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Twins Positioned for Deadline Creativity


Tim

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With trade season approaching, the Twins find themselves in a unique position that could allow them to get creative.

Max Kepler has been pretty damn good for the Twins this season. He's one of the best defensive right fielders in the game and has posted a .243 / .341 / .400 (116wRC+). That's good for a 1.2 fWAR through 55 games.

Another guy who's been pretty good is top prospect Alex Kirilloff. What he's doing at AAA right now is fairly incredible. He looks ready for the next level, right? that .370 / .477 / .661 (1.139) line in 34 games makes it seem like it.

I'm sure we all are aware that the pitching could use some upgrades. I don't need or want to throw random stats and convince you otherwise. I'll skip that part.

It's my belief that the Twins can utilize their excess of solid RF's for an upgrade to the staff. Let me lay out the grand plan

Padres

San Diego's pitching this season has been outstanding. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have been pitching like Cy Young candidates. Sean Manaea has been the perfect middle of the rotation innings eater. Mackenzie Gore has ended up looking like he's going to be the ace everyone thought he would be prior to his 2021 from hell. Nick Martinez might be the best bargain signing from the offseason. That's not even factoring in Mike Cleavinger who's just getting back into the grove of starting after missing 2021 with Tommy John or former Cy Young winner Blake Snell.

Looking from afar as a Twins fan, I'm not sure most of us could comprehend what that much pitching feels like. 

Unfortunately for the Pads, the bats haven't been as great. As a team, they have a slash of .237 / .313 / .365 (96wRC+ .. ew). That ranks them in the bottom of 1/3 of the league from an offensive perspective. It gets even worse when you look at how the lineup handles righties, .234 / .306 / .353 (90wRC+)

Compound that with the recent news of Fernando Tatis still not able to swing a bat, GM Aj Preller has to be on the hunt for some reinforcements at the plate.

Right Field has been their biggest achilles heal this season as they've compiled a total WAR of -0.3 and are hitting a .225 / .277 / .287 (63wRC+) from the position.

Internally top prospect, Robert Hassell is most likely still 2 years away from contributing as he is still at A+.... 23 year old popup prospect Esteury Ruiz, who was just promoted to AAA, has been on an incredible run hitting .363 / .489 / .656 (1.145 OPS). While they could count on him to be the savior in RF, they may believe him to be the savior in CF, as Trent Grisham and his .226 / .315 / .383 (698 OPS) over the last 200 games isn't cutting it. Maybe it's CJ Abrams? though they tried that earlier this season and it only lasted 20 games.

For a team that looks like it is "all - in" and has pitching staff that owns a sub 3.00 ERA on the season, banking on an unproven prospect when you have a 229 million dollar payroll probably isn't the most ideal situation. 

Lets take a look at how its shaken out this season ... 

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Not exactly a group that gives you much confidence going forward.

SO, enter Max Kepler

Kepler would provide the Padres relief in a few different ways. Obviously the immediate production in RF vs what they currently have is a massive upgrade, both offensively and defensively. Secondly, Max's career slash vs RHP .242 / .331 / .468 (.799 OPS) gives them a proven veteran that can come in day one and elevate the lineup as a whole where they are the weakest.

But in my opinion Max Kepler's greatest asset to the Padres comes in the form of his contract. As previously mentioned, if he was traded by August 2nd, he is essentially on what is a 2 year 13 million dollar contract with a club option for 10 million in 2024. 

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ZiPS, FanGraphs player projection model, anticipates Kepler will be worth about 2.5 WAR over the course of the next 3 seasons. Now its somewhat volatile but a win in 2022 is worth roughly 8.5 million. (read more if you are curious).

Max Kepler on his 2 year 13 million dollar contract (w / the club option for 10 million ) is making wellllll below what he would receive in free agency and the Padres would be hard pressed to find a proven veteran, offensively and defensively, that is both a better roster fit and under team control at a reasonable cost. (pls dont comment Juan Soto).

That's not to say the Padres could go trade for a rental like Andrew Benintendi, but does that really solve any of Aj Preller's problems?

Cause he could have some serious ones ..

Following the 2022 season, San Diego is set to lose 3 vital pieces of the starting rotation to free agency.

