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Buxton, Sano, Kepler: one of the three has to go

Its getting crowded around these parts

Minnesota Twins v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Two rookies have emerged this season, from the detritus of the injury-riddled Twins roster, to change our calculus of the the future. We knew, sooner-or-later, that Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff would be debuting, and would probably be good. The rash of injuries to basically everyone made sooner a thing that happened, and both have looked, so far, like old hands with staying power.

Larnach doesn’t have a ton of positional flexibility, he is essentially going to be a corner outfielder. Kirilloff provides a small bit more, as he can (and some would say ought to) play first base. Between the two of them, though, that should squeeze out one of three “young veterans” on this Twins team. It doesn’t mean a guy who has to move right now—with the injuries playing time is abundant—but it does mean that Falvey should pick up his phone if anyone comes calling.

Byron Buxton, at centerfield, is a game-changing player. He’s one of the fastest guys in baseball, steals runs back for you via his glove, and has finally hit at a level commensurate with his defense. Yet he cannot stay healthy. Is it better to have Buxton for 80 games each season, or better to have a less-skilled-yet-more-reliable player roaming the middle of the outfield? At least for now, if Buxton were to leave, the man in center field would need to be Max Kepler, as neither Kirilloff nor Larnach has the range to do so. Eventually, perhaps, Gilberto Celestino steps in, but he could use another year or two to earn the position before being given a scholarship. The other factor, of course, working against Buxton is that both Kepler and Miguel Sano have signed team-friendly extensions. Buxton will be expensive, and many say difficult, for the Twins to retain. Perhaps they should get value from him now, as opposed to letting him walk for nothing.

On the other hand, Miguel Sano has become the shortside of a platoon with Kirilloff right now, as the Twins try to find at bats for Larnach, Kirilloff, and Luis Arraez in the outfield. With Sano hitting poorly, and now not getting a ton of opportunity to right the ship, one has to wonder if the Twins have finally given up on the strikeout-prone slugger. The fact that he hits baseballs really far can only mask the fact that Nelson Cruz’ batting average is higher than Sano’s OBP for so long, as the latter’s OPS keeps dropping, now to nearly .700. Unlike the two outfielders, Sano may be borderline untradable, and more likely a victim of the DFA at this point.

The final, potential odd-man-out scenario involves Max Kepler. As we are really talking about having a glut of corner outfielders, this makes sense, although Kepler can play center field, and if I recall correctly, even played a bit of first in the minors himself, which adds some highly-coveted versatility to his game. With Buxton being as fragile as he is, you need a “plan B” for centerfield—and right now that is Kepler. You would need to add another centerfielder to the roster, and its difficult to do so for a cheaper contract than the one Kepler is playing on. He’s been just okay the last few seasons, although injury has also marred his 2021 season, so its hard to say the cause. Still, given his age, skills, and contract, Kepler might bring the best trade return of the three, so its silly not to listen to offers.

While the Twins should not be in desperate straits trying to make a roster decision, if they end up selling at the trade deadline, one of the three should move. If not, its likely that a decision will need to be made this offseason.


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