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Breaking Down the Twins Trade Deadline with Baseball Trade Values

A Q&A with Joshua Iversen of Baseball Trade Values

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Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Trade acquisition Tyler Mahle delivers a pitch for the Minnesota Twins against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 5, 2022 
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Much like they were in the last few weeks of the offseason, the Twins were one of the most active teams just before last week’s trade deadline. In the immediate aftermath of a transaction flurry, it’s impossible to know how moves are going to work out. It will take a few months before we find out if the major league players they brought in to help with the playoff push were enough. It will be a few years before we know if the prospects the Twins traded away for near-term major league help will come back to haunt.

That does not stop us from trying to make immediate sense of how the club did.

One of the most useful resources to that end is Baseball Trade Values. BTV calculates the expected trade value for more than 2,700 active major and minor league players and you’ve likely seen their work via the popular trade simulator engine that lets users propose all manner of trade scenarios.

Since 2019, BTV’s estimates have had about 94% accuracy with completed MLB trades and they’ve even heard from at least one MLB team that uses BTV’s estimates as a neutral check in their trade work. So, while we won’t know how these deals turn out for a while and this is an inexact science (after all, “all models are wrong, some are useful”), BTV is about as good a tool as we have for assessing how MLB teams are valuing players.

Late last week, I spoke with Joshua Iversen, Associate Editor with Baseball Trade Values about the Twins’ deadline activity. Below is our conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Twinkie Town: Joshua, thanks for taking some time to talk with me.

Before we jump into the Twins conversation, let’s start with the trade deadline overall. How did you guys make out?

Iversen: We tracked 52 total trades from June through the August 2 deadline and 48 were accepted by our model. That’s a 92.3% acceptance rate and pretty much in line with where we’ve been last year and the offseason. There’s always going to be some fluctuation, but it was pretty much in line with what we’re used to.

More specifically, those break down with 34 accepted as fair; 10 accepted, but as a minor overpay by one team; one accepted, but as a moderate overpay by one team; three accepted, but as a major overpay by one team, and four rejected because the gap was too large. That’s a pretty typical distribution for us. So, overall, a successful deadline.

Twinkie Town: Are there any new or changing macro trends you saw from the deals made at the trade deadline?

Iversen: Not too many changes. I’d say it was more a continuation of trends we had been already noticing. It remained true that glove-first, no bat infielders, I’m thinking about Edmundo Sosa going from the Cardinals to the Phillies, went for basically nothing.

Our models were a little too high on Sosa. We’d been applying an adjustment for the glove-first second basemen, but had not fully applied that to other glove-first infielders. It’s clear the market isn’t high on those players at all. Those kinds of guys seem to be a dime a dozen, you can find them anywhere, and teams are looking for guys that can hit.

The relief pitching market is where we see the most volatility. We missed fewer on the relievers than in previous years, but three of the four trades that were rejected by the model had relievers in them. Those were the RHP Raisel Iglesias to Atlanta, LHP Jake Diekman to the White Sox, and RHP Anthony Bass to Toronto trades.

It’s tricky. Teams have different priorities in valuing relievers and it’s hard to tell what they care about for different guys. Iglesias, for example, has a long track record but is having a down year with a big contract. We had him underwater, but the Braves still gave up prospect value and didn’t have the Angels take on any money.

We were right in line with the LHP Josh Hader trade, and that’s kind of a similar situation to Iglesias, so we’re still looking at if and how we need to adjust for that.

One thing I did want to note because it has been theorized that it would have an impact, is the expanded playoffs. But that did not seem to have too much impact as far as trade returns go. We didn’t make any adjustments for the playoff change. We saw some rentals going for less than expected, but the market didn’t change much as a result of that, even though theoretically there were fewer sellers and more buyers. Another general trend is some of the smarter front offices being less binary and looking to both buy and sell. We saw that with Boston, San Francisco, and even Milwaukee.

Twinkie Town: Let’s switch to the Twins. This was, historically speaking, the busiest buying trade deadline in Twins franchise history. How do you think the Twins did?

Iversen: From purely a value standpoint, we think, overall, they did very well. They checked off their boxes and filled needs and did so without moving any big league pieces. It’s kind of silly to talk about wins and losses in trades now, but from a numbers standpoint, they gave up less value than they received in each of their trades. All their trades were accepted in our model. They got their guys and didn’t overpay.

Twinkie Town: Let’s go through each of the deals, starting with RHP Jorge López. Break this one down for us at a high level.

