Trying to identify areas of strength for a team that's lost 195 games over the past two seasons isn't always an easy thing. In the case of the Twins, however, it's been pretty well-documented that they have a glut of solid outfield prospects, in addition to the four guys who handle the bulk of that work at the Major League level (Ben Revere, Josh Willingham, Denard Span and Darin Mastroianni).
The litany of Span trade rumors over the past 15 months or so is only going to grow this winter, and there will be chatter that the Twins should also look to trade Willingham and Revere. There are certainly other ways of going about rebuilding, however, as Jason Churchill mentioned in a recent piece at Baseball Prospectus (subscription is required, but worth it -- BP's work is amazing across the board).
Churchill is quick to note that prospect-for-prospect swaps are pretty rare, but he proposes a few nonetheless, including a trade that would center on trading Oswaldo Arcia for James Paxton of the Mariners (as he notes, other pieces may be necessary). Paxton writes:
While GM Jack Zduriencik is certainly going to seek proven MLB talent this offseason, adding a hitter like Oswaldo Arcia—who could mash his way into the big leagues next summer—is perhaps the next best option. The Mariners have starting pitching depth and, even if they moved James Paxton in a trade, left-hander Danny Hultzen and right-hander Taijuan Walker would remain.
The Twins aren't built to win in 2013, but could rebound sooner than later with a rebuilt rotation. The lone option within their own farm system is right-hander Kyle Gibson, but more is necessary if they wish to stave off multiple losing seasons going forward. Paxton profiles as a No. 2 starter and flashes ace stuff with inconsistent control and command. His best pitch is a curveball that serves as an out pitch and he sat 92-96 with his four-seam fastball in 2012.
Seattle's pitching depth is arguably unparalleled, and their dearth of offensive talent teeters on embarrassing. Paxton would immediately become the Twins' best pitching prospect, and the presence of players like Aaron Hicks would help to mitigate the loss of a talented young hitter like Arcia. It's all pure speculation on Churchill's part, but the exchange would make sense, given the needs of each team. It also brings up an intriguing talking point. Is moving someone like Arcia, Hicks, or Chris Parmelee in exchange for equally reputable Minor League pitching something Terry Ryan should be considering?
Churchill's point is true; these types of deals are few and far between, and it may not ever be something Ryan truly considers. However, Ryan has done a lot of his best work on the trade market in the past, though that was due more to budgetary constraints which aren't likely to be as severe a problem this time around.
Ryan recently expressed a desire to have this team turn things around in 2013. He'd like to get the Twins contending again as soon as possible, and trading Span and Willingham this offseason isn't likely to bring about that end. If he were to acquire a high-upside arm such as Paxton (to continue using Churchill's suggestion) without parting with Major League talent, that would go a long ways toward accomplishing that goal. Both he and Kyle Gibson would be likely to join the rotation at some point in 2013.
Phil Mackey reported last night that Twins front office officials are "embarrassed" by the past two seasons and are looking to add three starting pitchers this offseason. In that article, Mackey writes that no player -- with the exception of Joe Mauer -- is off limits in trades this winter. What Mackey doesn't mention is whether or not that applies strictly to players on the Major League roster of if Ryan is referring to prospects as well.
Obviously the Twins should hang onto Miguel Sano. Byron Buxton won't be eligible to be traded this offseason since he was drafted less than a year ago, so there's no point in speculating there. But would the Twins be wise to look at flipping some of their near-MLB-ready position players in order to acquire someone who's just as good of a bet to turn into a legit starting pitcher for them soon?
I'll admit to having become infatuated with Arcia's numbers at the Minor League level, and reports from major prospect outlets are equally tantalizing. It makes sense, though, to deal from a position of strength in order to fill a void within the organization. Doing so would also allow the team to make more competitive bids to free agent starters. Mackey notes that even names like Zack Greinke haven't been ruled out, but that concept of Greinke in a Twins uniform seems like nothing more than a pipe dream. Besides, adding another $20M+ per-year contract probably isn't wise for this team. The prospect swap could allow them to up their bids for a name like Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren or Jake Peavy, however, each of whom will command lesser annual salaries and fewer years.
However he gets it done, Ryan will need to add multiple pieces to next year's rotation. Churchill's suggestion is one that's a bit outside of the box, but Ryan should consider all avenues when looking at ways to improve this team.