Tuesday afternoon’s MLB trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey made no secret about the Twins planning to be buyers, saying: “We want to find ways to upgrade our team.”
As they evaluate the scenarios to accomplish that — and try to shake off being swept by one of the worst teams in baseball — here are the questions facing the Twins between now and 5:00 p.m. Minnesota time on Aug. 1.
What are the Twins’ playoff odds?
This is a thoroughly mediocre team that has been frustrating to watch for most of the season’s first four months, with their pitching and hitting rarely clicking at the same time. But thanks to residing in baseball’s worst division, the Twins sit in first place with a 54-53 record and, despite their best efforts, they’re seen as heavy favorites to make the playoffs for the first time since 2020.
Along with the Braves and Dodgers, the Twins are one of three teams projected to win their division greater than 65 percent of the time by each of FanGraphs (72.6), Baseball Prospectus (77.0) and Baseball-Reference (77.7). And winning the American League Central, regardless of record, would mean hosting every game of a best-of-three playoff series against the worst wild-card team.
Little about the Twins’ performance this season screams “contender,” but being the least-dilapidated house in a run-down neighborhood has its benefits. First-place teams shouldn’t be sellers. And when a team that last won a playoff game two decades ago has a 70 percent chance of playing a first-round series entirely at home, they should be buyers. That’s where the Twins find themselves.
What are the Twins’ biggest needs?
There were two obvious offseason needs that went largely unaddressed by the front office, and both remain obvious needs now: late-inning reliever and right-handed-hitting outfielder.
Twins relievers rank 14th in ERA and 15th in Win Probability Added out of 30 teams, and there are health questions surrounding key setup men Brock Stewart and Caleb Thielbar. Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax need assistance, and it would be optimistic to assume on Aug. 1 that Thielbar, who returned from the injured list Sunday, and Stewart, who remains on the IL, can provide enough of it.
Jorge López was supposed to be a big part of the late-inning mix, but last year’s deadline pickup struggled so much that the Twins deemed him a sunk cost and traded him to the Marlins for veteran reliever Dylan Floro. It won’t take much to be more reliable than López, who had been relegated to mop-up duties, but Floro is more of a solid, complementary piece. Bullpen help is still needed.
In honor of Dylan Floro’s birthday:
Here’s his strikeout of Randy Arozarena on 3 pitches in Game 6 of the World Series. pic.twitter.com/Ywo3PviPJD
— Dodgers Archive (@DodgersArchive) December 27, 2020
While the emergence of young left-handed bats Edouard Julien, Alex Kirilloff and Matt Wallner has boosted the Twins’ lineup to a respectable 10th out of 30 teams with a .752 OPS against right-handed pitching, they’re dead last in MLB with a .657 OPS versus left-handers. Royce Lewis’ expected mid-August return from the injured list should help, but it’s clear they lack right-handed thump.
Lefty bats Max Kepler, Joey Gallo, Trevor Larnach, Nick Gordon, Kirilloff and Wallner have started 83 percent of the Twins’ games in left field and right field, so the most logical solution would be to add a right-handed bat there. Ideally it would be a hitter capable of taking on a starting job, but at minimum they need to find a right-handed platoon partner for their many lefties.
Who could the Twins target?
Fortunately for the Twins, relievers and platoon hitters are rarely in short supply at the deadline, as even bad teams usually have some to sell. It’s just a matter of how much prospect capital the Twins are willing to commit, and whether they’d prefer inexpensive two-month rentals or costlier multi-year solutions.
Padres left-hander Josh Hader headlines the group of potential bullpen rentals that also includes lefties Matt Moore (Angels), Brooks Raley (Mets) and Brent Suter (Rockies), plus righties José Cisnero (Tigers), Trevor May (A’s), Keynan Middleton (White Sox) and Michael Fulmer (Cubs), the latter of whom the Twins already acquired cheaply once as a rental last deadline.
Pirates right-hander David Bednar is the best and no doubt most expensive of the possible bullpen targets under team control past this year, along with lefty Aaron Bummer (White Sox) and righties Scott Barlow (Royals), Paul Sewald (Mariners), Giovanny Gallegos (Cardinals), Carlos Hernández (Royals), Adam Ottavino (Mets) and Kyle Finnegan (Nationals).
David Bednar, Nasty Curveballs. 😨 pic.twitter.com/AYwE7av4aa
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 4, 2023
Potential right-handed rental hitters include Adam Duvall (Red Sox), Teoscar Hernández (Mariners), Jeimer Candelario (Nationals), Tommy Pham (Mets), Hunter Renfroe (Angels), Randal Grichuk (Rockies) and Mark Canha (Mets). And while he’s a lefty, Cubs impending free agent Cody Bellinger would be a huge upgrade in center field if the Twins are willing to pay for an elite rental.
Assuming the Cardinals aren’t moving reigning National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt, who is signed through 2024 and has a no-trade clause, the most appealing righty bats under team control past this year include Lane Thomas (Nationals), Tyler O’Neill (Cardinals), Nick Senzel (Reds), Ramón Laureano (A’s), Dylan Carlson (Cardinals), Connor Joe (Pirates) and Jo Adell (Angels).
Who could the Twins offer up?
Most selling teams are looking for prospects, which isn’t ideal for the Twins after they depleted the farm system at last year’s deadline in now-regrettable deals for López and Tyler Mahle.
They still have a trio of consensus top-100 prospects in Brooks Lee, Walker Jenkins and Emmanuel Rodriguez, but recent draft picks like Jenkins aren’t even eligible to be traded and it’s tough to envision the Twins trading Lee or Rodriguez in anything but a blockbuster deal. Beyond those three, the Twins’ farm system is seen as mediocre and may struggle to beat other teams’ offers.
Wallner, who ranked No. 4 on my midseason Twins top 20 prospects list, would surely be of interest to plenty of selling teams as an MLB-ready slugger, but he’s already in the majors helping the Twins’ lineup and profiles as a potential long-term building block. Similarly, the Twins might be hesitant to part with Jordan Balazovic (No. 16) now that he’s showing promise in the big-league bullpen.
SWING AND A MISS!
Marco Raya just struck out the first batter he faced in his AA debut for the Wind Surge!
B1: Wichita 0 | Tulsa 0 pic.twitter.com/nf3CchfklB
— Wichita Wind Surge (@WindSurgeICT) July 8, 2023
Other prospects likely to generate trade interest include pitchers Marco Raya (No. 5), David Festa (No. 6), Cory Lewis (No. 11), C.J. Culpepper (No. 17), Simeon Woods Richardson and Brent Headrick, plus hitters Tanner Schobel (No. 7), Austin Martin (No. 9), Yasser Mercedes (No. 10), Jose Rodriguez (No. 13), Kala’i Rosario (No. 15) and Yunior Severino.
And more so than most buyers, the Twins also have some young major leaguers who, while technically no longer prospects due to their MLB playing time, still have enough future value to appeal to selling teams. Larnach and Jose Miranda are their most prominent examples, but Louie Varland, Gilberto Celestino and Josh Winder could also fit that description as non-prospect prospects.
Trading a veteran for a veteran is also a possibility, although those deals tend to be trickier. They’d certainly move Gallo, but he may not even have trade value. They’ve turned down offers for Kepler in the past despite their logjam of lefty bats, viewing him as undervalued. Jorge Polanco may no longer be in the long-term plans, especially with Julien at second base and Lewis returning soon.
Dan Hayes reports that other buying teams are predictably expressing interest in the Twins’ veteran starting pitchers, including impending free agents Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, but “they would need to be blown away” to trade one.
(Top photo of Derek Falvey: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)