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Trade Candidate Profile: Max Kepler


Jon Morosi reported the Twins and Yankees have had trade discussions about Max Kepler. Who else might be interested? What might the Twins be able to get in return?

This week, there has been mounting speculation that Max Kepler could be a popular target at the trade deadline. 

While Twins fans may have become a little jaded on Kepler after the promise of his incredible 2019 season, there’s an awful lot to like. Kepler slugged his 13th home run of the season in a losing effort against the Angels on Sunday and is slugging .538 in his last 15 games. 

While he had a slow start to the season, Kepler’s wRC+ is up to 108, ahead of his 2020 numbers. Kepler also boasts strong defensive play, positional versatility, and excellent baserunning skills. Does this look like the Baseball Savant profile of an underrated player?

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Kepler is also signed to an extremely affordable contract which has him under team control for an additional two seasons beyond 2021, with a club option for 2024. Kepler will be paid a little over $15 million in his age 30 and age 31 seasons. He’s on track to be worth about $20 million in 2021 alone. While this is only one rough metric, Kepler’s performance has been very steady year over year, with the exception of his outstanding 2019 season.

Who is Interested?

Plenty of teams should be interested in a solid, affordable outfielder, but there are two more obvious fits. The Atlanta Braves could use an outfield upgrade, specifically in left field. While they are a logical candidate, Atlanta already added Joc Pederson to their outfield and may not be buyers with another bad week.

The real Kepler steam has come from the possibility of the New York Yankees as a trade partner. The Yankees are known to seek a left-handed bat at the deadline. Despite being nine games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, the Yankees are only 3.5 games back in a competitive wild card race.

What Could the Twins Get Back?

Cody Christie wrote up a more detailed overview of the Yankees as a prospective Twins trade partner. The Yankees do not have the same depth to their farm system that the Padres or Dodgers do. In spite of this, they have plenty of intriguing names which fit the Twins’ needs. Top prospect Jasson Dominguez is an unrealistic expectation, but there are several names Kepler could fetch in a return.

Oswald Peraza

The Yankees signed Peraza in the international free agent class of 2016. Peraza is an outstanding prospect, ranked #98 overall by MLB. He has excellent bat-to-ball skills, controls the strike zone well, and should be good for 15-20 home runs as he gets stronger and fills out. Peraza is fast and a capable base stealer. Additionally, he offers a 60-grade arm and is 60 grade in the field, offering everything but outstanding power. He is slugging .498 with 25 stolen bases in 2021 and is currently at AA.

Luis Gil 

A name who haunts the dreams of Twins fans who are in the weeds with prospects. The Twins signed Gil for just $90,000 before trading him for Jake Cave in 2018. Gil has a 75-grade fastball which sits 95-98 which he uses up in the zone. Gil also offers a slider and a hard changeup which sits around 90 mph. Gil has to refine his control and command but has made his way to AAA, where he has struck out a whopping 86 batter in 59 2021 innings.

Luis Medina

Medina is another high-octane right-handed pitcher out of the Dominican Republic. Originally signed as a 16-year old, Medina was already throwing 100mph. Medina can now top out at 102 mph with cut and offers a plus curveball. There’s a massive variance in outcomes for Medina, which runs the gamete from front-line ace to late-inning reliever (if he doesn’t develop the consistency to throw enough strikes). Still, the potential is staggering.

Potential Trade:

Yankees acquire: OF Max Kepler

Twins acquire: SS Oswald Peraza, RHP Luis Medina

What do you think the chances are Max Kepler gets traded? What do you think is a fair return?

 

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I don't know much about Peraza but if he is a true up the middle talent I think I would do that deal.  We are short elite up the middle talent so that would help.  Medina is a nice throw in as well.  I just don't know if the Yankee's would do that deal.  I think the Twins might not get pitching back in a deal with the Yanks at least not close to ready pitching as the Yankee's badly need pitching too.  Might have to swap Medina for another position player but I could still it happening with Peraza the headliner.  I wouldn't love losing Max but if moving him helps fix the SS position it would be worth it.

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I would really not like the Twins trading Kepler. He can cover center field if necessary and has an above average bat. Solid 3.0-4.0 WAR player over a full season, cheap and under a long term contract. The Twins have control of him for 3 more years and if he continues to put up 3-4 win seasons, the Twins will be giving him at least a QO.

Kepler is the kind of stable season contributor who fills out your roster and allows you to move other pieces around.

