Eddie Rosario watched his 2019 season end from the on-deck circle, a Nelson Cruz strikeout knocking the Minnesota Twins out of the playoffs. One inning earlier, Rosario had socked a solo bomba for the Twins’ only run in Game 3 of the ALDS.
This would be no more than a poignant end to a rising young player’s season were it not for an Aaron Gleeman article (behind a paywall) last week, in which he laid out the case for the Twins to trade Rosario in pursuit of quality starting pitching.
While the idea may seem absurd initially due to Rosario’s youth, power, and success as a homegrown Twin, Gleeman lays out a solid case mostly centered on statistical decline and cheap potential replacements. Instead of making a case directly for or against a Rosario trade, I’ll lay out the evidence here and present my conclusion at the end.
Rosario’s main offensive weakness is his lack of plate discipline. In 2019, Rosario’s on-base percentage was just .300, a number which has declined each of the past two seasons but has never been high, his career high OBP being .328 in 2017. In fact, that .300 OBP was the lowest of the ten Twins to average at least two plate appearances per game. While Rosario lowered his strikeouts in 2019, his 86 K’s a career low, he still demonstrated his lack of plate discipline by taking just 22 walks, nearly a K/BB ratio of 4.
The tradeoff to Rosario’s low OBP is his power. Rosario slugged .500 last year, fifth among qualifying Twins, and hit 32 home runs out of the cleanup spot. But his OPS still ranked only seventh among those same ten Twins - not idea for the man batting fourth in the lineup. Rosario did increase his average exit velocity (89.1 MPH) and barrels (41) to career highs, but
As may not have been suggested by the eye test, Rosario’s defense has also steadily declined in recent seasons. In 2019, Rosario recorded career lows in outs above average (minus-17) and sprint speed (27.1 MPH), both of which place him outside the top 200 MLB players last year. His Ultimate Zone Rating was also a career low 5.6 runs below the average outfielder. Where Rosario has shined in the outfield is his arm, as he recorded eight outfield assists, including a key game-ending throw in Boston.
One factor Gleeman argues may precipitate a Rosario trade is the rise of several Twins top prospects, including first-round picks Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach and second-rounder Brent Rooker. All three have made quick movement through the Twins’ minor league system, and Kirilloff (2018) and Larnach (2019) have each been named the franchise’s Minor League Player of the Year. Though Kirilloff and Rooker each missed time in 2019 with injuries, they have maintained a pace of reaching the majors sometime in the next year. Kirilloff’s 2019 in Pensacola was a significant drop from his dominant (.970 OPS) 2018, but as stated earlier, his year started on the Injured List. Larnach put up nearly identical slash lines in Fort Myers and Pensacola, ending the year with a .842 OPS and the aforementioned Minor League Player of the Year award. Rooker, a level above the others in Rochester, pummelled baseballs to the tune of a .933 OPS against AAA pitching, though he too missed time due to injury.
Each of these three prospects has spent time mostly or exclusively as a corner outfielder, which is why their ascent directly impacts Rosario. With Max Kepler’s extension cementing him in right field, that leaves Rosario as the only corner outfielder who could be displaced as a regular. (However, if Byron Buxton’s injuries continue to remove him from the field, Kepler would likely move to center, opening both corner spots.)
Aside from the prospects, Gleeman lists three members of the 40-man roster who could fill in if Rosario is traded and the Twins’ front office does not think any of Kirilloff, Larnach, or Rooker are immediately ready to become MLB regulars. Marwin Gonzalez, former Houston utility man, served as Minnesota’s utility man in 2019, spending most games at third base or in right field. Though he put up a subpar .264/.322/.414 slash line, that was hindered by a dreadful opening month of the season and his versatility made him a useful member of the lineup no matter where he took the field. González would be able to replace Rosario, but it would cost his versatility. Jake Cave started off slowly but picked up at the bat after Buxton’s injury, ending the year with a .258/.351/.455 slash line, besting Rosario’s 2019 OPS by five percentage points. LaMonte Wade Jr. has the least power of the proposed replacements, but his plate discipline was on display from his first MLB plate appearances: during the 16 hitless PAs to start his career, Wade walked seven times and was hit by a pitch once.
While I’ve mostly given these players’ upsides in discussing their role as potential replacements for Rosario, they all come with downsides as well. None of the prospects have yet played in the majors, though Rooker and Kirilloff have cameoed in spring training, so they come with risk if the front office wants to elevate one of them right away. Wade lacks Rosario’s power, Cave has been inconsistent and does not appear to have a high ceiling, and González would lose his utility value.
One point Gleeman does not address in the article is Rosario’s contract situation: the left fielder still has three more years of arbitration and will not become a free agent until 2023. This can benefit the Twins whether they keep or trade him: if kept, Rosario is a young player under team control for three seasons at a manageable cost, but if traded, Rosario might bring in a more valuable asset because he will be under team control for three seasons at a manageable cost.
I think I understand why Gleeman omitted this point, as it could be seen as beneficial for the Twins either way.
However, Rosario’s contract is important when compared to Buxton’s, as reports around the trade deadline stated that the Mets had asked for Buxton as part of any deal for Noah Syndergaard. Buxton is under team control for as many years as Rosario and has a higher ceiling, but also comes with a lower contract due to his injury history. As it is now the offseason, perhaps teams who were unable to land Buxton would be more open to acquiring Rosario instead.
The more I mull over Gleeman’s article, the more his points make sense. Coupled with the contracts for Kepler and Polanco, I’m more certain now that Rosario will depart the franchise before his arbitration years are up. I don’t think that trade will necessarily be immediate due to the risks and downsides involved in promoting a depth player or prospect into a full-time role as Twins left fielder. However, if the Twins’ front office thinks they can acquire a top-tier starter by trading away Rosario now, I don’t think they would hesitate long before doing it.
I’ll stand by my earlier prediction that Rosario will be a Twin at the start of the 2020 season. I’m not so sure about beyond.