Just a few days ago, news broke that the Twins were interested in signing veteran free agent 1B/DH Mike Napoli. It was rather curious considering that the Twins already have first base locked up this season with Joe Mauer, while the designated hitter will most likely be Kennys Vargas and/or Robbie Grossman. Oh, and don’t forget Miguel Sano, who is locked in at third base, but would slide over to first or DH whenever necessary.
Though rumors of bringing in Napoli were apparently overstated, we might have an answer as to why those talks started in the first place: it’s been reported by Darren Wolfson that the Twins have been shopping Sano on the trade market. After all, if Sano were to be shipped off, suddenly there would be an even greater need for a right-handed power hitter in the lineup.
At first glance, it’s a terrifying idea. We all remember David Ortiz, and while some have those fears regarding a potential loss of Vargas, Sano is a player that is far more similar to Ortiz due to his superior power and plate discipline. Thus, a trade of Sano would feel an awful lot like Ortiz 2.0. However, we should also note that Ortiz was simply non-tendered, while Wolfson’s report states that the Twins are possibly interested in trading Sano. Hence, someone would come back to the Twins in return.
Now who might that be? I see that Brandon Warne of The Athletic and Zone Coverage asked on Twitter if Twins fans would be willing to part with Sano and a minor league prospect for Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer. While Archer had a 4.07 ERA this past season, he struck out 29.2% of the batters he faced (the 2017 league average was 21.6%) and he would be the ace pitcher the Twins organization has sought for years. With the New York Yankees looking like the front runners to acquire Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, getting Archer would be an excellent counter-punch from the Twins to remain relevant both in the AL Central race and in the Wild Card. Though Cole is two years younger and has the better career ERA (3.50 to 3.63) and FIP (3.27 to 3.46), Archer has the superior strikeout rate (25.9% to 22.8%) and has pitched his entire career in the more difficult league. Toss in the fact that Archer is under contract for two more seasons along with two club options while Cole has just two more years of arbitration, and the potential of getting Archer would be a huge get for a Twins team that is looking to remain in playoff contention for several years.
On top of getting Archer, Warne also suggests that the Twins could sign free agent 3B Todd Frazier, making the 2018 team better than its current iteration. Again, parting with Sano would be difficult, but I agree with Warne that there’s not much difference between Frazier and Sano. Sano would give you a little more power and the better batting average, but Frazier is clearly the better defender and they’d likely provide similar value this next season. The main downside, though, is that keeping Sano would be far cheaper, while Archer and Frazier would cause the Twins to add at least $15 million to the 2018 payroll.
I really hope that Sano isn’t actually on the market, but he’s the type of player that could easily fetch an established ace starting pitcher in return. While we remain hopeful that the Twins will sign Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, it’s possible that acquiring that pitcher via trade may actually be more likely for the organization.