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Prioritizing Trade Candidates for the Deadline

Few expected this 2018 Minnesota Twins team would be putting up the 'For Sale' sign in early July, but here we are. With a nightmarish road trip pushing them hopelessly out of contention, the Twins now have no choice but to unload assets and make whatever upgrades they can to move forward.

Let's take stock and assess what they've got.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today
As is the nature of this miserable season, the Twins haven't seen trade candidates do much to build value, so the front office won't exactly be working from a position of great strength as the deadline approaches and buyers inquire.

With that said, here's how I'd rank players on the "sell" board – not strictly in terms of what they'll bring back, but how eager I'd be to deal them all things considered.

1. Brian Dozier, 2B

The hope was that, even if Minnesota slid out of contention during the first four months, Dozier would at least position himself as a coveted trade target.

Imagine if he put up the same kind of numbers that earned him an All-Star nod in the first half of 2015: .849 OPS, 19 home runs, 67 runs scored.

Coming off back-to-back campaigns that bordered on MVP-caliber, and entering a contract year, this sort of production seemed possible – if not probable – for the 31-year-old. Alas, much like everything else this year, it hasn't gone to plan.

Dozier entered play on Thursday with a .220/.308/.394 slash line. That batting average would rank as the worst of his career, and he hasn't posted a lower OPS since his tumultuous rookie season in 2012.

Despite the hugely disappointing output, Dozier will still be attractive as a trade candidate.

His clubhouse presence is reputed throughout the league. He has a recent history of catching fire down the stretch. And he'll only be owed about $3 million over the final two months of the season.

Those two months (plus postseason) are all that a theoretical trade partner will be getting, since Dozier becomes a free agent after the season, but he does have the potential to make a significant impact for a contender.

So I do think it's possible he yields a reasonably decent haul, especially if he gets rolling a little here in July. The front office will take any salary relief it can get after the 2018 fizzled out with an all-time high payroll.

One club to look out for on the Dozier front: Seattle. Yes, the Mariners will be getting Robinson Cano back from his suspension in mid-August, but he'll be coming off finger surgery and is ineligible for the playoffs.

Projected Return: 2 to 3 solid mid-level prospects

2. Fernando Rodney, RP

Out of all the moves Derek Falvey and Thad Levine made over the winter, signing Rodney may have drawn the most skepticism. He was, after all, a 41-year-old with a reputation for putting runners aboard and making things interesting. It was all too easy to see this acquisition backfiring.

Instead, it's actually proven to be their savviest move. The grizzled vet has looked as strong as ever, pumping fastballs in the mid-90s, and his control has actually been considerably improved from recent years – Rodney's 3.5 BB/9 is lower than any mark he's finished with in that category since 2012, when he was an All-Star and Cy Young candidate.

The righty holds a 3.18 ERA, 9.8 K/9 rate, and .626 opponents' OPS. He recently ended a streak of 15 straight converted saves.

It's true that relief pitchers don't tend to bring back a ton in deadline trades, owing to the fact they'll only pitch a couple dozen innings thereafter, but Rodney has a couple of factors adding to his appeal:

1) He is as experienced a relief arm as you're going to find on the market, with 16 seasons and 317 saves (tied with Craig Kimbrel for most among active players) under his belt.

2) He's not just a rental, necessarily. His contract includes a team option for $4.25 million next year, so he can easily be brought back on the cheap.

Whereas the market for Dozier will be narrowly defined (most contenders have players locked in at second base), most teams will be looking for bullpen help, so Rodney ought to draw more askers.

Projected Return: 1-to-2 decent prospects

3. Lance Lynn, SP

No one seemed to want Lynn much during the offseason, where he went unsigned before joining the Twins three weeks into spring training, and it's unlikely that has changed during the past few months. In 16 starts, Lynn has posted a 5.49 ERA and 1.68 WHIP while issuing more walks (50) than all but two other big-league starters.