Iversen: López is an interesting player to value. We talked already about how relievers are tricky, and he’s an exact test case. He’s been very good this year but has no track record of this whatsoever. He’s already into his arbitration years, so he’s not expensive, but he’s also not particularly cheap, and he won’t be the next couple of years if he keeps this up. And the other very important factor is that he’s out of options. If he struggles in the future, they can’t send him to AAA to get him right, they have to stick with him at the big league level or cut him loose entirely. That has a meaningful impact on his value.

We had him as one of the more valuable relievers traded.

For the package going back to Baltimore, we had this one about even in value. Povich is the headliner, and then Rojas and Nuñez had performance in the very low minors. They haven’t quite been picked up by the prospect sources yet, so we had to add them to the model after the deal. It makes sense that the Twins would be willing to move lottery ticket guys like that. Canó feels like someone to try to help out the big league team for Baltimore since they have been surprisingly good, and you can maybe squint and see him being useful.

All in all, a pretty fair deal and it doesn’t really hurt the Twins system too much. If what López is doing this year is legit, his value would be much higher, but you have to account for the lack of track record.

Twinkie Town: A couple of other things we’re interested in is how much López’s value increased since he moved to the bullpen full time. And, do your projections buy him as a high-leverage reliever going forward?

Iversen: I can’t give you an exact answer on what his value was previously because we don’t have a great log of historical values, but López was DFA’d by the Royals, and typically when guys are DFA’d they are in the $0 to $1M range for us.

We have him projected as meaningfully better than that going forward and about the same guy he is now. The more he performs like he is, the better his future projections are going to be. We have him projected to be a solid mid- to back-end relief arm. There’s maybe a little regression from where he has been this season.

Twinkie Town: OK, let’s do the RHP Tyler Mahle deal next. This one has caused a little consternation in parts of the fan base about the prospect bats given up because Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand have been performing well this season.

Iversen: With prospects, our values are largely based on the expert, public-facing prospect boards. We do make some market-based adjustments because we know the market is not as high on second basemen and for the elevated injury risk for prospect pitchers. Baseball America was fantastic about getting prospects updated mid-season, so our values for prospects were much closer than in previous years.

We had Steer as the clear headliner in this deal. He’s jumped up to about $14M and we had Mahle at $22.9M. It hurts a little bit to give him up, but the Twins have decent infield depth at the big league level and on the way in the high minors.

Encarnacion-Strand we had pretty low. The performance has been there, obviously, but the evaluators have a lot of questions about the defensive profile and if he’ll be more than a boom or bust three true outcomes guy. Same with Hajjar. He’s seen as a back-end starter.

Twinkie Town: With Steer’s leap, is it fair to say that if the Twins had tried to use this package to acquire Mahle last offseason, it would not have been enough?

Iversen: We had this as minor underpay by the Twins now. It’s well within the margin of error and a decent return for the Reds because of Steer’s helium.

The Reds targeted a lot of guys like that in their trades this deadline. Guys that have come up a long way since the offseason. There is lots of inherent risk with that approach. There’s a chance you’re buying high on a guy, but it’s also a calculated gamble that you might catch a guy before he really takes off and becomes a better-regarded prospect.

But, I think it’s pretty accurate to say that this package would not have been enough for the Twins to get Mahle last offseason and it’s fair for the Twins to view it as “house money” and take advantage of Steer’s now-higher stock.

Twinkie Town: Will you compare the value of Mahle now to RHP José Berríos a year ago? You have Mahle’s value around half as much as Berríos’ last year when he was traded (~$44M). Can you help explain that difference? Mahle is a few months older than Berrios was then, but both were 27, with another season of control, and roughly similar run prevention numbers.

Iversen: You’re right that their performance has been somewhat comparable. There are two significant differences: for one, Berríos’ track record is longer and stronger. At the time of the trade, he had multiple years as an established 3-4 fWAR arm, while Mahle’s success goes back only two years, and even then, there’s the question of the gap between his performance and his peripherals this year. The other factor is durability. Berríos’ health and reliability have been unmatched among pitchers, especially in the current era of load management and increasing injury rates. To Mahle’s credit, he hasn’t been too bad in that regard, but he was penalized for his recent shoulder injury.

The market appeared to agree with the value difference, as Berrios returned a consensus top 50 prospect and another fringe top 100 candidate while Steer, is a fringe top 100 guy.

I think it’s fair for Twins fans to compare the two and be happy that they’re getting a considerable amount of Berrios’ performance back at a much lower price. But they’re also taking on significantly more risk, at least when comparing the two at the time of the trade.

Twinkie Town: Let’s do the two rentals now, RHP Michael Fulmer for RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long and C Sandy Léon for RHP Ian Hamilton.

