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Is Max Kepler One of Baseball’s Most Valuable Trade Assets?


Baseball’s approaching trade deadline leaves all teams searching for the best value. Max Kepler is under team control through 2024, so does that make him one of baseball’s most valuable trade assets?

Every year leading into the trade deadline, FanGraphs ranks the top 50 players in baseball according to their trade value. Some of items taken into consideration are performance, age, and years remaining of team control. According to their explanation, “the central question we considered boils down to this: how much value could a team expect to get in a trade for each player on the list?”

One Twins player’s ranking may come as a surprise. Max Kepler ranks as baseball’s 45th most valuable trade asset and this comes a year after being ranked 39th overall. He is under team control through 2024 when he will be in his age-31 season. Over the next three seasons, he is projected to be worth 8.8 WAR while earning a max (no pun intended) of $25.3 million.

Kepler’s name hasn’t been out there in trade discussions as much as players like Nelson Cruz, Jose Berrios, and Andrelton Simmons. That doesn’t mean a Kepler deal is out of the question. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach emerging as valuable corner outfield options makes it easier to part with Kepler. Minnesota is also talking to Byron Buxton about a potential contract extension and that might leave the Twins even more willing to part with Kepler.

So, how does Kepler enter the discussion as one of the most valuable trade assets? He is a good, but not great player that has multiple years of control on a team friendly deal. For his career, he has hit .234/.317/.442 (.760) and been worth 11.7 WAR, which FanGraphs values at $93.9 million. He has also shown the ability be a strong defensive corner outfielder while being capable of being an average defensive center fielder.

During the 2021 season, Kepler is posting career highs in average exit velocity and hard hit %. For instance, his average exit velocity in 2019, when he hit 36 homers, was in the 61st percentile. Fast-forward to 2021 and he’s in the 76th percentile for average exit velocity.

 

Minnesota has also seen some of Kepler’s flaws since his breakout 2019 campaign. According to some defensive metrics, he’s in the midst of his worst defensive season of his career. His hamstring issues have certainly slowed him down. That being said, he still ranks in the 78th percentile for outs above average and he’s outfield jump is one of baseball’s best (97th percentile).

Offensively, it has been hard to live up to 2019. He consistently posts BABIP totals under .250 because he pops the ball up so frequently. This season, he is also striking out at a higher rate than any other season as his chase rate is in the 89th percentile. He’s hitting the ball harder, but the results haven’t been there.

Teams know what they are getting with Kepler and organizations find value in having a known cost. How much value that brings as a trade asset is yet to be seen.

Do you think Kepler is one of baseball’s most valuable trade assets? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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I guess I am a little surprised and maybe don't understand how FO's look at players.  Max has trouble with two things and if he ever conquers them he would probably be an All-Star caliber player.  He needs to hit lefties better as it is getting to a point where platooning him might make the most sense.  He hits everything pull side directly into the shift so his BABIP will always be low.  If he fixes one or both of those them yes Max would be even higher on that list. As things stand he is who he is.  If you are OK with his current level of production then yes he has great value.  

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He may be one of their best but I don’t think he is a great trade asset. He also might be a sell low right now.

If teams need to fill a 2021 hole they are really better off getting a rental that is likely to put up better numbers over two months. That rental won’t have the same overall trade value but probably fits their need better. The Yankees with their injuries come to mind. They might be better off finding a short term replacement and then signing a better long term fix this winter in free agency,

The better fit might be a smaller market team where his reasonable contract and control would suit them long term. That also describes the Twins though. If someone will give them a good starting pitching prospect or perhaps shortstop prospect they should do the deal. That doesn’t seem likely. 

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He also has a lot of value as part of future Twins teams.  And I question the common belief that the Twins have an abundance of corner outfielders.  We have Larnach and Kirilloff with the Twins.  Both are going to be great hitters, however, Kirilloff is better suited to first base.  Who after this pair is both very good and in the high minors?  Really no one.  Maybe Wallner will make it to the Twins, but he is a couple years away.  So I don't see the Twins having excess talent and no one anywhere near as good as Max defensively.

