Minnesota Twins: Evaluating Whether Players Will Stay or Be Traded This Winter
Coming off back-to back 90-loss seasons, the Minnesota Twins need to make changes to their roster as they head into the 2013 season.
For a franchise that used to be the model of consistency in Major League Baseball, the Twins need to find a way to bring in some pitching and defense in order to return the team to relevancy.
Unfortunately, the Twins are unlikely to fork out the millions of dollars it will take to get even a middle-of-the-road free agent, so their best bet is to look at the trade market to get a solid return.
The Twins do not have many assets, but there are a couple pieces that could help fix some of their problems.
Why the Minnesota Twins Should Trade Aaron Hicks
The Twins need major league-ready pitching. The most common way for teams to accomplish that is by trading young prospects.
Unfortunately, the Twins don't have too much to give in that category, as their farm system has been ravaged since the Bill Smith era.
However, one player who could be thrown into a deal is former first-round pick Aaron Hicks.
Hicks has been a slow learner in the Twins system since he was taken 14th overall in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, and the Twins could take advantage of his solid season at Double-A New Britain to get a larger return than they normally would.
Throughout general manager Terry Ryan's tenure, he has failed to sell high on certain prospects, leading to guys like Michael Restovich becoming former Twins.
With Hicks' average hovering south of .300 throughout his minor league career, now would be a great time to cash in and acquire something that could pay more dividends down the road.
Why the Twins Should NOT Trade Aaron Hicks
The path of Aaron Hicks in the minor leagues has been similar to that of former Twins star Torii Hunter.
Hunter was a first-round pick of the Twins in 1993 and, despite having an admirable first couple of seasons in the farm system, had a tough time getting things turned around.
As a fellow five-tool player, it took Hunter a while to get things turned around before making his major league debut in 1997 at age 21. (Technically, Hunter did not become a full-time major leaguer until 1999 at age 23.)
Here's a look at the stat lines of Hunter and Hicks prior to their 22nd birthdays.
|Age||Aaron Hicks||Torii Hunter|
|17||DNP (High School)||.198 AVG, 0 HR, 8 RBI (GCL)|
|18||.318, 4 HR, 27 RBI (GCL)||.293, 10 HR, 50 RBI (Low-A)|
|19||.251, 4 HR, 29 RBI (Low-A)||.246, 7 HR, 46 RBI (High-A)|
|20||.279, 8 HR, 49 RBI (Low-A)||.260, 7 HR, 34 RBI (High-A/Double-A)|
|21||.242, 5 HR, 38 RBI (High-A)||.231, 8 HR, 56 RBI (Double-A)|
|22||.286, 13 HR, 61 RBI (Double-A)||.295, 10 HR, 52 RBI (Double-A/Triple-A)|
While there is not a barometer that can predict what kind of major league career Hicks could have, it may be important to point out that Hunter turned out just fine, averaging a line of .275 with 25 home runs and 95 runs batted in per 162 games.
Despite the Twins' outfield depth, keeping Hicks could pay big dividends down the road if he turns out to indeed be Torii Hunter 2.0.
Why the Twins Should Trade Josh Willingham
For all the wrong moves the Twins made with their pitching staff, they made the right decision to sign Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract rather than overpaying Michael Cuddyer.
Willingham was terrific for the Twins in 2012 with a line of .260, 35 home runs and 110 runs batted in while batting between Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. As the sole conqueror of Target Field (in terms of Twins who have thrived in the park), Willingham earned a Silver Slugger.
So why would the Twins want to trade an important cog in their lineup? Because of their outfield depth in the minor league system.
As mentioned before with Hicks, the decision to trade Willingham would be a case of striking while the iron is hot to get a top pitching prospect.
The difference here is that trading Willingham could give them a bigger prospect than trading a mid-level prospect would.
A Willingham trade could get the Twins an ace they could lean on for several years, such as Atlanta's Randall Delgado or Arizona's Trevor Bauer. Such a move would be an important stretch in the right direction as the Twins attempt to climb out of the American League Central basement.
Why the Twins Should NOT Trade Josh Willingham
The potential of a trade involving Josh Willingham depends on the quality of the pitching prospect the Twins could get for him. However, what's to say that's an automatic lock?
Willingham is arguably the Twins' best trade chip to hit the market since Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season. While the Twins could get a top pitching prospect (or two) out of an opposing organization, the fact remains that we're talking about prospects who may or may not pan out.
Look at the Santana trade as proof of that. The Twins thought they were getting an adequate return for Santana when they traded him to the New York Mets; however, all four prospects (who had gotten positive reviews from their previous destinations) bombed, and the Twins fell into the situation they're in now.
Aside from that, the subtraction of Josh Willingham would leave a gigantic hole in the Twins lineup come 2013. Could the Twins fill it from within? Sure. But none of them would have the impact that Willingham has had in his first season with the Twins.
Since Willingham is a cheap player with two years left on his contract, the Twins may decide to hold onto him until some of the prospects in the minor league system are ready.
Why the Twins Should Trade Justin Morneau
One of the key storylines with the Minnesota Twins over the past several years has been injuries. It can be debated that the biggest injury in that stretch is Justin Morneau's concussion in July of 2010.
