So, trying to figure out offseason trade targets is markedly more difficult than free-agent targets.
Free agency is basically just a list, like going to the grocery store and coming back with things you want and need, but also can afford.
The old saying is it “takes two to tango” and that’s a fairly apt way to describe figuring out potential trade partners. But it’s not impossible to read between the lines; sometimes it’s about a player heading into their more expensive years with a team trending in a different direction. Sometimes it’s about clearing out a fit for the hot-shot prospect, like dealing A.J. Pierzynski to make room for….oh who remembers these things anyway?
Nevertheless, we aren’t deep enough into the winter to be reporting on much in terms of real moves — not unlike the dusting of snow the metro got in recent days — so again we go to the well to think about who the Minnesota Twins could target in trades.
We noted before, but the Twins don’t exactly have a hole at catcher as much as they should be looking at every opportunity to upgrade for the future. Jason Castro isn’t just coming off an injury, but only signed through 2019.
And sometimes the best moves are the ones made in advance of a situation cropping up. Actually, pretty much all of them are.
- J.T. Realmuto – Marlins: There’s a compelling case that he’s the best catcher in baseball — at least he was statistically this year — and with two more years of club control and a mandate from his agent saying he won’t re-sign, he will be wearing a different uniform this spring. This will probably be a 3-for-1 deal, if not more.
- Francisco Cervelli – Pirates: He’s never shown much power, but the 33-year-old Cervelli is coming off hitting a career-high 12 homers while hitting .259/.378/.431 overall. Like Castro, Cervelli is signed only through 2019 — for $11.5 million — but on a Pirates team looking to cut costs, he could make some sense to be moved. His framing numbers are strange — he was among the best in 2016, and has been among the worst the last two years according to StatCorner. Trading Cervelli would allow the Pirates to go with Elias Diaz behind the plate.
- Austin Hedges – Padres: Hedges is like the store brand Mike Zunino; he hits for some power, strikes out quite a bit and doesn’t walk much. He’s a terrific defender — this has been the narrative as long as he’s been on the national radar as a prospect — and the only reason he might be available is that the Padres traded for Francisco Mejia last summer.
This is a complicated lot, as the Twins still aren’t completely sure what Joe Mauer is going to do, and Miguel Sano’s future is completely up in the air.
Do they go get a first baseman, and hope Sano sticks at third? Do they move Sano to first preemptively and get a third baseman? Do they get someone who can play both and hope it works itself out? Is Tyler Austin the answer? Is anybody still listening?
- Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks: Don’t count on it, but it would be foolish not to at least explore the waters. Goldy just turned 31 and has posted a career OPS of .930 in eight seasons in the desert. He’s a superstar.
- Brandon Belt – Giants: This one is a complete wild card because nobody’s sure which direction Farhan Zaidi is going to take the team. Belt has dealt with concussion issues and is owed $51.6 million over the next three years, but has also hit .264/.364/.461 over the last four years and entering his age-31 season still seems like he has a little room to add power. He does have a 10-team no-trade clause.
- Yandy Diaz – Indians: It’s hard to know how the infield situation will shake out for Cleveland, but if Diaz isn’t used as a starter he makes sense to dangle as a trade chip for a team still possibly hoping for one more run at the AL Central crown. Diaz is a career .283/.361/.366 hitter, though the caveat is that he hits the crap out of the ball but just does so on the ground too much. It’d be a gamble, but it feels like a worthwhile one.
- Jose Martinez – Cardinals: Martinez can really, really hit but should be nowhere near a fielding glove. In parts of three years, the late-blooming Martinez — who is entering his age-30 season — has hit .309/.372/.478. The Cardinals could move him — with no DH in the National League after all — without much worry due to his age and the likelihood that they’ll be picking up a premium player in free agency anyhow.
- Justin Smoak – Blue Jays: Smoak has big-time power and is a switch hitter, and with a Blue Jays team headed nowhere in the immediate-term — their farm is unbelievable, however — it makes sense to move him. He’s signed for one more year at $8 million.
- CJ Cron – Rays: Cron has right-handed thump, familiarity with Rocco Baldelli and might be deemed too expensive to be part of Tampa Bay’s future. It’s like the first-base version of Jake Odorizzi! After a slow start, Cron was an absolute monster last year, hitting .282/.342/.574 in 64 games from July 1 on. Adding another righty wouldn’t hurt.