On top of the poor numbers, there's the poor attitude; his perpetually visible grumpiness was passed off as competitiveness when he was pitching well for good Cardinals teams, but seems more sulky when he's struggling for a terrible Twins team. Lynn's failure to cover first base during a disastrous second inning in his latest start – subject of a frustrated Paul Molitor's venting after the game – is the kind of thing that is noticed and frowned upon.

Having said all that, Lynn is a vet with a lengthy track record of success, and his performance has generally been better of late; he posted a 3.27 ERA in May and June. There are also some promising underlying signs in his performance: a four-seamer averaging nearly 93 MPH, a career-high 10.6% swinging strike rate, and metrics like a .341 BABIP and sub-70% strand rate that suggest he's been victimized by unsustainably bad luck.

I've got to think someone will take a shot on him. He's a better bet than the fifth starters on several contenders and could be a real difference-maker if he gets invigorated and throws strikes. But the Twins will be lucky to get someone to eat all of his remaining ~$5 million in salary, and are very unlikely to get back on anything of consequence.

The real value here is in opening up a 40-man roster spot, and some innings for younger pitchers.

Projected Return: 1 non-prospect

4. Kyle Gibson, SP

Without question, Gibson would yield much more than Lynn in a trade. He has legitimately turned a corner in his career and is controllable through 2019, his final year of arbitration eligibility. But those very same factors should make Minnesota reluctant to move him.

Gibson is making $4.2 million this season (about one-third of Lynn's salary) after losing his arbitration case against the Twins. Presuming he stays healthy and on track the rest of the way, he'll get a healthy raise next year but still shouldn't make more than $10 million or so, a bargain for someone of his caliber.

As the Twins eye a quick return to contention, they'll certainly want to maintain their improvements in the rotation. Gibson's been such a big part of that, and figures to be a key depth piece next year with Lynn, Jake Odorizzi and Ervin Santana all potentially moving on.

For what it's worth, the Yankees reportedly had scouts on hand to watch Gibson's latest start.

Projected Return: 1 prospect that ranks in the 6-to-15 range on Twins top prospect list, and maybe another low-level guy

5. Zach Duke, RP

He has quietly been everything the Twins could've hoped for, turning in a 2.90 ERA, 2.49 FIP and 9.3 K/9 rate while allowing zero home runs in 38 appearances. His 0.7 WAR leads all Minnesota relievers.

Yet despite his fine work, Duke hasn't had a huge overall impact, evidenced by -0.40 WPA and only 31 innings pitchers through the team's first 82 games. It's the nature of his role, a limited one by convention, and that will limit his trade value. The Twins won't likely get much more substance in return for Duke than they did for Fernando Abad (remember Pat Light?), so they may be just as well holding on and letting him eat innings the rest of the way.

Projected Return: One prospect who ranks toward the back of Minnesota's Top 40

6. Eduardo Escobar, IF

He is Minnesota's most valuable trade chip among realistic candidates, to be sure. Escobar is having a career year at age 29, hitting .277/.335/.531 with a league-leading 34 doubles through the first half. He's a versatile and solid defender, beloved by all who spend time around him.

Similar attributes fueled Eduardo Nunez's value two years ago, when the Twins flipped him to San Francisco for Adalberto Mejia, now a long-term rotation candidate. Escobar's a better and more desirable player now than Nunez was then, so it's easy to see the appeal of floating him out there. Any quality prospect is worth more than two months of Esco in a lost season.

But there's a bit more to the equation than that. Once the season ends, Minnesota will be able to extend Escobar a qualifying offer. If accepted, he'll come back on a one-year deal worth around $18 million. If rejected, the Twins will net a high draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

That sure seems like a good plan. He probably takes the QO, but that would put the Twins in a good position. A one-year commitment to Escobar carries little risk – they'll be overpaying but shouldn't have any trouble affording it – and might be really handy as the club faces an uncertain outlook in the infield.