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Unless they are blowing it up, I don't see how this helps the Twins.  Peraza doesn't even have 200 PAs at AA, so he likely won't be a cog on a contending team in 2022.

Everything you covered on Kepler makes me not want him traded.  With known controlled costs of all other outfielders not named Buxton, the Twins could even afford for him to be the 4th outfielder with his contract.  You may not sign a 4th outfielder to that contract, but you can play an already signed guy that way when you have the Larnachs, Rookers, Kirilloffs and Celestinos making $600K for a couple more years.

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4 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

I think dealing Kepler is an awful idea. If Buxton is gone, Max is the CF. NO ONE in AAA, maybe AA, can both hit and field at this point (for an OF). Kepler can. Larnach probably isn't a good fielder either. I don't get trading Kepler at all.

Center fielders don't really need to hit well. Buxton himself only managed a wRC+ of 93 in his career year 2017. Looking over Celestino, his sprint speed is well off the pace for a premium CF. He's just about identical to Jake Cave in sprint and speed to first.

I did notice Gordon is exclusively playing CF these days. Guess the Twins are trying to figure that possibility out. Nothing super concrete to offer at CF, though. That's for sure.

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2 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

Center fielders don't really need to hit well. Buxton himself only managed a wRC+ of 93 in his career year 2017. Looking over Celestino, his sprint speed is well off the pace for a premium CF. He's just about identical to Jake Cave in sprint and speed to first.

I did notice Gordon is exclusively playing CF these days. Guess the Twins are trying to figure that possibility out. Nothing super concrete to offer at CF, though. That's for sure.

They don't have a corner OF that can hit and field either......and Celestino isn't ready. Not even close. If this wasn't a lost year, Max would 100% be in center right now.

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42 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

I think dealing Kepler is an awful idea. If Buxton is gone, Max is the CF. NO ONE in AAA, maybe AA, can both hit and field at this point (for an OF). Kepler can. Larnach probably isn't a good fielder either. I don't get trading Kepler at all.

Max is not a centerfielder .. He is capable of playing center, but he isn't a center fielder.

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2 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

Name the better one on the roster, which is my point.....Name a better RF or LF on D.....

Well corner outfielders seem to be a position of strength for the Twins. Typically teams trade from positions of strength.. You could make an argument to trade Max, for a prospect who is a true center fielder in a package... Also - Royce Lewis is a CF most likely.

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14 minutes ago, Tim said:

Well corner outfielders seem to be a position of strength for the Twins. Typically teams trade from positions of strength.. You could make an argument to trade Max, for a prospect who is a true center fielder in a package... Also - Royce Lewis is a CF most likely.

Not next year. Lewis won't be starting the year in Minnesota. And none of those corner players are ready other than larnach. Unless you are punting next year.... Then maybe. And Larnach isn't as good as Kepler, and can't back up center. 

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1 hour ago, Mike Sixel said:

Not next year. Lewis won't be starting the year in Minnesota. And none of those corner players are ready other than larnach. Unless you are punting next year.... Then maybe. And Larnach isn't as good as Kepler, and can't back up center. 

 

1 hour ago, Mike Sixel said:

Name the better one on the roster, which is my point.....Name a better RF or LF on D.....and, I'm not sure the stats agree with you:

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/max-kepler/12144/stats?position=OF

I see you added the stats part of this argument. He’s got a negative UZR in center, with declining speed, the past 2 years. Again, not a centerfielder. Who cares about 2022 at this point, on pace to lose 90+ games right now.

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2 hours ago, bean5302 said:

Center fielders don't really need to hit well. Buxton himself only managed a wRC+ of 93 in his career year 2017. Looking over Celestino, his sprint speed is well off the pace for a premium CF. He's just about identical to Jake Cave in sprint and speed to first.

I did notice Gordon is exclusively playing CF these days. Guess the Twins are trying to figure that possibility out. Nothing super concrete to offer at CF, though. That's for sure.

Everybody thinks they want a glove first player at the key positions.

But after a month the whole state is calling for Andrelton Simmons, Pedro Florimon, Carlos Gomez, Rich Becker, Nick Punto, Aaron Hicks, Jason Castro, Drew Butera, Pat Mears and Jeff Reboulet's* heads.

*I've been waiting awhile to find a good time to make a good Jeff Reboulet referrence.

