With just two weeks to go until the MLB Trade Deadline, the clock is ticking on the Minnesota Twins making a truly consequential move.
Or, any move at all, for that matter. As you’ve no doubt already been reminded several times, whether by Dick Bremer or Cory Provus or your friendly neighborhood Twinkie Town scribes, there is no August waiver deadline anymore. July 31 is all she wrote, and if the Twins are going to make a move, well, they best get moving.
Let’s start with the premise that pitching is what the Twins need, and that they’ll take starters, relievers, or both.
Of course, a starter would bring more value to the table, and perhaps bumping Martin Perez and/or Michael Pineda to the bullpen would be a helpful trickle-down move. And as long as we’re talking about ideal scenarios, the Twins would obviously prefer to have team control over any acquisition instead of going the route of a rental.
All of those factors combine to suggest one trade target as tops above the rest: Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.
The Case for Stroman
Marcus Stroman made his first All-Star team this year and just turned 28 years old. He’s under team control for one more season, and the team acquiring him will have some time to try and figure out a potential contract extension.
Stroman isn’t necessarily proven as the No. 1 ace on a playoff team, at least not based on a traditional measuring stick. His best season was in 2017, when he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Stroman isn’t exactly a strikeout machine, but he is a ground ball machine.
While last year’s numbers are far from sparkling — 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA — he was hampered by some early shoulder issues and a stint on the injured list midseason, and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was right in line with his career at 3.91, almost identical to the 3.90 he posted in 2017 and similar to his 3.72 so far this season.
Additionally, his xFIP, or his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, was 3.84 last season, lower than his 4.09 mark this season.
Stroman has been hampered by a so-so (at best) defense behind him of late on a poor Toronto team. The Twins infield defense has been somewhat inconsistent this year but is generally solid and absolutely better than the Blue Jays’.
By acquiring Stroman, the Twins wouldn’t necessarily have a traditional ace, but rather a dangerous 1-2 punch of potential diminutive aces. (“Diminutive” probably isn’t a fair descriptor to the 6-foot Jose Berrios, but height was often the reason that some talent evaluators, including one Keith Law, gave for Berrios not being a top-flight prospect.)
Along with Berrios, the 5-foot-7 Stroman would make a potent duo at the top of the rotation, and not only for the balance of 2019 but also for 2020 and, hopefully, beyond. Both are already next-tier aces, or 1-b starters, if you will, and at 25 and 28 years of age, respectively, Berrios and Stroman could easily lead the Twins into an era of dominance in the AL Central.
The only real cons to acquiring Stroman are related to the cost, and especially when considering that Stroman isn’t that prototypical “ace”.
Because Stroman is likely the best option on the market, at least among players with multiple years of control and not including Noah Syndergaard, the market will dictate that Toronto receives a maximum return. Think what Pittsburgh coughed up for Chris Archer, which to this point looks like a disaster of a trade.
Stroman has had a few injuries over the past few seasons and is on pace to throw 200-plus innings for the third time in four years, but it’s hardly a reason to altogether avoid a move for an All-Star pitcher.
So, what’s the cost?
Because of the leverage that the Blue Jays possess, the asking price is likely to start with at least one, if not two of the Twins’ top three prospects.
It has been reported that Minnesota has made the trio of shortstop Royce Lewis, outfielder Alex Kirilloff, and pitcher Brusdar Graterol off-limits in trade conversations, but that doesn’t mean that teams like the Blue Jays, who are in the midst of a rebuild, won’t start by asking for a combination of prospects that includes one or two of those guys.
One can expect that the Twins would counter with a proposal that includes a grouping of prospects just outside the top three.
Depending on your preferred prospect rankings site, a package including one of Trevor Larnach (last year’s first-round pick) and Brent Rooker plus a couple of prospects in the No. 10 to No. 20 range could get it done.
Here’s my best stab at a fair offer for both sides that could get something done.
Twins receive: Marcus Stroman
Blue Jays receive: Trevor Larnach (No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com), Jhoan Duran (No. 8), Nick Gordon (No. 11)
The Twins may also inquire about closer Ken Giles, although Giles has had elbow issues of late and may not be nearly as attractive to acquire for the stretch run. We’ll leave him out of this deal.
It would hurt for the Twins to give up Larnach, who was the No. 20 pick in the 2018 draft out of Oregon State and has put up a slash line of .311/.385/.472 across three levels as a pro between last and this year. He’s 22 years old and projects to develop plenty of power as he advances through the system. But Minnesota has a trio of young outfielders at the major league level and several middle infield prospects that could end up moving to a corner spot down the road. There’s also Kiriloff, who is himself probably only a year-plus out from being major-league-ready.
Larnach will hold greater trade value than Rooker, another former college bat who is currently playing a corner outfield spot.
The Twins may be willing to trade recent breakout prospect Jordan Balazovic but would likely prefer to move Duran, who they acquired from Arizona last year in the Eduardo Escobar trade. Flipping him as part of a bigger deal would certainly be palatable.
Of their middle infield prospects, Minnesota would also prefer to move Nick Gordon, who is having a much better year at Rochester than last season. He’s begun a likely-permanent transition to second base, and while the Twins will have an open spot there next year with Jonathan Schoop hitting free agency, the front office may prefer to find another stop-gap as they wait for Wander Javier, who is probably still a couple years away.
When Javier gets to the big leagues, either he or All-Star Jorge Polanco could end up moving to second base and forming a fantastic double-play combo on both sides of the ball.
The Jays would be getting a likely middle-of-the-order bat and a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, plus a nearly major-league-ready middle infielder. Freddy Galvis and Eric Sogard are not the future in Toronto, and they’ll need another young player up the middle to pair with top prospect Bo Bichette.
This still allows the Twins to keep their top three prospects and bolster their rotation. And not just for this year, but for at least next year, too.
Don’t wait, Falvine
With every Stroman start that passes, the Twins miss out on the opportunity to improve their team and further distance themselves from Cleveland in the division race.
It’s the perfect storm of a legitimate World Series contender with a legitimate need and a wealth of prospects at their disposal. While I’d be the first one in line with a pitchfork if the Twins ponied-up a haul for a rental such as Madison Bumgarner (although we should all be interested at the right price, of course), a trio of top-12 prospects that doesn’t include the No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 guys is the proper price to pay for a 1-B starter.
A rotation led by Berrios, Stroman, and Jake Odorizzi will generate enough quality starts to keep Cleveland at arm’s length and easily lock up the division, not to mention giving the Twins a legitimate trio of starters in a postseason series.