- Joe Musgrove (29) - 1.50 era / 72 ip / 72 k's / 2.1 fWAR

- Sean Manaea (30) - 3.85 era / 73 ip / 76 k's / 1.1 fWAR

- Mike Clevinger (31) - 3.18 era / 17 ip / 20 k's / 0.3 fWAR

There's a world where if those 3 starters continue performing at this level for the rest of the season, each could command an AAV of 20 mil - 25 mil + in free agency. The following season, Yu Darvish is set to become a free agent. That leaves them essentially with Mackenzie Gore as the lone controllable starter past the 2023 season.

This also doesn't account for their closer, Taylor Rogers, becoming a free agent after this season. But it only gets murkier for the Pads... Baseball Reference projects them to have a payroll around 147 Million in 2023 and that's before arbitration, which looks to be an additional 30 - 40 million. 

While I'm not a capolgist, ill do my best to break this down. They sit at around 229 million right now. It appears they seem to be intent on not going over the 230 million dollar luxury tax for the second consecutive year, as they would be penalized to a greater extent for being a repeat offender. (hence the Twins paying Rogers 6.7 million dollar salary to keep them below that threshold)

Put simply, if the Padres have any ambition to upgrade offensively at the deadline, while staying under the luxury tax, AND try to recoup some of Musgrove / Manaea / Clevinger / Rogers, AND THEN potentially get a RF in FA, they almost certainly have to move money around in a trade at this coming trade deadline.

Here's my proposal to how these two teams can help each other yet again with a trade.

The Blake Snell experience in San Diego definitely hasn't gone according to plan, Dennis Lin of The Athletic has reported a few times now that they have been open to a trade. Since Snell's arrival in 2021 they have received a 4.33 ERA over 153.2 IP in 32 starts.

That's not exactly what Preller and co had in mind when they gave up 2 top 75 prospects (+ more) for the 29 year old lefty who is owed 12 million this year and 16 million in 2023. look, It's not absolutely terrible, but it's not great.

With that said, there is hope for Blake.

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The underlying numbers show that he's definitely not cooked. The velo on his fastball hasn't diminished, he's sitting around a 96 mph avg. His xERA of 3.74 through 5 starts this year tells a different story than the 5.04 era on paper. It's not a super inspiring, slam dunk lock, and far from likely synch that he returns to his Cy Young form in 2018. But it's a glimmer of what might be the start of a turn around to be an at least slightly above average pitcher.

It also goes to stay Snell hasn't been a complete bust. From June 4th to Sept 7th of last season, Snell started 15 games and had a 3.44 ERA with 100k's across 81 IP.

Zips, Fangraphs projection model, believes he can produce a 2.0 fWAR next season. Again lets go back to using the logic a win is worth 8.5 million. Snell basically is owed a 2 year 24 million dollar contract if traded by August 2nd. You get Snell for 2 months the rest of this season (hopefully more with playoffs) and all of the 2023 season. So you hope that he can live up to the projected 2.0 FWAR and you'd be happy paying him 16 million next season.

Snell started 65 games from 2018 - 2020. In 337 IP he owned a 2.85 ERA and had a 11.5 SO/9.

While the past 2 years as haven't been good, It's my belief the risk on a 29 year old lefty with that kind of track record is worth the gamble for the Twins.

Now what would the entire deal look like? Max Kepler definitely has more value, as we dove into that earlier, so a 1 for 1 swap isn't going to cut it. 

By taking on Blake Snell, the Twins would be taking on what is basically 8 million the rest of the season and 16 million next season.

The Padres would be taking on Max Kepler's remaining 4 million this year, 8.5 million in 2023, and have the 10 million dollar option for 2024. It's my understanding that its AAV throughout the duration of the contract that counts against the the luxury tax, and club options are not counted until picked up. So the Padres would be really going from 16 million to 6 million next season, saving them 10 million against the tax.

The organization has been stacked with top prospects over the past few years, but through trades, the overall depth has taken a hit. Abrams and Hassell are off limits, just not happening. But, their #3 overall prospect per MLB pipeline is catching prospect Luis Campusano, who is most likely expendable at this point.

