Packages MLB Contenders Should Offer for Minnesota Twins' Top Trade Assets
Pundits and fans alike could have predicted a handful of teams that would be sellers come the 2021 MLB trade deadline July 30. It's unlikely many would have picked the Minnesota Twins.
Many regarded the Twins as the favorite to win the American League Central. FanGraphs gave Minnesota a 48.6 percent chance to win the division prior to the season. PECOTA had the Twins as even bigger favorites at 61 percent.
Projection systems, as we know, do not always get it right. Yet there was real reason to like the Twins.
Minnesota was coming off back-to-back division titles and supplemented the roster by signing relievers like Alex Colome and Hansel Robles in addition to bringing back Nelson Cruz and adding J.A. Happ for rotational depth. The Twins also improved their infield defense by signing defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons.
However, things went south in a hurry, and they haven't gotten better. The Twins are 13 games back in the Central and 10 games back of a wild-card spot. Barring something spectacular, they will have almost no choice but to sell in July.
Let's look at some of the top assets on Minnesota's roster and find contenders who would make for good trade partners. While the Twins might insist players like Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios are not available, this is a thought experiment, so those guys will be included in these hypotheticals.
RHP Michael Pineda
The Twins have multiple starters they could consider moving.
Jose Berrios might be the least likely to leave town given his age (27) and the fact that he has another year of arbitration eligibility. Veteran left-hander J.A. Happ could be available on an expiring deal, though he has a 5.61 ERA through 10 starts.
Michael Pineda, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be dealt. Pineda will be a free agent at the end of the season. Unlike Happ, he has been effective, posting a 3.46 ERA and 1.10 WHIP through 10 starts.
The peripherals are not quite as strong (4.58 expected ERA). However, Pineda commands the zone and ranks in the 94th percentile in chase rate. He had a 4.01 ERA over a full season in 2019 and is a capable No. 4 or No. 5 type for a team that needs rotation depth.
One such team is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds lost Jack Flaherty to an oblique issue after Miles Mikolas (forearm) and Kwang Hyun Kim (back) both landed on the injured list.
The Cardinals would likely prefer an ace such as Max Scherzer, but they might do well to add multiple arms. Pineda shouldn't be costly as a rental, making him an interesting target.
The Cardinals could send No. 27 prospect Brendan Donovan to Minnesota, which would make sense given they have Nolan Arenado at the hot corner and top prospect Nolan Gorman in the farm system.
Minnesota could use young talent in the infield. Donovan is hitting .304 with an .815 OPS at two levels this season and can play second or third. He has shown real growth since being drafted in 2018.
Cardinals receive: Michael Pineda
Twins receive: 3B Brendan Donovan
SS Andrelton Simmons
Andrelton Simmons will never provide a lot of pop. He's slugging just .329. But he has put the ball in play at a decent clip and is playing elite defense.
The four-time Gold Glove Award winner ranks in the top three in outs above average (OAA) and fourth in success rate added. Simmons continues to provide wizardry with the glove, which can be an asset to shortstop-needy teams along with his passable offense.
The Cincinnati Reds were reportedly interested in signing Simmons last offseason and might again look to him to plug the shortstop hole.
Bullpen help should be at the top of the Reds' wish list, but shortstop also needs addressing. The Eugenio Suarez experiment did not work. Kyle Farmer hasn't been the answer either. If the Reds aren't intent on paying the price for Trevor Story but still hope to add, why not pursue someone like Simmons?
The Reds rank last in OAA. Installing Simmons at short could have a drastic impact on team defense. Cincy has pop in its lineup, but the Reds could benefit from more defense and contact.
Considering Simmons is 31 and will be a free agent in the offseason, he won't cost an arm and a leg. Outfield prospect Danny Lantigua could interest the Twins as a switch-hitter who might add pop if he can put on some muscle.
Much of this depends on whether the Reds feel they can remain in contention and are willing to give up a top-30 prospect for a rental. If they are, Simmons could be an ideal target.
Reds receive: Andrelton Simmons
Twins receive: OF Danny Lantigua
LHP Taylor Rogers
We've seen a lot of chatter regarding valuable relievers who could be commodities at the deadline but not a ton of talk about Taylor Rogers.
Rogers has a 3.20 ERA in 23 appearances with 34 strikeouts in 25.1 innings. He pounds opposing hitters into the ground with a hard sinker and also attacks with a slider he can throw inside to right-handers while getting left-handers to dive at it down and away. He ranks tops among relievers in chase rate.
The 30-year-old has an additional year of arbitration eligibility in 2022, making him a possible target for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies rank 23rd in bullpen ERA. Additionally, late-game arm Hector Neris will be a free agent at the end of the season. Rogers would be valuable to Philly given his track record—sixth in relief fWAR since 2018—and closing experience, in addition to the extra year of control.
Granted, Rogers will not come cheap. Philly would likely have to send one of its pitching prospects back to Minnesota. In this case, it's left-hander Erik Miller. The No. 8 prospect in Philly's system has yet to pitch this season and is on the seven-day injured list, but he has a lively fastball-slider combination that gives him upside should he harness his command.