Iversen: The Fulmer trade was very fair, just a typical lower-end rental reliever deal. Nothing to complain about, other than losing the cool-named prospect in Sawyer Gipson-Long. Fulmer has made himself into a solid reliever, probably not a high leverage guy. He’s not as good as López, but that’s not exactly what the Twins needed. They needed to close the bridge to the back-end guys there. Fulmer is a great guy for that. Gipson-Long is not a high price to pay. He’s 24 in AA and a lot of evaluators have doubts about him being a starter.

Adding Léon was a smart decision by them. He checked a box they needed with Jeffers hurt. It has and costs minimal value, but they could do a lot worse.

Twinkie Town: Given the prospect talent traded away, how has your evaluation/ranking of the Twins’ farm system changed?

Iversen: That’s another thing that we don’t have a good historical record on, but we’re working on for the future because we get a lot of interest in it. So, I can’t give you an exact spot where they were, but we had them in the middle of the pack, around that 15th to 20th range and now have them down to 26th. Just the Astros, Mariners, Braves, and Padres rank below.

Part of that is concerning, because of the struggles their prospects have had on the farm this year. Another part of it though is Minnesota has graduated a lot of guys recently — Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Joe Ryan, Ryan Jeffers, Jhoan Duran, José Miranda — who are now in the bigs. So, in a way, that can be seen as a sign of health for the system, too.

Twinkie Town: In the run-up to the trade deadline, a lot was made of the fact that the Twins’ top prospects are injured or having down years, so they wouldn’t have the ammunition to compete for players like RHP Frankie Montas and RHP Luis Castillo. How has BTV seen the values of the top of Twins’ system change?

Iversen: Before the start of the year I thought the Twins and Montas lined up pretty well and it made all the sense in the world for a package built around INF/OF Austin Martin. But his stock has just cratered.

Martin was valued at $42.6M when he was acquired last July, and he’s down to $11M now. He’s been looking more like a utility man with no thump and no set position that he can regularly play at an above-average level. His prospect pedigree is keeping him afloat, but just looking at his performance the past two years, he’s not a guy that other teams are lining up to trade for.

And you kind of see that up and down their system right now.

OF Matt Wallner is an interesting player that I thought might get traded. He’s not quite as one-dimensional or a three-true outcomes type as Encarnacion-Strand, but he’s along that vein. We’re just not seeing a ton of top talent left in the system, again, partially because they’ve graduated the top guys.

Ryan is up to $38M now and he wasn’t nearly that valuable when he was a prospect. So that’s largely from his major league performance. Larnach is at $28M. Miranda at $23.5M, Kirilloff at $19.8M, he’s come down a little bit. But those aren’t guys you are looking to trade.

RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson is at $5.4M now. He’s an interesting case because he was starting to fall a little bit when the Twins acquired him. When the Mets traded him to Toronto, he was kind of unknown, but then was on the rise. He’s been OK since but hasn’t been increasing like some people expected him to. We had him originally, at the time of trade last year, at $22.3M. But then updated that to $14.5M once we had the mid-season prospect updates and it’s been slowly declining since. (Editor’s note: It’s also worth noting that he’s still just 21 years old and in his second season of AA).

Twinkie Town: Perhaps because of the state of the farm, a sort of bizarre discussion that took hold on social media in the run-up to the trade deadline was that the Twins should trade away SS Carlos Correa to re-stock. Does that make any sense? What is his trade value and what kind of return would that have brought?

Iversen: I don’t think so. The other teams know he’s going to opt out, as well, and he hasn’t quite been himself this year. His numbers are not quite what they usually are, both on offense and defense. He has surplus value, we have him at $14M, which is fairly substantial.

But, you are not getting multiple top 100 prospects back to re-stock your farm for him. You’re talking about getting someone like Spencer Steer ($14M) back, or a couple of guys lower than him. You’re in contention, in first place, and you might think he’ll be better in the second half as he gets more comfortable and gets back to his normal self. It makes more sense to hang on to him.

There also was not much market for shortstops at the deadline. Probably just the Yankees and Cardinals.

Twinkie Town: Last one. What is Miguel Sanó’s trade value?

Iversen: We have him completely underwater. The expectations for him are not high. He might hit a little bit, but any bat is offset by the defense, in terms of the total value. He costs about $6M for the rest of the way, because you have to factor in the buy-out for next year’s option, and he’s not going to produce that value on the field. It’s a completely sunk cost. He has not been that high on trade value lists since he got the contract. He was paid fairly for his profile, which isn’t the most attractive profile, and then it fell apart.

Many thanks to Joshua Iversen for taking the time to discuss these questions!