As the Twins near the halfway point of the 2021 season, they find themselves at a crossroads. A dozen games out of both the division lead and wild card race, there’s only a few more weeks before the trade deadline, and ultimately, a crucial decision for the club’s future.
One name that has been brought up in the case that the Twins become sellers at the deadline is starter Jose Berríos. Berríos only has one more year of club control after the 2021 season, which is his final year of arbitration. After 2022, he will become a restricted free agent.
Berríos is currently 27 years old, and the only veteran starter in the Twins’ current rotation under the age of 32. Aside from Berríos and Randy Dobnak, the Twins don’t have a lot of young pitchers with major league experience capable of starting games.
There’s also signs that Berríos continues to improve, even if marginally over his career totals. Halfway into the season, Berríos is having his career-best year in WHIP (1.09), FIP (3.57), and ERA (3.56). He’s also been very consistent since his 2017 campaign, with an ERA of 3.79 (major league average: 4.14) and ERA+ of 115 (100 being average).
Darren Wolfson of SKOR North reports that Berríos and the Twins haven’t recently been in any contract extension talks, and the Twins are also at the same crossroads with Byron Buxton’s contract too. Both would be due for a significant payday to stick around in Minnesota. With Buxton’s level of play (when healthy), he’d be the obvious choice for the extension of the two.
Thus begs the question – what kind of a signal do the Twins want to send? Is this year really just a fluke, and will the front office stay mum from any talks of a rebuild? Or will they trade somebody like Berríos to buy themselves some blue-chip prospects to have alongside players like Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis as they start to hit their stride?
Certainly any inklings of trade talks will hint at a rebuild, and cause potential veteran free agents to skip out, similar to Andrelton Simmons signing on this year for a chance at a championship. Minnesota’s front office will have to tread carefully.
Personally, I think the Twins would be smart to trade Berríos – but only near the trade deadline for maximum return. Good starting pitching is hard to come by and once the playoff races shake out a bit more, there’s certainly going to be a team that will overpay for what they need (cough cough *New York* cough cough). The Twins have tended to show a conservative approach to spending big money, and I don’t see them handing out big contracts to multiple players; thus, trading Berríos makes business sense if Minnesota plans to remain a middle of the road team in payroll.
The only caveat is that the Twins desperately need more solid young pitching in return – which would be hard to receive back in the same trade as Berríos. They’d have to make multiple trades before the deadline to bolster their rotation for the future, which may include sending away a veteran like Nelson Cruz. Cruz is having a stellar year, and is a great presence in the clubhouse, but the window of his value in Minnesota is fast diminishing as he also approaches free agency at the end of the season.
Whatever the decision may be, with Minnesota dealing with injuries – and until fairly recently, abysmal extra-inning play – their schedule consists of entirely divisional opponents from now until July 22nd. So begins the litmus test.