Obviously the conversation changes if the right offer comes along, but I lean toward holding onto Escobar.

Projected Return: Roughly the same as Gibson's

7. Jake Odorizzi, SP

This is really a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Like Gibson, Odorizzi has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, so the Twins will have an option to bring him back on the cheap(ish). But the trajectories of these two careers have moved in opposite directions – Gibson sharply ascending and Odorizzi in stark decline.

Inefficient, homer-prone and unable to work deep into games (he hasn't recorded an out in the seventh all year), Odorizzi is pitching as poorly as he has at any point in his career. The Twins got him from Tampa in exchange for Jermaine Palacios, who ranked outside their Top 20 prospects when they dealt him, and they'd get less for him now.

At this point it's a little hard to envision Odorizzi figuring into the team's 2019 plans, but you never know what'll happen, and that optional control is nice to have.

Projected Return: Roughly the same as Duke's

8. Everyone Else

To me, those are the names worth discussing. Other impending free agents either have too little value to merit mentioning (Logan Morrison) or a no-trade clause (Joe Mauer).

Some might suggest a name like Addison Reed but it's hard to see the wisdom in trading him with his stock at perhaps an all-time low.

There are, of course, more ambitious and outside-the-box ideas, like selling high on Eddie Rosario, or giving up on Max Kepler, or shipping Ryan Pressly – despite his controllability – to a team that looks at his stuff and whiffs more than his lack of results. But those options don't interest me all that much.

What interests you in terms of a deadline approach? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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103 Comments

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ashburyjohn
Jul 09 2018 11:51 AM

I don't even think it gets that far.

I was being a little generous for discussion purposes but basically agree. We could keep scratching around for other reasons against, for instance it being an intra-division trade, too.

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yarnivek1972
Jul 09 2018 03:46 PM

I don't even think it gets that far. Bieber is currently in their rotation, and performing well, and he's needed there for the foreseeable future. Most contenders don't want to subtract current MLB contributors in a midseason trade. Escobar isn't even a particularly strong fit for them -- he'd either have to play second base himself which he has rarely done for the Twins, or he'd require them moving Jose Ramirez back over to second base, and I'm not sure if they'd be willing to do that again now that Ramirez is a bonafide superstar.

I think they'd rather look at better fits at second like Gennett, Lowrie, or Starlin Castro.


Which reminded me of the Twins trading away Matt Lawton for Rick Reed in 2001. The Twins never win the division without Reed in 2002, true enough. But they were very much in the hunt in 2001 and they traded away their most consistent and most experienced offensive player.

Like you said, MOST contenders don’t do it that way. That’s why it’s the Twins Way.
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LA VIkes Fan
Jul 09 2018 04:50 PM

I think we need to keep Escobar for next year, assuming we can re-sign him.Dozier likely won't be here or be very productive if he is here.Sano is a question mark and Gordon is a bigger question mark. Right now next year's middle infield looks like Polanco and Adrianza with Escobar playing 3B and good insurance at 2B if Sano actually can come back and play 3B instead of 1B/DH. I know Dozier isn't worth much but he's the one to trade. Any prospect of value we get in a trade will be for Lynn, Duke or Rodney, or maybe Odorizzi since I wouldn't trade Gibson.

 

I do feel bad for Dozier. He signed a team friendly contract in the days when being a free agent at age 30 or 31 was a bonanza. We forget that back then every clubhouse had a jar of greenies to "perk guys up" for the games. Now in the age of analytics and brothers getting no chemical help an age 31 ballplayer has to be really special to even get 3-4 years above the 9 mil Dozier got this year.Add in a bad year and he's in a tough spot. I think he's gone after this year - the FO doesn't really want him and he doesn't really want to stay - so I hope we trade him to a team with playoff aspirations. After this year, he may be one of those guys going year to year hoping for the right fit and 5-7mil a year. Not a bad gig, I know, but still not what he thought he'd be.


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