- Maikel Franco – Phillies: Franco used to be compared to Miguel Sano when they were prospects, but at 26 his career is also at an interesting crossroads. His career numbers are especially tame — .252/.303/.435 — and if the team somehow gets their hands on Manny Machado, he’ll be on the outside looking in for a job. Buy low?
- Eric Thames – Brewers: Thamesmania swept the nation when he came back from overseas and crushed everything in sight early in the 2017 season. Through two years with the Brewers, he’s hit .237/.341/.504 with 47 homers in 234 games. He’s coming off a down year and lost his job to Jesus Aguilar, but with one year at $6 million and an option for 2020 ($7.5 million) left on his deal, that’s a completely reasonable price to pay for that kind of power. He’d make a nice DH on this roster.
- Greg Bird – Yankees: It’s kind of hard to believe that like 20 months ago there were debates about who’d be the better slugger between him and Aaron Judge. There’ve been no signals the Yankees are ready to pull the plug here, but the teams have made deals before and if the Bombers add any more significant offensive talent — Bryce Harper, anyone? — it could push Bird out of their plans.
- Justin Bour – Phillies: This feels like a non-tender waiting to happen — since the team is already paying a boatload to Carlos Santana and also has Rhys Hoskins playing in the outfield for some reason — but Bour is a career .269/.354/.499 hitter against righties. That could make for a badass DH platoon with Austin.
The free-agent market is crowded, and the trade market is hard to read at this point. However, it’s pretty clear the Twins need help.
- Whit Merrifield – Royals: They keep saying they have no intention of moving him, but let’s be real here. Merrifield turns 30 in January, is coming off a monstrous season and the Royals are going nowhere. Now’s the time to move him. He can play all over the place, absolutely crushed the baseball in 2018 and stole 45 bases. This is the perfect time to move him.
- Dee Gordon – Mariners: Admit it — you’re at least a little intrigued about the idea of him playing with his brother. Anyway, this would be a great buy-low on a guy coming off a rough season. When he’s right, Gordon steals bases by the bucketload and plays a decent second base or shortstop. The Twins could use that.
- Jason Kipnis – Indians: His future in Cleveland is muddy — and Diaz could figure into that — and he’s only signed through 2019 with a 2020 team option. Who knows him better than Derek Falvey?
- Jonathan Villar – Orioles: He’ll be 28 in May and let’s be honest, the Orioles might want a longer look at him, but they’re also in the beginning of a 5-to-7-year rebuild. He’ll be long gone by the time that’s done. Villar has tantalized with his skill set before — see 2016 — and was good enough with Baltimore down the stretch to polish off some of the rust. At the very least it’s worth a phone call.
- Jonathan Schoop – Brewers: He was a mess in Milwaukee and could even be non-tendered, but at his best, he’s a pretty dang good hitter. Maybe not $9-10 million good, though.
- Starlin Castro – Marlins: It wouldn’t be a list without a Marlin named Starlin. But seriously, he’s still only 28 — OK, 29 in March — and do we really think the Marlins are going to pay him almost $12 million next year? He hasn’t become the star some envisioned nearly a decade — wait, really? — ago, but he’s hit .288/.333/.423 over the last two years (107 OPS+) and would be a right-handed bat that gives the lineup some depth.
I know people think the Twins don’t need an outfielder, but adding a body to a wildly volatile, yet talented group makes a lot of sense.
- Albert Almora Jr. – Cubs: OK, hear me out here — I get that there aren’t many reasons for the Cubs to trade him. But their outfield is still fairly crowded — and do you really think they won’t be in the mix for Bryce Harper — and if you offer to take back Tyler Chatwood (two years, $25.5 million) in the deal, I think you can make something happen here.
- Tommy Pham – Rays: This is a cop-out; it’s the Rays and he’s about to start making some real money. It’s more likely this kind of move is a year or two out, but keep in mind that he’s heading into his age-31 season and absolutely mauled the baseball with the Rays. There’s good bait-and-switch potential here if you’re the Rays.
- Gregory Polanco – Pirates: If you’re wondering who is this year’s possible Christian Yelich, it’s right here. There’s no telling where the Pirates are headed, but it’s clear they could get a ton back for a player heading into his age-27 season with up to five more years of club control at just a little over $40 million.
