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.