Morneau was once regarded as a top player, not only at first base, but in all of Major League Baseball. After winning the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player award, Morneau signed a monster contract and proceeded to put together several MVP-caliber seasons before that fateful day in Toronto.
In the two seasons since Morneau's concussion, he's hit a pedestrian .254 with 23 home runs and 104 runs batted in over 203 games.
Those numbers have made Morneau's contract, which could have been one of the biggest steals in all of baseball had Morneau actually won the 2008 and 2010 MVP awards, look incredibly bloated as he turns 32 next May.
While Morneau has occupied a valuable place in franchise history, it may be time to close the door on this chapter and attempt to build for the future with Chris Parmelee doing his best Anthony Rizzo impression at Triple-A Rochester (.338, 17 HR, 49 RBI in 64 games).
A Morneau trade could not only open the door for Parmelee but also clear up $14 million in salary room to bring in a quality pitcher on the free-agent market (or via another trade).
As sad as the downfall of Morneau has been, his days in a Twins uniform may be numbered.
Why the Twins Should NOT Trade Justin Morneau
I mentioned previously that Justin Morneau will earn $13 million in the final year of a six-year, $80 million contract he signed prior to the 2008 season. That's a lot of money for a guy who could be done with one bump of the head and is considered to be washed up.
The salary issue could be the biggest road block in the path of a Morneau deal, as many teams either won't be able to or don't want to pick up that hefty price.
The Twins came close to finding a suitor last summer, but the big-market Los Angeles Dodgers instead focused on Adrian Gonzalez and made the biggest deal of the offseason. That could have been the crack in the window the Twins needed to force the issue.
There's also the issue of what the Twins would get for Morneau if he is damaged goods. Would getting an Alexi Casilla clone do anything for the Twins several years down the road? Probably not.
It may not be worth the trouble to trade Morneau now, but if he gets off to a hot start with the Twins pitching staff ruining another season, the July trade deadline could be a better time to strike.
Why the Twins Should Trade Denard Span
When evaluating all the assets this offseason, Denard Span has to be the most likely to actually be traded by the Twins.
Span is one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, posting a career .357 on-base percentage since his debut in 2008. Span plays solid defense in center field and is one of the few leaders in the Twins' clubhouse.
Span also happens to be one of the more popular players on the team, which means a trade would also create public displeasure.
However, the Twins have a replacement ready to go in right field with Ben Revere.
Revere, a first-round pick of the Twins in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, has flashed defensive brilliance in the outfield for the Twins despite a poor throwing arm. Revere also has the speed to replace Span in the Twins' lineup and should continue to develop as turns 25 next May.
From the Twins' standpoint, Revere could be a cheaper option as the Twins work with their imaginary $100 million salary cap.
For a prospective buyer, Span's five-year, $16.5 million contract, which runs through 2014, is a steal and a solution to any team with a hole in center field, such as the Tampa Bay Rays or Atlanta Braves (assuming B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn leave).
With the Braves and Rays having pitching-rich farm systems and a replacement waiting in the wings, the Twins would be best served to trade Span.
Why the Twins Should NOT Trade Denard Span
Of course, the downside to a Span trade would be that players like him are not the problem in Minnesota. They could wind up becoming the answer to the team's woes.
It may sound confusing, but keeping Span could be a better decision than trading him.
There's not a lot of talent on the Twins roster right now, and getting rid of Span may make problems worse if the Twins misfire on prospects or the talent they receive in return.
As mentioned before, Span is one of the leaders on the Twins, and getting rid of him may create a rift with the Twins' marquee players Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Span is one of the most solid players in Major League Baseball, and it's a fair question whether he can be replaced by someone like Revere.
Despite his flashes, Revere has also had trouble drawing walks and tends to go into prolonged slumps when he's unable to get hits. Revere's speed is no use to the Twins if he can't get on first, and that could be a big problem if he can't get going after Span's departure.
The Twins need solid players on their roster to become competitive again. Trading Span would get rid of one of them.
Unlike the July trade deadline, the Twins need to do something to improve their roster heading into 2013. It is my prediction that one of these names will be moved prior to Spring Training to obtain a starting pitcher, such as James Shields, who could solidify the rotation.
Aaron Hicks: Out of the Twins' top prospects, Hicks is the most likely to move. Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia should be untouchable, and trading Kyle Gibson would be adding to the problem as the Twins would receive pitching in any deal. However, general manager Terry Ryan has shown a reluctance to deal prospects in the past, and that could play out here if the Twins wanted to make a move involving Hicks.
Josh Willingham: Like Span, Willingham is part of the solution instead of part of the problem. The Twins have Willingham under their control for two more seasons and $7 million per, and Willingham could serve as a stopgap until some of their younger outfield prospects are ready.
Justin Morneau: The best option would be for the Twins to find a suitor so they can move toward a new era of Twins baseball. However, what team is going to take on Morneau's contract, and what would they give for a 31-year-old first baseman with a history of concussions? I bet he stays.
Denard Span: The most likely Twin to move this offseason. I think the Twins will realize that they won't be able to win until they get back to their philosophy of pitching and defense. Since the Twins do not have pitching at the moment, Span represents their best opportunity to replenish their pitching staff.