With the July 30 trade deadline fast approaching, there is little doubt the Twins will be sellers. Their playoff odds with ten days to go before the deadline sit at 0.2% according to FanGraphs and <0.1% according to Baseball-Reference.
The looming trade deadline presents an interesting fork in the road for the front office. How they choose to navigate it will reveal a great deal about their plans and how they view their organization from a contention for championships perspective. The decisions they make over the next two weeks — and which players they choose to move — will send some clear signals about Falvey and Levine’s intentions for 2022.
Because the Twins were widely seen as a contender at the start of the season their roster is viewed as being full of players that are of interest to other teams. Falvey and Levine are sure to field significant interest in many different players. ESPN’s Jeff Passan recently reported (subscription required) the Twins are “the team almost every contender is waiting on.”
At this point, the degree to which the Twins will trade away players for future prospects is the primary open question.
Who might be traded?
What might trades mean for the Twins’ near term competitiveness?
To me, the players that have a reasonable chance of being traded can be binned generally into three groups and each group implies something different about the team’s near term competitive window:
The first group (and mostly likely to move) are the expiring contracts. It’s just good business to get some future value for these players while you can. The Twins should do that and doing so should have little to no impact on the near term chances of winning. As fans, we would be wise to temper our expectations about what the Twins could get in return for the players in Group 1, though. Thanks to poor performance (Pineda, Happ, Colomé, Simmons) and a limited number of suitors due to positional limitations (Cruz), this group does not seem likely to bring back a lot of future value beyond a few lottery ticket prospects. Those have value, but also come with a lot of risk of nothing panning out.
The second group is made up of players that are under contract for the next few seasons and are less certain to be traded, but could be without triggering a major rebuild. For various reasons the players on this list could be (some might argue *should* be) moved. Max Kepler and Mitch Garver play positions that have top prospects — Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Ryan Jeffers — who are already in the majors. Moving Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sanó would create more financial and positional flexibility for future roster building and there are ready-made replacements at their positions (Luis Arraez for Donaldson, Kirilloff for Sanó) on the roster.
Group 3 is where the big decisions come. These are the players that, if moved, would be clear signals that the front office is looking toward executing a longer term rebuild. If that is the course taken, competing in 2022 will not be the priority. Group 3 players have the most trade value thanks to their combination of talent, age, contract status, and actual performance; but, they are also the keys to the Twins’ near term competitive aspirations. Ready replacements for these players do not exist in the Twins’ system and it’s very hard to see how the team could compete next season without most or all of this group on the roster. Without them, 2023 or 2024 might be the club’s next competitive window.
So far, reporting has indicated Falvey and Levine are reluctant to part with controllable players. But the decisions won’t be easy. These players could bring back major hauls in future prospect value. José Berríos might be the best starting pitcher potentially available this July and the Twins could find themselves facilitating a bidding war for him. You can count on one hand the number of players that have the ability to impact a game the way Byron Buxton can.
Both players are scheduled to be free agents after next season. The Twins have expressed interest in working out extensions to keep them in Minnesota long term, but it’s not clear how interested either player is in sticking around. If the front office determines they are not going to find long term agreements, it makes sense to make the players available for trade. Teams with designs on signing them long term could be willing to pay up significantly.
The decisions about Buxton and Berríos are likely the keys to whether the rest of this group stays or goes. If those two stay, it makes sense to hang on to the rest of the group in hopes of contending next season. But, if Buxton and/or Berríos are traded, the dominoes could start to fall. Kenta Maeda and Jorge Polanco don’t figure to be moved thanks to their very team friendly contracts that have them under control for a few more seasons, but, if the Twins front office wanted to really rebuild, they both would be attractive assets to make available.
Relievers Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Caleb Thielbar could belong to either group 2 or group 3, depending on the scenario. All three offer contract control beyond this season (Rogers and Duffey are free agents after 2022) and are important pieces to have around if the Twins want to contend in 2022. That said, they also belong to a player demographic that is inherently volatile. If the Twins find any of them drawing interest from contenders seeking experienced, middle and late inning relief pitching it could make sense to cash in at the deadline when nearly every contender is desperate for relief pitching. In the event Buxton and Berríos are traded, it’s a no-brainer to try to move these three as well. The Twins could also hang on to the two stars and selectively move one or two of these relievers when their value is highest without hurting next year’s outlook too badly.