The Phillies would likely have to move another prospect for Rogers as well. Catcher Logan O'Hoppe's power and decent tools behind the dish could be interesting for the Twins, and O'Hoppe is expendable for the Phillies given the presence of J.T. Realmuto and prospect depth at the position.
Phillies receive: Taylor Rogers
Twins receive: LHP Erik Miller, C Logan O'Hoppe
DH Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz has an .850 OPS and 132 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) value, and it's been a down year for him. That's how good Cruz was in his first two seasons in Minnesota.
"Nelly" mashed 41 homers and had a 1.031 OPS in 2019. He then hit .303 with 16 homers and a career-high 173 OPS+ in the shortened 2020 campaign.
Despite his success in Minnesota, Cruz is likely headed elsewhere. He hasn't shown signs of slowing down, considering he ranks in the top 10 percent in average exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit rate. Still, he turns 41 in July and has no real place on a club not in contention.
I previously suggested Tampa Bay would be an interesting landing spot for Cruz, and I'm holding to that idea. The Rays could use more pop from the right side of the batter's box, and Cruz can be a much-need run producer who would strike more balance in the lineup.
Yandy Diaz could go the other way in a deal. Diaz's power stroke hasn't been there this season, but he is hitting .263 and has 10 more walks (42) than strikeouts (32). He has strong batted-ball numbers and could be a breakout star if he starts to lift the ball. Plus, Diaz can play both corner spots and is under club control through 2024.
Dealing Diaz would make Ji-Man Choi the full-time first baseman while Austin Meadows takes over a corner outfield spot and Cruz slots in as the designated hitter.
The Rays could also toss in left-handed prospect John Doxakis, who has three average to above-average offerings and plus command.
Rays receive: Nelson Cruz
Twins receive: 1B/3B Yandy Diaz, LHP John Doxakis
OF Byron Buxton
The Twins have yet to give any indication they will trade Byron Buxton, which makes sense given his absurd start.
Buxton slashed .370/.408/.772 with nine homers and a 228 OPS+ through 24 games. He also stole five bases and played his typically terrific defense in center field. It had the makings of an MVP season.
However, Buxton's sensational campaign was interrupted by a hip strain that has kept him out of the lineup for over a month. That brings us to our first harsh reality, one Twins fans know all too well: Buxton has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. Want another dose of reality? The 2012 No. 2 pick will be a free agent after next season.
This might be the time to move Buxton if Minnesota is intent on retooling and lacks confidence in its ability to sign him.
If Buxton becomes available, the Houston Astros should pounce. Although the Astros have a greater need in the bullpen, the appeal of adding Buxton could be too great. They can look for buy-low relievers, but it's not every day a club can add a superstar at a premium position.
The Astros rank 22nd in bWAR in center field, as Myles Straw has a .604 OPS. Buxton could be a tone-setter in the lineup with his speed and power while playing Gold Glove defense.
The Astros could include Straw in a package with toolsy middle infielder Jeremy Pena and 25-year-old right-hander Tyler Ivey, whose deceptive delivery and varied offerings make him intriguing as a mid-rotation starter or long reliever.
Houston has incentive to buy big and win now with the likes of Carlos Correa and Zack Greinke headed for free agency. Why not pursue Buxton?
Astros receive: Byron Buxton
Twins receive: OF Myles Straw, IF Jeremy Pena, RHP Tyler Ivey
RHP Jose Berrios
Jose Berrios would likely be more valuable than Buxton were he made available ahead of the deadline.
Consider the premium placed on top-end starters during deadline season. Pair that with the fact that Berrios just turned 27 and has another season of arbitration eligibility, and you have a top trade chip.
Berrios has a 3.58 ERA through 12 starts with a career-best 3.53 FIP and 1.11 WHIP. The 2012 first-round pick has had a "peaks and valleys" sort of season but has the stuff to develop into an ace.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network mentioned the Toronto Blue Jays as a fit for Berrios, which makes sense. The Blue Jays rank 19th in rotation ERA and could use another arm as they hope to climb the AL East standings. Plus, it would be logical to add a controllable starter with Robbie Ray and Steven Matz set to hit free agency at the end of the season.
Toronto has the farm assets to make a deal. In this instance, it parts with top shortstop Jordan Groshans and right-hander Adam Kloffenstein.
Groshans is the No. 35 prospect in MLB.com's Top 100, but he is blocked by Bo Bichette and might not have an opportunity if the Blue Jays re-sign Marcus Semien. Meanwhile, Kloffenstein is the fourth- or fifth-best pitching prospect in a system full of high-end guys.
The Twins have a top shortstop in Royce Lewis, but he is recovering from a torn ACL. Lewis can also move around the diamond and possibly play center field. Kloffenstein would give Minnesota needed arm talent with a deep arsenal of plus offerings and steady command.
Blue Jays receive: Jose Berrios
Twins receive: SS Jordan Groshans, RHP Adam Kloffenstein