field.
Minnesota also acquired veteran catcher Sandy Leon from division rival Cleveland in a lesser trade that sent minor league pitcher Ian Hamilton to the Guardians.
The Twins, who took a one-game lead in the AL Central into their game against the Tigers on Tuesday night, have a 5.30 team ERA since the All-Star break.
“We believe in this team. We said it from the get-go. We felt that way all year,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We wanted to try to find a way to supplement it.”
Lopez and Fulmer join a Twins team that has been desperate to find reliable late-inning options beyond Jhoan Duran. Griffin Jax has been a find after his conversion from a starting role in 2021, but Emilio Pagan was recently moved into lower-leverage situations and Tyler Duffey has an ERA (4.57) almost two runs higher than his cumulative total of the previous three seasons.
With 17 walks, 54 strikeouts and a .174 opponent batting average in 48 1/3 innings, Lopez has produced quite the turnaround after taking a 6.04 career ERA into this season. He previously split his time between starter and reliever, but full-time focus on a late-game role has served him well.
The Twins under Falvey have preferred to avoid short-term rentals, typically prioritizing in trades players they can contractually control for more than a year, and Lopez and Mahle satisfy that goal. Fulmer is a free agent after this season.
Making $1.5 million this season, Lopez is arbitration-eligible in each of the next two winters and can’t become a free agent until after the World Series in 2024.
“Just completely life-changing. I’m just really thankful for the Orioles and what they’ve been doing, and I’m glad it’s coming to a new chapter with the Minnesota Twins,” Lopez said on a conference call with reporters before a scheduled flight to Minnesota. “They’ve got a really good group, and I’m going to do anything I can to keep competing.”
Mahle will help shore up a rotation that has been ravaged by injuries, with Bailey Ober, Josh Winder, Chris Paddack, Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak all sidelined. The Twins acquired Mahle’s former teammate, Sonny Gray, in a March trade with the Reds.
“We’ve got a good one, on and off the field. He’ll just blend right in,” Gray said.
The rebuilding Reds have significantly dismantled their team over the last year.
“It’s been pretty hectic, a lot of anxiety and stuff,” Mahle said. “Glad it’s done.”
Baltimore received minor league pitchers Cade Povich, Yennier Cano, Juan Nunez and Juan Rojas from Minnesota for Lopez. Only Cano has major league experience. Povich was a third-round draft pick last year, a left-hander ranked as the No. 22 prospect in the organization by MLB.com.
Cincinnati got the bigger haul of minor leaguers - infielders Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Spencer Steer, and left-handed pitcher Steve Hajjar. Steer (No. 7), Hajjar (No. 18) and Encarnacion-Strand (No. 23) were all top-25 prospects for the Twins, according to MLB.com rankings.
Including 2021 first-rounder Chase Petty, who went to the Reds for Gray, the Twins have now traded four of their first five picks from last year’s draft. Hajjar, Povich and Encarnacion-Strand went in the second, third and fourth rounds, respectively.
The Twins sent right-hander Sawyer Gipson-Long, who was at Double-A Wichita, to the Tigers for Fulmer. He was a sixth-round draft pick in 2019. To make room for Fulmer, the Twins designated right-hander Aaron Sanchez for assignment after he started the game on Monday.
The surprising Orioles are in the mix for an AL wild card, just 2 1/2 games out of the final spot entering play on Tuesday. But they traded slugger Trey Mancini to Houston as part of a three-team deal on Monday before shipping Lopez to the AL Central leaders.
“This team, it was a little different than the last two, and I mean it a lot. These guys really take care of business, and that really taught me a lot,” Lopez said. “I feel emotional, and I hope for success for everyone to just keep going.”
Like the Reds, the Tigers are already playing for next year, but Fulmer - who was in his sixth season with the team - had to say a lot of unpleasant goodbyes before the game.
“You want him to be happy because he’s going to a contending team, but by no means was he racing out of here,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think he would have loved to stay as well.”