Like others, if someone blows you away with an offer you gotta consider it.  But I prefer to believe that with good coaching Max can solve one or both of his problems and become a very good hitter. 

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18 minutes ago, roger said:

He also has a lot of value as part of future Twins teams.  And I question the common belief that the Twins have an abundance of corner outfielders.  We have Larnach and Kirilloff with the Twins.  Both are going to be great hitters, however, Kirilloff is better suited to first base.  Who after this pair is both very good and in the high minors?  Really no one.  Maybe Wallner will make it to the Twins, but he is a couple years away.  So I don't see the Twins having excess talent and no one anywhere near as good as Max defensively.

Like others, if someone blows you away with an offer you gotta consider it.  But I prefer to believe that with good coaching Max can solve one or both of his problems and become a very good hitter. 

I concur.  Kirilloff is the 1B of the future.  Sano can just try to see if he can make contact to be the DH next year.

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52 minutes ago, roger said:

He also has a lot of value as part of future Twins teams.  And I question the common belief that the Twins have an abundance of corner outfielders.  We have Larnach and Kirilloff with the Twins.  Both are going to be great hitters, however, Kirilloff is better suited to first base.  Who after this pair is both very good and in the high minors?  Really no one.  Maybe Wallner will make it to the Twins, but he is a couple years away.  So I don't see the Twins having excess talent and no one anywhere near as good as Max defensively.

Like others, if someone blows you away with an offer you gotta consider it.  But I prefer to believe that with good coaching Max can solve one or both of his problems and become a very good hitter. 

I don't know that Max really has another level he can hit consistently, but even the current edition of Max is significantly better than anyone they have to replace him at the moment. They should always be open to trading anyone if it improves the team/organization, but I don't see a trade for Max that would do that.

And, as prouster stated, I don't know that 45th best trade asset is what I'd call "one of the most valuable." Interesting that they have him ranked 2 spots ahead of Tim Anderson. I can't say that I wouldn't trade Kepler for Anderson straight up right now, even with the difference in their contracts.

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If Larnach looked a little more comfortable at the plate, I wouldn’t be against a Kepler trade.  But even then, Larnach is not a great defensive fielder, Buxton isn’t durable and could be traded or play out his last year, Kirilloff is better at 1B, Arraez is a defensive liability (at least in last night’s game).   I think the Twins should hold onto Kepler, who at least provides above average to excellent defense, and has decent at-bats. .  

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I agree with Tarheel that if they could coach him to take outside pitches the other way more Max would raise his avg. and the league would probably change the way they pitch him, which may result in getting more pitches to pull in the long run.

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Kepler isn't a balanced hitter.  Most of his production comes from bombas, and he hits just enough of those to appear to be of average value.  Historically, players with this profile hit a wall and their production eventually evaporates.

Kepler's contract is structured in the usual way, where he gets a nice raise every year.  Anyone who takes him on will be taking on more risk for more money.  

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I have heard this before. I think the Giants are one of those teams who've been known to covet Kepler for a while to some degree. I suppose a lot depends on the field you play on, and how right-handed you are. We've got a mess on our hands. Unless we could acquire some much needed pitching help, dealing Max would be a mistake in my opinion. We are the team that needs affordable quality. I think Max looks like affordable quality for 3 more years to come. Now if we can surround him with enough quality for him to be our 4th outfielder, then we've built a better team. 

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I would also like to know the future of the "two position players on each side of second base" question.  Max's value increases substantially if they cannot shift on him, as he's been unwilling or unable to go to the opposite field.  Really hard to assess his value without knowing what the rules are going to be for the next several years.

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4 hours ago, roger said:

He also has a lot of value as part of future Twins teams.  And I question the common belief that the Twins have an abundance of corner outfielders.  We have Larnach and Kirilloff with the Twins.  Both are going to be great hitters, however, Kirilloff is better suited to first base.  Who after this pair is both very good and in the high minors?  Really no one.  Maybe Wallner will make it to the Twins, but he is a couple years away.  So I don't see the Twins having excess talent and no one anywhere near as good as Max defensively.