Campusano has been a consensus top 50 prospect for about 2 years now, but has seen little playing time with the major league club, playing in only 16 games over the last 3 years. I find it incredibly odd that he's been stashed at AAA for 2 seasons now and has a slash line of .303 / .388 / .486 (896 OPS) in 117 games. 

I've read numerous reports that the industry isn't quite as high on Campusano and his ability to stick at catcher long-term contrary to popular prospect ranking sites. When you look at the Padres and what they've gotten out of the position offensively the past few years, that's probably true. Plus they've stated a few times they would rather go with defense at the position (Nola + Alfaro).

With that said, the Twins have a good track record of developing catchers on the defensive side, just look at how Gary Sanchez has progressed. Combine that with how Jeffers has played the past few seasons and Sanchez being a free agent, a possible long term catching solution would be a great get.

He could help support the Twins in a few different ways this season. Obviously a few days mixed in playing catcher, DH is always an option, and he has gotten work at 1st base in the past.

But with the question mark about his ability to stick at catcher and playing first might be a challenge as he's only 5'10, I would want one more upside piece in the deal.

Michel Baez is who I would target. Only 26, the former top prospect underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021 and has been rehabbing in AA this season. Baez worked out of the bullpen in 2019, his lone season with the Padres. He was thought to be a staple in the bullpen after posting a 3.03 era in 29.2 IP with 28ks.

Baez has looked sharp this season in his rehab stints this year touting a 2.45 era in 18 IP with 23 k's. It feels like he's not going to be down in AA for much longer. This would be the perfect flier to help the Twins going forward the next few years.

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The popular site -  https://www.baseballtradevalues.com/trade-simulator/ , has this deal about dead even between the Twins and Padres. While I believe Campusano is overvalued in their model based on the fact that it has him pegged as a sure fire catcher, I think it undervalues Snell slightly in terms of the potential he may still have, The Baez throw in seems to be perfectly valued for a guy coming off TJ and only has 23 MLB innings logged. Nothing more than a flier. 

At the end of the day, the Padres get an above average RF for the next 3 years at an extremely discounted rate and save 10 million on the books for the next 2 years. The Twins continue the movement in top prospects blossoming at the major league level, get another rotation piece with upside for the next 1.5 years, a great catching prospect, and a young controllable bullpen flier piece with proven success. 

Oh and Kirilloff comes in to hit .300 / .375 / .450 to replace Kepler.

Perfect world, right?

Thanks guys.

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Thanks Tim , I really like trade talk so I really enjoyed going over your article. You did an excellent job presenting your case and you hit our needs right on the head.

Yet IMO Snell is over-hyped. Snell had success in the shorten season, I don't give any credence in that, only in a full season. IMO he isn't any better than what we have, yet will be much more expensive.

I was really hoping that Campusano would materialize but I think he's over-hyped. When they say they don't know if he'd stick at catcher, for me that raises red flags. Jeffers is a hitting catcher, he has just learned some bad mechanics and even with his bad arm I still take him over Sanchez. 

I still have a bad taste from the Rogers/ Paddack trade and I'm very leary of any trade with them. Besides if I'd trade Kepler it'd have to be a for an established front line SP, that can help us right now not an iffy catcher that might help us in the future.

Last year I advocated for Musgrove, that away from PIT he'd really blossom. PIT offered us Musgrove and all it'd have taken was a simple counter offer but that didn't happen. Later SD stole him away from PIT.

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Whether it turns out that the Twins and Padres get serious at the deadline, I really enjoyed this deep dive.

Kepler makes sense in trade to a select few teams, and you identified the reasons the Padres should have their feet held to the fire. 

I am not as high on Snell as you are, anymore - he feels to me like a second coming of Archer with short starts that have to be artfully managed - but all that matters is whether the Twins talent evaluators feel they could bring more out of him than he has shown in 2021-2.  For the purpose of discussion I'll go along with your assessment that the Twins would want him.