Which teams are buying?
Through games played on July 19, ten days before the trade deadline, there are ten teams with greater than 50% chances of making the playoffs per FanGraphs’ models. Another six teams are around 10%. Below, you can see the sixteen teams that might plausibly be buyers, their playoff chances, and where they stack up in FanGraphs’ recently updated farm system rankings:
Where can I find scouting reports for the prospects the Twins might acquire?
There is a lot of public scouting information available about prospects and two of the best sources are FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline. Both offer top 100+ lists of prospects and a ranked list for each team with high level scouting reports about each player.
Which buyers might be fits for which Twins?
While there are sixteen possible buying teams, they won’t all have interest in every of the Twins available options. It’s unclear if the Twins would be willing to work out a trade with the division rival White Sox (although they have worked out minor trades together in the past).
To try to understand what the market for the various Twins could look like, I queried Statcast to look at the production the contending teams are getting from the positions the Twins might be able to help with. Here’s a brief look at which teams might be fits for which Twins, based on the numbers.
SS Andrelton Simmons
Simmons’ lone season in Minnesota has not gone to plan. He’s hitting .230 / .299 / .303 with just 12 extra base hits, good for a well below average 70 wRC+. However, as has always been the case, the bulk of his value rests with his glove.
On that front the Statcast data is favorable. Simmons has accumulated +12 Outs Above Average and +5% success rate added so far this season. That OAA mark is third best among all qualified players and second best among shortstops. A contender that gets plenty of offense from other parts of the roster might be interested in cheaply solidifying the middle of their defense. His light bat could also see him be acquired as a late inning defensive replacement.
By Statcast’s measurements, the Phillies (-18 OAA), Dodgers (-11), Red Sox (-11), and Blue Jays (-6) have been among the worst teams defensively at shortstop this season — yet all of them have established, well known shortstops (Didi Gregorious, Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, and Bo Bichette, respectively) manning the positions currently. Cincinnati ranks 26th with -9 OAA from a revolving door of position players miscast as shortstops. With a strong offensive cast at other positions, they might be the most likely suitors for Simmons. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Mets now that superstar Francisco Lindor will be out for an extended period with an oblique injury.
RHP Michael Pineda
Possible Suitors: Anybody and Everybody
Pineda is almost certainly going to be traded, but there has not been much in the rumor mill about which teams might be interested.That could be because he’s a backup option for teams hoping to land a different starter. It also might be because of his recent injury; teams could just want to see him again to ensure he’s truly healthy and able to be effective before acquiring him. Pineda could do a lot to add some juice to his market with a strong start against the White Sox on Wednesday. If healthy and effective, he’s a consistent, innings eating, above average starter that gives teams a chance to win every fifth game.
Contending teams never have enough pitching. With Pineda being a reasonably low cost rental, just about every contending team on our list could have interest in adding him to round out the back of their rotations. None of the contending teams rank in the bottom ten when it comes to starting pitching. The Blue Jays have the worst starting pitcher FIP among our list of contending teams (4.43, 18th), with numerous other contenders slotting in just ahead of them.
LHP Taylor Rogers
RHP Tyler Duffey
LHP Caleb Thielbar
RHP Hansel Robles
Possible Suitors: Anybody and Everybody
Pretty much every contender might be in the market for relief help at the trade deadline. Robles should be a fairly low cost option given that he’s a free agent again this winter, but Thielbar, Duffey, and Rogers should be somewhat more expensive since they are also under contract for at least next season.
Among the list of contending teams, the Astros, Angels, Phillies, and Reds have gotten the worst bullpen performance this season (all are ranked in the bottom 10 by FIP). Against right handed batters, the Reds and Astros bullpens rank 29th and 30th in FIP, with the Angels, Braves, and Brewers also in the bottom 10. They might be the best fits for Robles or Duffey, who both fare better against right handed batters than left.