Like others, if someone blows you away with an offer you gotta consider it.  But I prefer to believe that with good coaching Max can solve one or both of his problems and become a very good hitter. 

Yes! I too think he is should be a part of good future Twins teams. He was snubbed of an all-star selection in '19 and I think his hamstring is continuing to bother him. Yes, would love to see him hit the other way & lefties better. I'm more concerned with Larnach's swing though. It doesn't seem quick enough especially with 2 strikes.

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1 hour ago, South Dakota Tom said:

I would also like to know the future of the "two position players on each side of second base" question.  Max's value increases substantially if they cannot shift on him, as he's been unwilling or unable to go to the opposite field.  Really hard to assess his value without knowing what the rules are going to be for the next several years.

That is a great point.

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9 hours ago, roger said:

He also has a lot of value as part of future Twins teams.  And I question the common belief that the Twins have an abundance of corner outfielders.  We have Larnach and Kirilloff with the Twins.  Both are going to be great hitters, however, Kirilloff is better suited to first base.  Who after this pair is both very good and in the high minors?  Really no one.  Maybe Wallner will make it to the Twins, but he is a couple years away.  So I don't see the Twins having excess talent and no one anywhere near as good as Max defensively.

Like others, if someone blows you away with an offer you gotta consider it.  But I prefer to believe that with good coaching Max can solve one or both of his problems and become a very good hitter. 

Bingo!

A change in philosophy, team wide or personal, along with, PERHAPS, a change in coaching, might still see some improvement from Max to unlock his talent/potential.

I DO NOT want to label Kirilloff as a 1B only at this point as I think he's fine as a corner OF as well. Even without raising his game to another level, a RH hitting OF of decent quality allows Kepler to semi-platoon and help cover CF as well. (I dismiss defensive metrics for this season due to his hamstring issue). Think Refsnyder being real or a RH version of Cave to be added. (No snark needed, I'm making an example). 

The Twins have graduated Kirilloff and Larnach with real promise and potential shown. Celistino has been promoted way early, which we all recognize, but has nice potential in CF with a little more time, or as a versatile 4th OF. But as it stands today, the majority of OF talent in the minors is mostly at A ball.

A lot of teams in contention could get real help from Kepler. And you have to listen if they call. But he is young enough, talented enough, proven enough, and cost controlled to be a viable, quality part of the Twins for the next few years. The offer to move him would have to be pretty damn good.

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Baseball trade Values has Kepler at 30.4 for his value.  You could get a LOT back if it was valued at 30.4.  If you acquired Weathers and Clevinger from the Padres it still wouldn't be 304.  If you got the Yankees (who DESPERATELY need outfielders and LH hitters right now) you could get Devi Garcia and and one of their minor league SS's.  I could go on with more examples, but if you accept that baseball trade Values as a decent gauge of what you could get, then Max at 30.4 could get us a LOT !!   

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20 hours ago, RedBull34 said:

I concur.  Kirilloff is the 1B of the future.  Sano can just try to see if he can make contact to be the DH next year.

I am much happier when Kiri is on 1st vs Sano. Is it rational? Maybe not.

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Max couldn't hit LH pitchers at all, we feared he was destined to be a career mediocrity as a platoon player, then he seemed to figure it out more than a little bit.  He flourished for a season, we signed him to a five year extension that is easy, and since then he's struggled for various reasons.  

He is athletic, he's a legitimate backup to Buxton in CF when the need inevitably arises, and if healthy he can potentially blossom as the player we hoped for when the extension was accomplished.  All of the foregoing does or does not happen under a contract that is easy to handle.

I say do NOT trade Kepler, I say stay the course and look for the upside that made for the five year deal in the first place.  There's nothing about the young talent we have that suggests Kepler is expendable.  He's got more going on than the young fellas by reason of his short career to date, and I think he's an important part of the plan going forward.

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I was glad to see it reported that the Twins asking price for Kepler is exorbitant. It should be for any of the assets they have under control beyond this season. Seemingly fair deals don’t make this franchise better. They need someone to come in and offer some level of overpay for Kepler. If there is a team that is going for it this year with a pressing need they might get that overpay. 

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