At Twins Fest last weekend, ESPN 1500's Darren Wolfson "gleaned" something very interesting. According to his twitter account, the Twins had worked out a pair of trades earlier in the winter which ultimately fell through when the other team chose another offer that was on the table.
(2/2) Told no on Hellickson and Happ, as I figured at least one was it. #MNTwins source stopped letting me guess thereafter.— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) January 25, 2015
Wolfson believes, and I tend to agree, that at least one (if not both) trades would have been for a pitcher. To narrow down a list of who those players could have been, we need to come up with a series of limits to help us out while looking through baseball's list of trades since early November. Here's what I've come up with.
- We will look at trades which were announced between the start of the off-season and December 31.
- We will look only for starting pitchers, since we know without a doubt that the organization was targeting starting pitchers. Anything regarding position players would be pure speculation.
- We will exclude pitchers which are not close to being Major League-ready. This should leave us with pitchers who are either already in the Major Leagues, or who could be by the middle of 2015.
- Ervin Santana signed on December 13. While we will put a larger emphasis on pitchers that were traded prior to December 13.
- We'll exclude the trades for Jeremy Hellickson and J.A. Happ, which occurred on November 14 and December 3, respectively.
- We'll exclude trades in which one party received "cash considerations," since I have a hard time believing anyone would chose that over a player.
- We'll exclude teams including AL Central trades if the potential pitching target was traded away from the AL Central team.
This obviously isn't a fool-proof system. But we have a certain amount of data which is pretty reliable, and for our purposes that's going to have to be good enough. Here's what the results kick back to us.
On November 17, the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Miller, entering his age-24 season, will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2016. He had a bit of a down year in 2014 where his strikeout rates dropped from 23.4% to 16.6%, due in part to the failure of his secondary pitches to be as strong as they were in 2013.
Perhaps that sounds uninspiring, but I'm not going to leave a pitcher out of our results simply because "he's not the awesome improvement I want this phantom pitcher to have been." Miller is a good, young pitcher who wouldn't be eligible for free agency until 2019, and it's easy to see the Twins seeing value here. Atlanta certainly did.
Eleven days later, the Marlins acquired reliever Aaron Crow from the Royals and sent Reid Redman and Brian Flynn back to Kansas City. Flynn turns 25 in April and has just 25 Major League innings to his name, but in 520 career minor league innings he's boasted solid control with decent strikeout rates and a 3.50 ERA. He's a number four ceiling at best, however, and with so little Major League experience it would be a surprise if the front office would have wanted to go Flynn over Trevor May or Alex Meyer.
Just after his 26th birthday, right-hander Greene went from the Yankees to the Tigers in the deal that saw New York end up with Didi Gregorius and the Diamondbacks pick up Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba. Greene was a 15th-round draft pick in 2009 and climbed New York's minor league ladder methodically but slowly before making his debut in 2014. In 14 starts and one relief appearance he posted a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) and struck out 81 in 78.2 innings.
While he may be a little bit of a late bloomer, Greene does have a nice mid-90s fastball with an effective breaking ball in the low-80s. He also generates a lot of sink, meaning he gets a nice combination of strikeouts and ground balls. If he gets his command under control he's a good bet as a mid-rotation starter who is under team control through 2020.
While Chicago has positioned themselves as contenders in the AL Central for 2015, trading for Samardzija wasn't something I would have seen as a good move for the Twins. I'm still of that opinion, since a good pitcher on a one-year deal would be blocking a young pitcher for a year and then leaving - essentially wasting a year of a young pitcher's development. But Chicago was in a different position than Minnesota, and it's certainly a move that makes sense for a team looking at a short-term window.
The White Sox gave up four players, including the Marcus Semien who was considered to be the games #91 prospect heading into 2014. Would you give up a Top 100 prospect for one year of Samardzija, plus three other prospects? It doesn't feel like a good idea for a team still working to get to .500.
This is a fascinating option. Heaney, still 23, was the ninth overall pick by the Marlins in 2012 and a consensus Top-30 pick heading into 2014. He went to the Dodgers along with two other, lesser prospects (although Austin Barnes is very interesting) and a 30-year old reliever, as Dee Gordon and Dan Haren went to Miami.
More off-season discussion
More off-season discussion
Gordon was Baseball America's #26 prospect in his final season eligible to be ranked, and since has been showing off 80-speed. In 329 games he's stolen 160 bases. In 2014 he stole 64 bases while hitting .289/.326/.378 and playing fantastic defense at second base. FanGraphs pegged him at 3.1 wins above replacement. The Twins probably wouldn't have flipped Brian Dozier to Miami, but Danny Santana or Eduardo Escobar could have been in the running - not to mention Eddie Rosario.
I'm not sure that this is something the Twins nearly pulled off, but from the outside it certainly feels like it could be a fit. Minnesota has prospects to spare, has middle infield depth to spare, and we know they need pitching. Heaney would have been a fantastic get.
Alfredo Simon, Mat Latos
The Reds flipped a couple of pitchers on December 11. The first deal involved Simon heading to Detroit in return for Eugenio Suarez. Simon took the hill as a starter 32 times in 2014, his first time as a starter in any capacity since 2011. His 3.44 ERA looked good but his FIP was less impressive at 4.33, and it's worth noting that in spite of 32 starts he still didn't reach the 200-inning plateau. He'll also be a free agent after this season.
Latos, however, averaged 32 starts for four years starting in 2010, before being pulled from his start in a one-game playoff between the Reds and Pirates in October of 2013. He'd have surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow before the month was out, then in February had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and then was diagnosed with a strained flexor mass in his elbow and ultimately didn't pitch an inning for Cincinnati until June 14.
He's healthy now, and Latos owns a career FIP of 3.41 and xFIP of 3.64. While he doesn't throw with a great deal of velocity, when he's healthy he posts 20% strikeout rates and 8% walk rates, both of which would have been a big asset for the Twins. Could the Twins have found a match for catcher Chad Wallach (.293/.392/.399 career hitter in the minor leagues) and Anthony DeSclafani (right-hander with excellent command)? Probably.
Latos is currently in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and will ultimately get paid a contract in the vicinity of $10 million.
Hahn is the only pitching target on this list that was acquired after the December 13th date, heading to Oakland with R.J. Alvarez as Derek Norris and Seth Streich went to the Padres. He boasts an impressive minor league track record, posting a 2.26 ERA in 44 starts along with a 1.096 WHIP as well as strong strikeout and walk rates. He boasts ground ball rates over 50%, as well as a very good fastball-changeup combination.
Norris, as a catcher, could have been replaced with Josmil Pinto. Streich, a good pitcher who should be in Double-A this year, could perhaps be exchanged for someone like Taylor Rogers or Tyler Duffey. That package would be more attractive than what Oakland offered, although it would leave the Twins without a credible backup catcher.
There are a couple of pitchers on this list that look like good fits, both in terms of how they match up with Minnesota's plans and situation and in terms of what cost the other team payed. To my eyes the best fits here are Greene, Heaney, Latos, and Hahn.
Feel free to browse the list of transactions and fill in any blanks that you feel I may have overlooked. Maybe you think one of the trades could have been for a relief pitcher, before the team acquired Tim Stauffer? Or perhaps there's a position player on the list that you think would have been a good addition to the lineup in addition to Torii Hunter? I'll leave it to you: make a case for a player that you believe could have realistically been targeted by the Twins.