This does pain me a bit to say this, but the writing is on the wall. The next successful Twins team likely does not have Brian Dozier on its roster. Unless you want the Twins to sign a top-of-the-line starting pitcher - which probably won’t happen - or go all-in on offense and just outhit the opposition - also not likely - they likely won’t be sniffing .500 baseball unless they trade their most tradeable asset.
I know it’s hard to stomach, considering that Dozier just hit 42 home runs, has consistently been a force atop the lineup, and clearly loves playing in Minnesota. However, I can’t stop but think of Branch Rickey’s immortal words about Ralph Kiner: “We finished last with you; we can finish last without you.” Though this is under far different circumstances, there are enough holes on the Twins that Dozier cannot fix them on his own unless he is on another team.
There have been plenty of discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers and right now they appear to be the perfect team to acquire Dozier. First, because they have the necessary opening at second base, especially since they traded away Howie Kendrick after not even letting him play second in 2016, but also because incumbent Chase Utley is a free agent. Second, because they have the prospects that could easily jumpstart the rebuild for the Twins.
Thus far, the common name being tossed around by both teams has been righthander Jose De Leon. Standing 6’2”, the 24-year old reminds me a bit of Jose Berrios. Beyond the fact that both are relatively diminutive Puerto Ricans, the knock on De Leon is the exact same as the complaint about Berrios: though he is several inches taller, De Leon’s drop-and-drive delivery means that his fastball lacks the downward plane that makes it difficult to hit. Meanwhile, though Berrios stays taller in his delivery, his lack of height means that his fastball also comes to the plate on a flat plane. Nonetheless, De Leon posted a 2.61 ERA and struck out nearly one-third of his batters faced in 16 starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last season, demonstrating that he clearly has the talent to be in a major league rotation. De Leon sits in the low-90s with his fastball and his slider and curve are reminiscent in movement to Ryan Pressly’s, though De Leon throws them much slower. However, his main secondary pitch is his change-up,
The second attractive starting pitcher from the Dodgers is righthander Brock Stewart. Though he is a bit older than De Leon at 25 years of age, he rocketed through the minors, needing only about two calendar years from when he was drafted to when he made his major league debut. Though he demonstrated excellent control in the minor leagues, he’s not entirely your standard soft-tossing, “pitch to contact” starter that we’ve seen far too often in a Twins uniform. Averaging 93 MPH with this fastball, his change-up was a full 12 MPH slower in his seven major league appearances last year, plus he mixed in a cutter-like slider in the mid-80s. Stewart consistently struck out 23% or more of his hitters faced at every stop in the minors, so he feels more like a Scott Baker to me than a Nick Blackburn (coincidentally, FanGraphs says that Stewart’s closest MLB comparison is Baker which I discovered after writing that sentence). Similarly, FanGraphs estimates that Stewart has a future as a number four starter as long as he finds a more effective offering than his current slider to deal with righthanded hitters.
Beyond those two, it gets murkier on who the Twins could receive. Actually, even including those two in the same trade seems a bit questionable as the Dodgers have spent the past year accumulating as much starting pitching depth as possible (at the end of the 2016 season, Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Julio Urias, De Leon, Stewart, and more starters were all on the active roster). I could easily see them balking at giving up two starting pitchers when they’ve determined that rotation depth is a key. In that case, a few other names have been tossed around.
For people that have been sick of seeing Joe Mauer waste away at first base, the Dodgers conveniently have a prospect ready to step in. Lefthanded-hitting Cody Bellinger not only has the power that you would want to see from a corner infielder, but he also has drawn rave reviews for his defense at first base. Essentially he sounds a lot like Justin Morneau if you’re looking for a Twins comparison. Additionally, the 21-year old spent most of last season at Double-A and made the jump to Triple-A to help Oklahoma City for their playoff run at the end of the year. My only concern is that I feel a De Leon/Bellinger package may be too much to ask in return for Dozier. Another issue is that current Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is signed for just two more years, making Bellinger an attractive option to step in for the 2019 season. But, the counter to that argument is that the Dodgers are in win-now mode and may care about controlling the NL West and challenging the Chicago Cubs more than their future.
As I was typing this, Brandon Warne of Cold Omaha was tweeting about possible trade scenarios and he kept mentioning outfielder Trayce Thompson. Just so you’re aware, I’m contractually obligated to mention that Thompson is the younger brother of NBA star Klay Thompson, and like De Leon and Stewart he’s also seen time in the major leagues. He will turn 26 years old in spring training and though the Twins already have Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, Kepler is less experienced and Rosario really should be a fourth outfielder. Thompson acts as an insurance policy for these two, plus he’s a righthanded batter which would match well with the two lefty outfielders. Though the corner outfield is not the biggest need for the Twins right now, Thompson would still be an upgrade to the roster as a whole.
Beyond these names, I’m not sure who else the Twins could realistically target as MLB-ready players. Phenom Julio Urias is going nowhere. Second baseman Willie Calhoun is interesting but the Twins would likely plug in Jorge Polanco as their Dozier replacement. Catcher Austin Barnes isn’t needed with the signing of Jason Castro and the existence of John Ryan Murphy. Beyond that, everyone else is in the low minors and would be more of a lottery ticket than what the Twins likely want at the moment.
Regardless of the players involved, trading Dozier provides an opportunity for the Twins to shore up their roster both in the short-term and the future. Though saying goodbye to a fan favorite would be tough, I’m sure we’d all agree that escalating numbers in the win column are far more important than the escalating numbers in Dozier’s home run column.