Can the Twins Get Enough in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau Trades to Rebuild?

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Can the Twins Get Enough in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau Trades to Rebuild?

The Minnesota Twins have been busy bees in the last week, trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals and Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies for much-needed young pitching.

Even with Span and Revere gone, the Twins still have pieces they can trade to aide their rebuild, including a couple guys named Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Trading either or both of them wouldn't be easy, but dealing them would help a rebuilding process that is already on the right track.

And these trades could very well happen. The Twins are still short on young arms and GM Terry Ryan refused to rule out the possibility of dealing more bats for more arms when he spoke on MLB Network Radio on Thursday.

"I think we'd have to," said Ryan when he was asked if he's willing to listen on more position players. "We've lost over 90 games the last two years. For me to sit here and tell you that we shouldn't listen would be a bad thing for an organization. We have to listen."

He added: "I think it's safe to say if you don't pitch, you don't play."

After watching his starting pitchers combine to post an AL-worst 5.40 ERA in 2012, he would know.

The two names brought up specifically during the interview belonged to Morneau and left fielder Josh Willingham. But since Ryan indicated that he's willing to listen to offers for any position players so long as pitching would be in play, he presumably won't turn away callers interested in Mauer.

The Twins could definitely get a nice arm or a nice package of arms for Willingham. His value is higher than ever after posting an .890 OPS and hitting a career-high 35 home runs, and he has a very team-friendly deal. He's locked up through 2014 at a grand total of $14 million.

As for Morneau and Mauer, well, they're a little different.

Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
Morneau posted an fWAR of 0.9 in 2012.

Ryan may not be able to get what he seeks in a Morneau trade because his value is low and his salary is high, as he's owed $15 million in 2013. He still has power and he's coming off a halfway decent season at the plate, but his hitting has greatly diminished and his health is a red flag.

Any team that trades for Morneau runs the risk of only getting him for fewer than 100 games and then waving goodbye to him at the end of 2013 without making him a qualifying offer, and that would mean no compensatory draft pick.

Mauer, on the other hand, proved in 2012 that he can still hit, as he finished with a .319 batting average and an AL-best .416 on-base percentage. He also played in a career-high 147 games. 

But Mauer was able to play that many games only because he was behind the plate only about half the time. He caught 74 games and played first base or DH'd in 72 games. The Twins would no doubt try to sell him as an elite hitting catcher in trade talks, but likely to no avail. 

Then there's the matter of Mauer's contract, which has a no-trade clause in it that he would have to waive in order for the Twins to move him. Beyond that, it's a contract that only a handful of teams in baseball can afford to take on. In order to expand their list of suitors, the Twins would likely have to broadcast a willingness to eat some of the money Mauer is owed. 

If they do that, they'll be able to ask for better players in return. If not, they'll have to accept a lesser package and just be content to have a ton of extra breathing room on their payroll. Given the market they play in, Door No. 2 is the more likely outcome.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Mauer posted an fWAR of 5.0 in 2012.

So as far as trade chips go, neither Morneau nor Mauer is perfect. They have neither youth nor cheapness working for them, and the Twins can only sell high on Mauer. And even if they find a buyer for him, there's a limit to how much they can ask for.

The Denard Span and Ben Revere deals aren't much help here in terms of guidelines for potential trades. Ryan did well to land Alex Meyer, one of Washington's top prospects, for Span, but that was because he was dealing a solid hitter, fielder and baserunner who also happens to have a team-friendly contract that runs through 2014 with an option for 2015. 

Revere fetched a major league-ready starter in Vance Worley and a top prospect in Trevor May because his glove and legs are both excellent sources of value, and he's not even eligible for arbitration until 2014.

Morneau wouldn't fetch as much as either player in a trade. If the Twins deal him now, they may be forced to make a trade like the one the Texas Rangers are mulling with Michael Young. Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reported that they're on the verge of trading Young to the Phillies for a reliever and a low-level prospect, and that they're also going to eat some of Young's salary.

If the Twins were to do a deal like that, Ryan would probably have to choose a high-floor pitching prospect with a low ceiling, or a talented pitching prospect in need of a lot of work (a la Trevor May). Such a trade wouldn't be ideal, but it would be a deal worth doing since Ryan has no guarantees that Morneau's trade value isn't going to get any higher throughout the course of the 2013 season.

A potential Mauer trade is a lot harder to figure, as it's not every day that a team trades away a player with six years and $138 million left on his contract. The only trade that rings a bell as being even remotely similar was the trade that sent Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers to the New York Yankees back in 2004. At that point, A-Rod had seven years and $179 million left on his contract.

Going to Texas in that deal was Alfonso Soriano, who was no insignificant trade chip. The Twins would no doubt be very pleased if they were to get an All-Star player in a trade for Mauer, but they wouldn't exactly be trading the best player on the planet, which A-Rod still was at the time he was traded.

Still, the idea would be the same. If the Twins were to trade Mauer, it would likely be for a young, established pitcher with controllability and a bright future. There aren't many of those around, and there are even fewer around if the focus is restricted to teams that can actually afford to pay Mauer.

If the Twins can find a deal like that for Mauer, though, they should do it. They'd be adding a top young arm to a rotation that already features a couple quality pitchers in Vance Worley and Scott Diamond, with Alex Meyer and Trevor May due to make an impact in a couple of years. Their rebuild would look a lot better than it does right now.

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If the best the Twins can do for Mauer is more along the lines of several top prospects and a massive amount of payroll relief, they'd still have to seriously consider letting him go. They're not going anywhere with Mauer in the next couple of years, so they may as well go nowhere without him if it means having money to spend and a strong farm system to work with.

Between the three top trade chips the Twins still have at their disposal, Willingham and Morneau are a lot more likely to be traded than Mauer, if for no other reason than the likelihood that there are a lot more fits for the two of them out there than there are for Mauer. 

None of the three, however, should be totally untouchable. Given where they've been the last two years and what they have to work with, the Twins are in a position where they legitimately have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being totally open for business.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts


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