Trade Robbie Grossman? The Time May be Right

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Grossman gave the Twins all they could have asked for -- and then some -- in 2016. Would it behoove them to return the favor by dealing him to a team that's a better fit for 2017? (photo credit: Brian Curski)

On April 20, 2014, the Minnesota Twins selected outfielder Sam Fuld — a speedy, versatile defensive outfielder with good plate discipline — off waivers from the Oakland A’s. For the second year in a row, Aaron Hicks was off to a slow start to the season, which allowed Fuld to jump right into the mix.

Fuld wound up hitting a solid .274/.370/.354 with the Twins in 53 games despite being limited a bit due to concussion issues. On July 31 — just 103 days after he was claimed — Fuld was on the move again, as the last-place Twins flipped him back to the Oakland A’s for left-handed starter Tommy Milone.

It maybe didn’t start out that way, but it wound up being a calculated move by general manager Terry Ryan. At the time, the Twins were desperate for starting pitchers, while Milone had a solid 3.55 ERA on the season and a 3.84 mark for his career. And while Milone’s tenure with the club ended unceremoniously, it was still a good return on what was a minimal investment.  

Flash forward two years and nearly a month later and the Twins did a similar thing with outfielder Robbie Grossman. Grossman exercised an out clause in his minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians and signed with the Minnesota Twins. After a grand total of about 24 hours with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Grossman was on his way to the big leagues, and his tenure with the Twins started off with a bang.

Grossman replaced the scuffling Eddie Rosario as the team’s primary left fielder and kept his batting average over the .300 mark for his first 27 games in a Twins uniform. His OPS also stayed over .800 for all but one day all season with the club. He finished the season hitting a tidy .280/.386/.443 in 99 games while throttling lefties and holding his own against righties, and while he wasn’t particularly good in left field defensively, his career track record shows he should at least be respectable out there in the long term.

But despite having the best season of his career in 2016, Grossman doesn’t figure particularly prominently into the Twins’ plans moving forward. The team would still like to see what it has in Rosario — see this earlier column on his breakout potential —  and beyond that, the run of play was a bit out of character for Grossman, who was a career .240/.327/.341 hitter in 190 big-league games before joining the Twins.    

Grossman has always had good plate discipline — he’s had a double-digit walk rate everywhere he’s been — but the lack of power mixed with a questionable defensive profile seems to suggest the Twins should get out while the getting is good. Neither of the projections at Fangraphs are particularly optimistic about Grossman this year:

  • Steamer: .251/.346/.377 in 299 PA, 0.1 fWAR (due to negative defense)
  • ZiPS: .249/.336/.379 in 520 PA, 0.2 fWAR (also due to iffy defense)

Grossman was still worth less than a win (0.7 fWAR) in his breakout season, which essentially means he isn’t make-or-break to where this team is headed. It probably won’t be a popular take, but if it comes down to Grossman making the team or Danny Santana, it might make more sense to roll with the latter.

None of this is to say that Grossman wasn’t a solid get for the Twins last year or that he didn’t play well; he absolutely did.

Santana isn’t a particularly good defender, but as a 25th man he can play all over the outfield and infield, has speed on the bases and can run into a ball every now and then at the plate. He doesn’t have particularly good instincts on the bases, but he does a lot of things well on the field just often enough to see the potential for a decent utility player when you consider he’ll spend this season at just 26 years old.

The Twins have made a habit of holding onto players in recent years too long, to the point where their value crumbled and they had to just kick the player to the curb with little fanfare. Here, the Twins could cash in on whatever value Grossman might have to another team, give Santana one final shot — since he’s out of options — and hasten the process by which they move onto someone like Daniel Palka, J.B. Shuck, Drew Stubbs or most likely, Zach Granite as the fourth outfielder.

In this scenario, the Opening Day bench would then look something like this:

  • C- Chris Gimenez
  • IF- Eduardo Escobar
  • IF- Ehire Adrianza
  • IF/OF- Danny Santana

None of this is to say that Grossman wasn’t a solid get for the Twins last year or that he didn’t play well; he absolutely did. But he’s unlikely to replicate his 2016 success and is superfluous for a team that won’t give him much of a chance to repeat it, anyway. The Twins should view this as a chance to move Grossman and move onto finding the next one while pocketing the excess value, while preying on another team who needs him more than the Twins do.

Now the question is…..does that team exist?

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Brandon Warne covers the Twins for Cold Omaha, and has had his work featured in numerous places across the United States. Locally, Warne’s work has appeared at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1500 ESPN and Go96.3 for writing and audio, and he’s also had written work appear on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and cited in the Los Angeles Times. Warne lives in the outer Twin Cities suburbs with his wife, Amanda. Listen to his Cold Omaha podcast Midwest Swing. Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne.

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