With the short-season MLB trade deadline fast approaching (August 31st) rumors are swirling and trade ideas are being thrown around in abundance. The Twins, expected to be buyers at the deadline, have been the center of some speculation, and while this is the sort of thing you expect from delusional Yankees fans on Twitter, one piece of insanity came from MLB Network today:
An idea from @markdero7 on #MLBNCentral right now that he called "a framework." Everybody trying to trade Hader over there. Dan O'Dowd said he'd do this trade if Milwaukee but maybe not if he's Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/jrzW1kqqN0— The Brewer Nation (@BrewerNation) August 27, 2020
In this scenario, the Twins, who already have a top-ten bullpen (by ERA) despite being massively overworked, would be trading for Josh Hader of the Brewers, who is having an excellent season and is probably a top-5 reliever in baseball. This proposal has them giving up their top prospect (and the #13 prospect in baseball according to Fangraphs), along with a catching prospect they are very high on, as well as a strong corner outfield/first baseman who is just about MLB-ready, for one reliever. I’m here to tell you that this is pure insanity.
Josh Hader is an excellent reliever. He’s very young, very good, and will be very in-demand this trade season. The Twins already have a great bullpen, including 4-5 trustworthy high-leverage types. It is definitely true that you can never have too many great relievers, but this price tag is ridiculous. No reliever has ever been worth this much.
Hader is on pace for a 2.9-fWAR season (for 162 games). This would be his best season by a few percentage points, although you would probably expect some amount of regression from his hot start in a full season (considering he hasn’t given up a run yet). The best reliever in baseball last year was former Twin Liam Hendriks, at 3.8 fWAR.
Just last year, Jorge Polanco posted 4.0 fWAR. Former Twins #1 prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (in only a half season) came in at 2.7 fWAR, which would be a reasonable projection for Hader this year. If you believe that Royce Lewis could someday be better than Jorge Polanco, as almost everyone in baseball does, then simply trading Lewis for Hader would be pure insanity. There is a high chance that Royce Lewis becomes a 4-5 fWAR player for many years. To trade that for a player that, if he maintains his performance, will give you 2.5-3 for a few years is ludicrous. And then when you throw in the catcher of our future, who also has 3-4 win potential, it’s laughable.
The bottom line is, elite position players and starting pitchers will always be more valuable over the course of a season than elite relievers. The margins are so slim for relievers that the difference between Josh Hader and Trevor May could be three bad innings. They play for a fraction of the innings that position players and starters do, and even when elite provide a fraction of the value. This was the justification for the Maeda-Graterol swap, which has already started to pay off for the Twins. One of the original hallmarks of Billy Beane’s “moneyball” A’s was to take relievers, bring out a couple elite seasons from them, and trade them for a high return. Good coaching and development can create elite relievers instead of just buying them. Just look at Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May on the current squad.
This trade would be a huge mistake if somehow Falvey and Levine didn’t laugh and hang up the phone were it proposed to them. It speaks volume of the trade deadline craze that this even made it onto your TV screens on MLB Network.