ST. LOUIS — José Berríos had seen the rumors, had heard his name floating around as a potential trade target. They were practically impossible to ignore, but he tried his best anyhow.
The Twins had drafted him nine years earlier as a high school student out of Puerto Rico. He had made a home, a life in Minnesota. This was the only organization he had ever known. He had become a fan favorite over the years and a consistent bright spot, especially this season when other things looked bleak.
“In my mind, inside of me, I had, ‘No. I’m not going to leave here. I’m not going to leave the Twins organization,’” he said.
But that moment finally came on Friday, when the Twins traded the starter to the Toronto Blue Jays for a pair of top-100 prospects in return. The Twins also dealt starter J.A. Happ to St. Louis and Hansel Robles to the Red Sox ahead of the 3 p.m. trade deadline.
“(He’s) a guy that’s been such a meaningful member of this team, and it’s very sad and it’s very emotional,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “… José, who has been here for this long and has meant so much to the organization, it’s just very difficult for everyone, including José.”
For their top starter, the Twins landed shortstop Austin Martin, the No. 16 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, and right-handed pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson, No. 68 overall. It’s a strong haul for the 27-year-old righty, who is under contract for one more season and has been the picture of durability throughout his Twins career. Berrios, who was originally scheduled to start on Friday night for the Twins, had a 3.48 earned-run average in 20 games this year.
Baldelli and team interpreter Elvis Martinez met Berríos in his St. Louis hotel room to inform him of the trade. Berríos said he and his wife, Janneliz, shared a cry after the news came, describing Friday as a “weird, tough,” day for him and his family.
“We never expected how hard it’s going to be when you get the news,” he said. “But at the same time, Rocco explained to me two days ago: When you’re a good player since day one, you keep doing what you’re doing and you finish your career the way you’re doing, a lot of people and a lot of teams are going to want you. I’ve been learning that part of this business, this sport.”
Berríos, originally drafted with the 32nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, became a mainstay for the Twins by the end of the 2016 season. The two-time all-star became well known for his work ethic, and quickly became one of the most popular Twins both in the clubhouse and with the fanbase.
But previous attempts to lock him in long term hadn’t produced an agreement and trading him ahead of the deadline instead of later on allowed the Twins to maximize the return for him.
“Beyond the player on the field just a Class A human being, right? We all know that. The way he goes about his work, who he is as a teammate, that’s an incredibly difficult conversation to have,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “ … But this was one where we felt with the return we were getting and how this impacts our organization going forward with Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, to really get two guys we consider top 50 prospects in all of the game was huge for us.”
The two players immediately become two of the organization’s top prospects. Martin, a 22-year-old shortstop/outfielder, is ranked just behind Royce Lewis (No. 13) overall in MLB Pipeline’s last rankings.
The Vanderbilt product was the No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft and has hit .281 with a .424 on-base percentage at Double-A, drawing 37 walks in 55 games.
“This truly a top-of-the-draft talent who was drafted one year ago playing in Double-A right now with no professional experience prior to that and continuing to hit well,” Falvey said. “He’s hit well at Double-A in aggregate, but even over the last month he continues to get better. We think this guy is a very special player.”
Woods Richardson would slot in as the Twins’ No. 3 prospect on Pipeline’s list, ahead of current top pitching prospect Jordan Balazovic. After being selected by the Mets in the second round in 2018, he was dealt to the Blue Jays as part of the return for Marcus Stroman. Woods Richardson is currently in Tokyo competing in the Olympics. With Double-A New Hampshire, he has a 5.76 earned-run average this season.
While both prospects will join Double-A Wichita, Berríos is off to join the Blue Jays to compete for a postseason berth, leaving behind the only organization he has known.
“I spent my life here as part of the Twins organization since 2012,” he said. “Myself and my family, we were happy and enjoyed every day, every moment we spent here.”