I agree that if this is the basis for the trade, then the Twins need more than this 1-1 swap.  And that's where I come back to holding the Padres' feet to the fire.  They need a RF upgrade.  And I'm not that enamored of catcher Campusano (hitting numbers in the California League and at El Paso are always suspect to me).  So yes, let's go ahead and talk about Abrams or Hassell.  What if we include Austin Martin, everyone's favorite trade chip at the moment?  Prospect lists have him either as first or second on the Twins, but I doubt that a revised ranking would have him so high.  Would the Padres go along with downgrading from Abrams to Martin in middle infield, in return for the sizable upgrade in RF from Kepler plus the salary relief on Snell?  Or would they downgrade from Hassell to Martin in the outfield (if that's the latter's eventual destination anyway), and "throw in" power hitting 1Bman James Wood?  (I know, both are high ranked, but Kepler is really, really valuable.)  Maybe we have to add a lottery-ticket arm from the low minors, say (picking from a hat) 2021 draftee Pierson Ohl, or they give us one if they won't include Wood with Hassell, to even things out.

I'm not wedded to any particular deal or structure.  The Trade Simulator site seems to like either of these added arrangements enough to make it at least the start for a conversation, but I don't get too hung up on exact values (they value Hassell less than Abrams) because it depends on how the two teams specifically evaluate each chip in the trade.

I like to aim high, and if we have leverage over the other team via Kepler it's a chance to snag a difference maker. 

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I'll add, in reply to Doctor Gast's response, that I too would like front line starting pitching.  I just don't believe Kepler moves the needle in any conceivable trade for one.  Pitching requires pitching in return, great gobs of pitching when high-end established talent is at stake.  I would love to be proved wrong with an actual upgrade to our rotation of course.

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2 hours ago, ashbury said:

I like to aim high, and if we have leverage over the other team via Kepler it's a chance to snag a difference maker. 

1 hour ago, ashbury said:

I'll add, in reply to Doctor Gast's response, that I too would like front line starting pitching.  

 

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Obviously this would be slightly more complicated, but I love the concept of working with the Rays in a deal.

They've needed a catcher all year and Zunino might be out a while. Happ brings the versatility they covet in every player and allows them to slide Margot to center. Also has some team control left. Both are huge offensive upgrades.

Kiermaier is on an expiring deal and just matches w $

Cubs get major league ready talent to add to the quick rebuild course they are. Steer is pretty similar profile to what Happ has been for them, can play all over the infield. Miranda can fill in a 1st or 3rd for them long term and Balazovic is the upside arm flier.

Twins get a pitching prospect in Bradley who has been fantastic in AA and shouldn't be far from pitching at the major league level, most likely this year.

Patino screams Twins front office darling with his slider and has a proven track record. Still super young .. Would be a fantastic addition in the pen or rotation the rest of the season.

Miley is a rental, been there done that vet who can eat innings and not completely implode.

2 young pitching prospects with tons of upside and can help this year? yes pls

I LOVE this deal for everyone involved

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35 minutes ago, Tim said:

I LOVE this deal for everyone involved

Another fun scenario.  I do think the Twins would have a hard time saying no, to converting a suddenly suspect arm into two, at the cost of two potent bats.  But I have a hard time seeing Tampa parting with two young and legit arms for a catcher and a corner bat, no matter how compelling those bats are.

Have you submitted either of these trade proposals at the BTV.com site where you developed them, to see what kind of reaction you get?  Maybe I'm all wet.

I like BTV.com, but I almost feel like you have to separate "pitcher trade value" and "batter trade value" as two very alien things that are hard to mix in the present environment, except as sweeteners, or else at a 1.5-to-1 ratio favoring pitcher points.

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9 minutes ago, ashbury said:

Another fun scenario.  I do think the Twins would have a hard time saying no, to converting a suddenly suspect arm into two, at the cost of two potent bats.  But I have a hard time seeing Tampa parting with two young and legit arms for a catcher and a corner bat, no matter how compelling those bats are.

Have you submitted either of these trade proposals at the BTV.com site where you developed them, to see what kind of reaction you get?  Maybe I'm all wet.

I like BTV.com, but I almost feel like you have to separate "pitcher trade value" and "batter trade value" as two very alien things that are hard to mix in the present environment, except as sweeteners, or else at a 1.5-to-1 ratio favoring pitcher points.

Idk if I’d classify Happ as just a corner bat. He’s logged the majority of his professional innings in center field and 30% of his games started with the Cubs have been at 2nd or 3rd.

