OAKLAND — To get a sense for the distinct uncertainty many players experience at this time of year, just ask Jaime Garcia — if you can track him down.
The veteran left-handed pitcher made his first start for the Minnesota Twins in Oakland on Friday, four days after joining the club in a trade with the Atlanta Braves. Garcia was granted permission to travel back to Atlanta on Saturday to gather his belongings, then was supposed to rejoin the Twins in Minneapolis when they returned from their West Coast trip.
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Except Garcia’s route took a detour when the Twins sent him to the New York Yankees for two minor league pitchers in a deal completed Saturday night.
So a player who spent his first 12 seasons as a pro with the same organization — the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in 2005 — was a member of three clubs in the same week.
How’s that for career stability?
“Unless we bring him back, he’ll go down as one of the few undefeated pitchers in Twins history,” quipped manager Paul Molitor, who watched Garcia throw 6⅔ innings of three-run ball in Friday’s 6-3 win against the Oakland Athletics.
Had he hung around Oakland long enough, Garcia might have been able to share travel advice with Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray, one of the prize catches on the trade market along with Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish and a number of relievers headlined by left-handers Zach Britton, Brad Hand and Justin Wilson.
Gray, who had his scheduled start Sunday pushed back to Monday after the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline, is particularly coveted because he will be under team control through the 2019 season. A large number of the available players, such as Darvish, Cardinals starter Lance Lynn and New York Mets reliever Addison Reed, will become free agents after this season.
The Yankees are regarded as Gray’s strongest suitors, even after acquiring Garcia.
The trade rumors swirling around him have done little to hamper Gray’s performance, another appealing trait about the 27-year-old staff ace. After overcoming an early-season shoulder injury and inconsistency, Gray has recorded a 1.37 ERA while holding hitters to a .164 batting average over his last six starts.
“You’re not stupid. You kind of know what’s going on,” Gray told USA TODAY Sports about the trade talk. “I’ve been here since 2013. You get an understanding of the way this place works, but at the same time, I’ve seen it for so many guys. There’s nothing you can do except for going out there and pitching.”
Molitor is hoping his club takes a similar attitude after seemingly changing course in less than a week.
The Twins were widely considered to be rebuilding after losing a Minnesota-record 103 games last year. Instead, they sat atop the American League Central through mid-June and entered the All-Star break 2 1/2 games back, raising the prospect of becoming buyers instead of sellers at the deadline.
It’s a quandary several clubs have faced in recent days, with six teams in the AL and three in the National League entering the weekend no further than 4½ games behind the division or wild-card leaders.
Minnesota went for it, dealing for Garcia to fortify its rotation, but then flipped him after losing four of five to drop to seven games back in the Central as the division-leading Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals surged behind nine-game winning streaks.
“I’m sure there’s some disappointment when you make an addition that is as short term as Jaime’s stay was with us,” Molitor said. “The timing of these things, if you look externally and you want to point somewhere else, for me it was always a time if somebody’s making a move then I better look at myself. What did I do? What didn’t I do? What can I do better? If I want those things to work in our favor more frequently, look inward. Don’t look outward.”
Molitor held a meeting with the players before Sunday’s 6-5, 12-inning loss to the A’s, urging them to focus on what they could control and reminding them they were good enough to rule the division for six weeks.
Still, it would be hard for them not to notice the Royals, with a number of key pending free agents, signaled their intention to stay in the race by not only keeping them aboard but also pulling off a deal Sunday for Chicago White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera.
“I get the business side of it, but I also get the fact we are very close in the race. It’s kind of up for grabs,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “So I don’t really believe in white flags or any of that stuff. We just have to go out and play better. There’s a lot of baseball left.”
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