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47 minutes ago, Tim said:

 

I see you added the stats part of this argument. He’s got a negative UZR in center, with declining speed, the past 2 years. Again, not a centerfielder. Who cares about 2022 at this point, on pace to lose 90+ games right now.

They are. 500 since their bad start. Add Buxton and a good pitcher, replace shoemaker with one of the rookies.....

Sure, the last two years he's been negative.... Barely. Ok.... Who can field the corners? Who plays right if he's gone?

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10 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

They are. 500 since their bad start. Add Buxton and a good pitcher, replace shoemaker with one of the rookies.....

Sure, the last two years he's been negative.... Barely. Ok.... Who can field the corners? Who plays right if he's gone?

Exactly. The. Point.

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On the surface, this trade makes sense in return value and I would strongly consider it with a potential overpay of Peraza and Gill, even if it helps the Yankees. His overall ability offensively, his defense, CF flexibility and cost control gives him a value that is underappreciated. 

Even if he just never adjusts his approach whatsoever, he has great value as a primary starting OF with quality defense and can play a solid CF over 120-140 games as a starter who you sit against a LHSP but can come in to a game when the SP is out. But these are also the reasons for the Twins to keep him and just make sure you have a quality RH OF to give him, and Larnach, some days off.

There is an illusion the Twins have a glut of power hitting corner OF. Larnach and Kirilloff have graduated and have bright futures. Wallner is the next big bat and he's in A+ with some potential. Rooker is a virtual clone of Willingham, a guy who should be a DH but won't kill you in the OF or 1B. There are also a couple guys who aren't big bats, but have the potential to be solid starters or 4th OF options who have a sort of "overall" ability to contribute at the ML level. And I'm not saying there isn't value for that kind of player. Think Hatcher, Lawton, or Cave when he was healthy and actually hitting. Potentially, some solid guys who could carve out a nice niche, maybe even as a starter. But right now, today, the depth of the OF in the system is a collection of young, talented CF who are at AA and below. And this includes Celistino who should be at St Paul. 

A return for Kepler should be pretty big because you have to look at a lot more detail other than "he never turned out to be a star".

I wouldn't move him unless there was a nice overpay I couldn't turn down. 

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38 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

They are. 500 since their bad start. Add Buxton and a good pitcher, replace shoemaker with one of the rookies.....

Sure, the last two years he's been negative.... Barely. Ok.... Who can field the corners? Who plays right if he's gone?

what? I'm not sure I'm following what your argument is at this point.

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1 minute ago, Tim said:

what? I'm not sure I'm following what your argument is at this point.

If you trade Kepler.... Who plays right? Is there anyone in the system that is an outfielder that can hit and field other than Buxton and Kepler? Not Rooker. Not Larnach. Not Celestino. Why trade him?

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17 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

If you trade Kepler.... Who plays right? Is there anyone in the system that is an outfielder that can hit and field other than Buxton and Kepler? Not Rooker. Not Larnach. Not Celestino. Why trade him?

Larnach has played 60 career games, is a former top 30 prospect in all of baseball, and showed flashes of being fantastic in that span. Rookies slump, thats what they do... He is absolutely capable of taking over for Kepler and thats most likely what is going to happen.

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13 minutes ago, Tim said:

Larnach has played 60 career games, is a former top 30 prospect in all of baseball, and showed flashes of being fantastic in that span. Rookies slump, thats what they do... He is absolutely capable of taking over for Kepler and thats most likely what is going to happen.

You must be reading very different scouting reports about his fielding. Who plays left if Larnach is in right?

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23 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

You must be reading very different scouting reports about his fielding. Who plays left if Larnach is in right?

If your comfortable with Kepler's defense in the corner spots,  who had a  UZR of -.02 last year and 1.0 UZR this year, we can live with Larnach's -1.3 .. Like you said , "Barely negative" ... If you have a plus center fielder, corner spots don't really matter a ton defensively.

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9 hours ago, Tim said:

Larnach has played 60 career games, is a former top 30 prospect in all of baseball, and showed flashes of being fantastic in that span. Rookies slump, thats what they do... He is absolutely capable of taking over for Kepler and thats most likely what is going to happen.

Are we 100% sure Larnach will start next year with the Twins? His audition started off well but in July he has been brutal (.205, .279, .295) if this would have been just about any other year he would be back in the minors. Don't get me wrong I think his future is bright, but writing his name in pen as a starter next year is dangerous, because if he hits like this you will need a back up plan and like Mike said there really isn't one in the minors right now, so that means most older cast off replacements.

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