The Twins are unlikely to get much closer to .500 by July 31, which means they're going to be in the clear position of "seller" at the trade deadline. That's not much of a surprise, nor is it a surprise that Josh Willingham is one of the team's best trade assets. He's an expiring contract of a mid-30s veteran who has been productive in spite of his batting average.
Former baseball General Manager and current ESPN "analyst" Jim Bowden has chosen three teams that are in need of Willingham's services (Insider required): the Cincinnati Reds, the Kansas City Royals, and the Seattle Mariners. When I analyzed Willingham's trade market over the weekend, I classified the Reds as an "unlikely" partner, while compatibility read as moderate and Seattle's compatibility as high. Let's see how Bowden rationalizes his breakdown.
Bowden lists Joey Votto's struggles this year as a reason to acquire Willingham, although Votto actually plays first base. He does also say that left field needs an upgrade, which it does. Since my writing, Ryan Ludwick is no longer the most valuable bat in the outfield corners as Jay Bruce has inched ahead. Ludwick is batting .100/.182/.133 in his last 11 games. Replacing Ludwick is easier than replacing an underperforming Bruce, so Cincinnati does make more sense than they did just a few days ago.
In return, Bowden suggests one of two pitchers. The first is 22-year old right-hander Jon Moscot (Reds #20 prospects per MLB.com). A fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft, Moscot owns a 3.19 ERA at Double-A, posting a strikeout rate of just 17.7% but a walk rate of 6.8%.
The other guy he mentions is Sal Romano (#14), a 20-year old currently in his second season in Single-A. In 97.1 innings he owns a 4.16 ERA, striking out 20.2% of batters and walking 5.4%, but in parts of three seasons has always given up more hits than innings pitched. He's young enough, but he's still a work in progress. In Minnesota's system he might sneak into the organization's Top 20. That's not a terrible return on Willingham for a two-month rental.
Does it make sense? It does, for both teams. The Reds are just 2.5 back of the Brewers in the National League Central and a half game out of the second Wild Card spot. Cincinnati is riding a five-game winning streak, too.
Bowden nails this one, pointing out the desperation of signing Raul Ibanez. The only thing that kept me from rating Kansas City as a highly compatible trade partner was the fact that they share the American League central with the Twins, but it's not like that's stopped the front office from dealing within the division in the past.
In return, Bowden believes the Royals would try to get the Twins to bite on Angel Baez (unranked organizational prospect) before eventually upping their ante to Sam Selman (#12). Baez is a 23-year old right-hander getting his first taste of Double-A, and is now a full-time reliever after a couple of years struggling with command as a starter. In 45 innings of relief this year he's struck out 57 and walked 18, giving up just a pair of homers.
Selman, meanwhile, is also a 23-year old but he's a lefty and this is just his third year in the system. He struggles with command due to some loose mechanics and his delivery, but he can also miss bats and is a starter. He owns a 4.31 ERA in 77.1 innings this year.
Does it make sense? Kansas City makes a lot of sense, but I don't like the idea of trading for another relief pitcher no matter how many strikeouts he gets. I'd rather take a chance on a fringey starting pitcher prospect with a bit less swing-and-miss potential. Selman might be capable of sneaking into Minnesota's Top 20 next year but it's not a guarantee.
Seattle, more than these other two teams, might be in the best position to trade for WIllingham. It doesn't look like they'll catch Oakland at eight games back, but they're currently in line for the second Wild Card spot and a little more offense could go a long way.
Bowden's phrasing here is a bit vague in terms of who the Mariners could ship back to Minnesota. Since his first two offers are single-player ventures, when he says "The Mariners could offer right-handed pitcher Lars Huijer and catcher John Hicks," I'm not sure if he means separately or together.
Huijer (#20) is an interesting international signing out of the Netherlands. His sinking fastball velocity sits in the upper-80s and burns grass, with a pair of upper-70s offerings in his curve and change. Opponents hit just .230 off of him in Single-A earlier this year and so, in spite of mediocre peripherals, Seattle promoted him to Advanced-A where he's been banged up over two starts. He won't be a strikeout pitcher so he really needs to improve his lackluster command.
Hicks was a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft and, in parts of four seasons for Seattle, has hit .289/.337/.423. That includes a .296/.362/.418 mark in Double-A this season. At 24 he needs to move to Triple-A sooner rather than later, but this is a guy that hit .309/.331/.446 in his debut and .312/.351/.472 in 2012. For those wondering, in his minor league career he's thrown out 93 of 188 attempted base stealers (49% caught stealing).
Does it make sense? Huijer is interesting, although unimpressive, and Hicks gives the Twins another option behind the plate for next season, which is something the organization needs. If Hicks can recoup some of the power he showed in 2011 and 2012 he could turn into a promising catcher option, but this only makes sense if the Twins are happy to have a return not based around a decent pitching prospect.
Bowden's piece is speculation at its best (or worst, depending on how you view it), because it sets a benchmark for possible deals that aren't even being discussed - as far as we know. There are parts of each deal that I like, but if I had to pick one I'd probably go with the Seattle offer.
If the Twins do make Willingham available after the All-Star break, teams like Oakland and St. Louis could get involved, as could Boston if the Red Sox don't realize that they should really, really not be buying.