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28 minutes ago, JustinTyner said:

Idk if I’d classify Happ as just a corner bat. He’s logged the majority of his professional innings in center field and 30% of his games started with the Cubs have been at 2nd or 3rd.

I might have sold him a little short on his defense.  Still, players' positions evolve as they go through their career, so I wouldn't go by innings counts that go very far back, either.  I don't follow them closely (don't tell my inlaws!) but I looked and the Cubs seem to have had a revolving door in CF this season, with rookie Morel getting the call in mid-May and seeming to be entrenched now.  But even during the first several weeks Happ was used in center only for 12 innings in total.  If a team on the skids isn't using him in center, I doubt a team like the Rays who are accustomed to the defensive stylings of Kevin Kiermaier would look favorably on that idea. I think I'll amend my capsule scouting report on Happ as "good-glove corner bat."   Which, IMO, doesn't net a team a serious starting pitcher.  And neither does a bat-first catcher, so together they don't get you two.  As always, I Could Be Wrong, and GMs will do what GMs do.

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I think people undervalue Max's defense and only look at offense.  I am not a fan of trading established MLB guys when you are competing for struggling guys or prospects.  I am not saying I hate the trade idea, I am not sold on it either. If Padres think Campusano can stick behind the plate, I doubt they give him up for a RF, even by us taking on Snell's contract.  Offensive catchers are hard to find.  If we are taking building for future the deal could help us, but if we talking for this year, I do not think it helps us. 

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I'm all for trading Kepler. I think we've seen his best season and all that is left is mediocrity. Even if he makes improvement over the last 2 seasons I think it is time for a full fledge youth movement in the outfield with Larnach, Celestino, Gordon and Kirilloff joining Buxton. The Twins like to unload veteran players that start costing too much especially if they aren't top-of-line superstars like Buxton. Kepler is reaching that level. He still has trade value unlike a Sano so the time to move him and replace him with adequate younger players is now. 

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4 minutes ago, rv78 said:

I'm all for trading Kepler. I think we've seen his best season and all that is left is mediocrity. Even if he makes improvement over the last 2 seasons I think it is time for a full fledge youth movement in the outfield with Larnach,  Gordon and Kirilloff joining Buxton.

None of whom have performed offensively and defensively, especially defense, as Kepler; good way to reduce the chance of winning by becoming a boarding school for AAA players.

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I’m not against the idea of shipping off Kepler or the Twins eating a contract of a high-end starter, I just doubt that the Padres would give all that up JUST for Kepler, maybe a mid-level prospect like Drew Strotman or Cole Sands and that could complete the deal. Along with that, I think it’s risky to eat a starter’s contract when the starter is struggling as oppose to losing prospects, Snell CAN be good, but do you want him for another year or two?

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Why would the Twins take on a contract of a struggling pitcher and give up their most consistent outfielder? It seems the Twins were already very charitable towards San Diego this year, no need to be so gracious twice in one season.

 

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I had not considered a 3-team deal and had actually not considered Kepler going to the Padres.  If we're looking at the Reds or A's, they wouldn't want Kepler.  They'd want Kirilloff or Larnach.  The Padres however, want to win NOW and would be very interested in someone like Kepler.  

I'm just not sure with a guy like Snell.  His velocity and stuff appear to be as good as his Cy Young season, but the results are a far cry form it.  Obviously, if you get "Cy Young Snell" it's a brilliant trade.  But what he seems to be right now is nowhere near that.  I do get the sense however that someone among Kepler, Kirilloff or Larnach may be the key piece in a trade to bring back a front line pitcher.  I think Snell is too risky and other targets are more likely.  I just can't see the Twins taking on the contract of Yu Darvish either.

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I can see Kepler moved under that scenario and keeping Kiriloff, who I think is destined for .300 with 40+ doubles, 25-30 HR, 100+ RBI. 

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1 hour ago, Otaknam said:

I can see Kepler moved under that scenario and keeping Kiriloff, who I think is destined for .300 with 40+ doubles, 25-30 HR, 100+ RBI. 

And when Sano gets back he will hit .270 with 40 home runs.

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