MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins lost their lone 2016 All-Star on Thursday, as shortstop Eduardo Nunez was the first Minnesota player to be dealt leading up to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, getting sent to the Giants for left-handed pitching prospect Adalberto Mejia. Minnesota called up infielder Jorge Polanco after its 6-2 win over Baltimore to take Nunez's roster spot, with Mejia heading to Triple-A Rochester.
Nunez, 29, is in the midst of a breakout season, hitting .296/.325/.439 with 12 homers, 15 doubles and 27 stolen bases in 91 games. But the Twins are in need of starting pitching and opted to trade Nunez, who doesn't become a free agent until after next season. They're hoping they sold high on Nunez, as this is the first time the seven-year MLB veteran has received regular playing time. He was previously a utility infielder until injuries to Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Escobar opened up spots for him at shortstop and third this year.
"It was difficult, but our perspective from the start of this process was to try to acquire starting pitching," Twins interim general manager Rob Antony said. "There was a lot of interest. There were at least six clubs I talked to about him. But this was an opportunity to get a young 23-year-old left-hander in Triple-A who has been pitching well."
Nunez, originally acquired in a trade with the Yankees before the 2014 season, was one of the popular players in the clubhouse and was a regarded as a leader, especially among the club's Latin players. Nunez found out about the trade while eating in the clubhouse dining room after Thursday's win, and he said he's excited to join a first-place team but enjoyed his time in Minnesota.
"It's tough," Nunez said. "The Minnesota Twins are a great organization. They have great people. They made me feel like I was at home. They made me feel like I was here longer than I really was."
In exchange for Nunez, the Twins get Mejia, who is regarded as being close to Major League ready. Mejia, ranked as San Francisco's No. 7 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, has posted a combined 2.81 ERA with 101 strikeouts and 27 walks in 105 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season. He was 4-1 with a 4.20 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings with Triple-A Sacramento. Mejia threw a scoreless inning in this year's All-Star Futures Game at Petco Park, striking out No. 1 overall MLB prospectAlex Bregman to finish the game.
"We think he's fairly close to the big leagues," Antony said. "He has a three-pitch mix to start. He has a big durable body. We think he profiles well and was what we were looking for."
Mejia, though, was suspended for 50 games last year after testing positive for stimulants, but the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has bounced back this season after a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League last year. As Antony noted, he has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that ranges from 90-95 mph to go along with his slider and changeup.
"This was an opportunity where we need pitching," Antony said. "I don't know if he'll pitch up here this year, but he's definitely a candidate next year to be in our rotation."
With Nunez gone, Escobar is expected to get more time at shortstop going forward, while Polanco could get a chance to finally show what he can do. Polanco, the Twins' No. 4 prospect and the No. 99 overall prospect in baseball, was hitting .276/.335/.457 with nine homers, 14 doubles and six triples in 75 games at Rochester. He also batted .231/.344/.462 with a homer and three doubles in 13 games with the Twins earlier this year.
"He's really just looking for a spot," Antony said. "He really played well down there. He hit for more power than last year. We think he's pretty close to being a Major Leaguer. So having a ready replacement like him helps."