Twins net lefty Milone, secure Suzuki
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Twins are indeed sellers at Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline, but they have acquired a pitcher with major-league experience, not a minor-league prospect, in the deal.
Tommy Milone, who has a 3.55 ERA in 16 major-league starts this season, has been acquired from the Oakland A’s, the Twins announced Thursday morning, about five hours before the deadline. In exchange, the Twins will return outfielder Sam Fuld to Oakland, where he started this season before being waived in April.
To fill Fuld’s spot on the roster, the Twins have summoned Class AA first baseman Kennys Vargas from New Britain, Conn. Vargas, a switch-hitter who played on the international team in the Futures Game at Target Field earlier this month, has 17 home runs and 63 RBIs for the Rock Cats. He’ll wear uniform No. 19.
Milone, a 27-year-old left-hander who was optioned to Class AAA Sacramento on July 5, will be assigned to Class AAA Rochester for the time being. Milone was likely available, and Fuld coveted by Oakland, after the A’s acquired left-hander Jon Lester from Boston on Thursday in a deal that sent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox.
The Twins are happy to accept the fallout from that deal, because Milone, drafted in the 10th round by the Nationals in 2010, has already had major-league success. He has a 3.84 ERA in 78 starts over four big-league seasons, winning 13 games in 2012 and 12 more last season.
He lost his starting job not because of poor pitching this season — Milone’s 3.55 ERA this year is better than any current Twins starter — but because the A’s, loading their pitching staff with veteran stars for a postseason run, acquired All-Star right-hander Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs earlier this month. After starting the season 0-3, Milone won six consecutive decisions, and in his final start for Oakland, he shut out Toronto on four hits over six innings on July 4.
Milone hasn’t been as good since being demoted to Sacramento, posting a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings over four starts, which is likely why he is being assigned to Rochester rather than joining the Twins right away.
Vargas, whose 24th birthday is Friday, is a David Ortiz lookalike, and views the Red Sox slugger as a mentor, having spent time with him during training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. He is capable of tape-measure home runs, but he’s also never posted an on-base percentage lower than .344 in the minor leagues. Vargas served a 50-game suspension in 2012 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Fuld spent a little more than three months with the Twins, including a stint on the concussion disabled list after a collision with the centerfield wall, and was the team’s hottest hitter over the past three weeks. He reached base in 18 of his last 22 games with the Twins, batting .358 with a .476 on-base percentage over that span. In 56 total games with Minnesota, the 33-year-old Fuld, who was claimed by the Twins on April 20 after being waived by Oakland, batted .274 with one homer and 17 RBIs.
His departure leaves the Twins short on experienced center fielders. Danny Santana, a converted shortstop, has handled the position for most of the past two months, but with Fuld gone, none of the Twins’ other options — Chris Parmelee, Eduardo Nunez, Eduardo Escobar — figure to be a reliable backup.
Contract extension for Suzuki
The Twins made a second long-term move at the trade deadline Thursday, but this one isn’t part of a roster shakeup: It’s for roster stability.
Minnesota has signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a $12 million contract extension, a source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed Thursday, choosing to keep their 30-year-old catcher rather than trade him away. Suzuki signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract during the winter, then earned an All-Star berth.
Suzuki is guaranteed $6 million in each of the next two seasons, and can earn a third $6 million paycheck for 2017 if he receives enough plate appearances in 2016. The Twins won’t disclose the level required for vesting, but assistant general manager Rob Antony said it’s “reachable if he stays healthy and productive.”
Suzuki’s signing is certain to be popular in the Twins’ clubhouse, where the pitching staff has repeatedly complimented the job the eight-year veteran has done behind the plate. It’s likely also a reflection of the Twins’ unhappiness with the defensive progress of top catching prospect Josmil Pinto, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester in April to work on his deficiencies behind the plate.