The Angels, Reds, Mets, and Phillies have been lowest performing contending teams when it comes to relief pitching against left handed batters. Those teams might benefit most from acquiring Rogers or Thielbar, who both have strong splits against lefties.
DH Nelson Cruz
Possible Suitors: White Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Athletics
The Twins rank 3rd in MLB in offensive production from their designated hitters, thanks to Nelson Cruz and his .299 / .375 / .545 triple slash line. Among American League teams, only the Angels (thanks to Shohei Ohtani) have gotten better offensive work from their DH spot.
Among the eight buying AL teams, there are four that could really use an upgrade at DH. That’s probably the extent of Cruz’s market. It’s possible a NL team will want to add him for high leverage pinch hitting duty, but it seems most likely that Cruz’s market will be limited to AL teams who can deploy him as DH regularly.
Of those four, the White Sox have gotten the best production from their DH spot (.337 wOBA, 11th), while the Blue Jays (.311, 16th), Rays (.308, 17th), and A’s (.304, 18th) are all bunched together in the middle of the pack. Cruz and his .385 wOBA would be a clear improvement for any of these teams.
3B Josh Donaldson
Possible Suitors: Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Reds
Donaldson’s market may be limited by two factors — 1) Many of the top contenders are mostly set at third base, and 2) many of the top contenders may not be interested in absorbing the remaining 2 years and $50M of his contract. Donaldson’s contract is far from under water — despite what Twins Twitter often suggests — but it might serve to limit his potential suitors to those in bigger markets or force Minnesota to keep a chunk of the money owed to Donaldson on its books.
Most of the rumors having to do with a Donaldson deadline trade thus far have been about the Mets, whose new ownership has shown they are more interested in winning than worrying about future financial ramifications. Whether New York’s interest in Donaldson is real, or just public posturing to enhance their position relative to acquiring Kris Bryant from the Cubs, is not clear. It is clear that they could stand an upgrade at the hot corner. In terms of production from third basemen, the Mets rank 10th in wOBA (.333) and 25th in OAA (-4). Donaldson’s .355 wOBA and +1 OAA would certainly fit the bill as improvements.
Based on production from the position, the Phillies, Brewers, and Reds could also make sense as Donaldson acquirers, but the fits are less clean. Both the Phillies (prospect Alec Bohm) and Reds (Eugenio Suarez) have third basemen they are invested in. The Brewers, given their market and usual behavior, may not have interest in absorbing the financial costs. But, if the Twins were willing to eat a sizable portion of the money owed to Donaldson, perhaps Milwaukee would be a willing trade partner.
CF Byron Buxton
Possible Suitors: Anyone with plans to extend his contract, Phillies, Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Mets
RHP José Berríos
Possible Suitors: Anyone with plans to extend his contract, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mets, Athletics
The trade markets for Buxton and Berríos are probably about more than contending this season. The Statcast data about this season’s center field and starting pitcher performance is not as informative for determining which teams might be fits for them. Interested teams know that they have either player under contract for next season and that they are inheriting a player that is keenly interested in getting paid his market value in his next contract. Teams that think they have a shot at signing them long term while contending this season or next might be interested in trading for them now. That would give them the benefit of exclusive negotiations on the contract extension, instead of bidding against other clubs in free agency.
With the expected values of the new contracts reasonably expected to be north of $125-million over a number of years, the teams that usually play at the top of the free agency markets — Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Mets — are natural to speculate about, especially for Buxton. The Astros, Phillies, and Red Sox all have uncertainty in center field and the financial position to make a large commitment to a centerfielder.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a track record of acquiring players from situations where there might be tension about contract status. They would be one to keep an eye on for Berríos, even though they aren’t in the playoff mix this season. The Blue Jays have immediate needs for starting pitching and have been rumored to be interested in Berríos all season. They’ve played in the upper echelon of the market the past few seasons and also have the prospect depth to pay handsomely to acquire him. The Mets are another likely suitor, for many of the same reasons discussed with regard to Donaldson above. Lastly, don’t rule out the Athletics. While they likely are not going to commit to a long term deal for Berríos, they have a history of “going for it” when they have a chance and could view him as a rental they could try to trade to a big market team this winter.
John is a contributor to Twinkie Town with an emphasis on analytics. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.