- Joc Pederson – Dodgers: He played 148 games last year for the Dodgers, which is good because it always felt to me like he had one foot out the door in 2017. He’s heading into his age-27 season and has two years of control left, and if the Dodgers make any sort of big move in the outfield, he could be on the way out with a crowded bunch in that mix already.
- Starling Marte – Pirates: Marte has up to three years of club control left on his deal at a little over $33 million, and is heading into his age-30 season. Not quite a Yelich situation, but maybe the next step down.
- Derek Dietrich – Marlins: This one won’t make people too excited, but don’t skip past it. The numbers don’t necessarily stand out, but Dietrich has posted four straight years of a better than 100 OPS+ while playing appreciable time second and third base as well as left field. He has two years of club control left and is about to start getting spendy. He might be the least talked about player among those likely to get moved this winter.
- Domingo Santana – Brewers: Went from hitting .278/.371/.505 in 2017 to largely an afterthought in 2018. The Brewers may want to keep one outfielder as a successor to Ryan Braun, but at some point, they’re going to have to clear the logjam.
- Nicholas Castellanos – Tigers: Should be higher on this list due to bat (130 wRC+ last year) and age (27 next spring), but loses points for only being under club control for one more year and his subpar defense.
- Keon Broxton – Brewers: Like Santana, Broxton was largely an afterthought with the Brewers to the point where he played more games at Triple-A Colorado Springs (82) in his age-28 season than with the big club (51). If we’re being fair, the best fit here might be as the team’s fourth instead of starting somewhere else.
- Dexter Fowler – Cardinals: He’s coming off a disastrous age-32 season (.576 OPS) — a lot of which was chalked up to some mental health battles — and is owed nearly $50 million over the next three years, but if the people in the organization who know these things say his swing checks out in terms of speed/fixability, there’s a chance to buy low on a guy who isn’t that old or far removed from being a very, very good player. It also might help if the Cardinals pay some of the freight.
While we’ve said the Twins could use help at the top of the rotation, another thing that’s worth considering is that Jose Berrios is really the only established starter the Twins have under control past 2019.
That could drive some of the potential trade discussions that the Twins have this offseason.
- James Paxton – Mariners: The Mariners appear primed for a sell-off, and moving Paxton — who turned 30 earlier this week — seems to be a decent bet. Paxton is everything you’d want in a starter with the exception of durability, as he’s never thrown more than 180 innings. In fact, he set a career-high mark with 160.1 this season in 28 starts. Is the gamble worth dealing big prospects for? Paxton is a free agent after 2020.
- Marcus Stroman – Blue Jays: Stroman is younger (27) than Paxton, coming off a rough season and hasn’t had quite the success in terms of strikeouts, but he has a lot of the attributes teams seek from a pitcher. He has a fiery demeanor on the mound, gets tons of grounders, keeps the ball in the ballpark and at times has shown the ability to get swings and misses. Stroman is also a free agent after 2020.
- Jon Gray – Rockies: Gray turned 27 earlier this week, and it’s entirely unclear if the Rockies would consider moving him after an off year, but it’s worth making that call. He could be this year’s Gerrit Cole, and has three years of control left to boot.
- Sonny Gray – Yankees: Gray is a classic change-of-scenery candidate and Brian Cashman has more or less put up the for-sale sign in front of him. It might be hard to ever pay less in a trade for a guy who can pitch like an ace when he’s right.
- Danny Duffy – Royals: Duffy has three years and $46 million left on his deal heading into his age-30 season, and the Royals are going nowhere over that stretch. He’s had his ups and downs and hasn’t thrown 180 innings in any season, but if he’s anywhere near his 2016-17 self, he’s a huge bargain.
- Matthew Boyd – Tigers: It might seem like a strange spot to move Boyd, but the Tigers are in the throes of a massive rebuild and the lefty isn’t as young as you think (28 next season). He was pretty good for the Tigers last season — 4.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 — and has four years of club control left. This could be a really, really sneaky pickup because if he has any issues in his early 30s, he can simply be non-tendered.
- Jose Urena – Marlins: He’s made some questionable decisions on the mound and his numbers aren’t exactly great through four MLB seasons, but he throws gas, limits walks and has the kind of secondary stuff that suggests a breakout isn’t far off. He’s also about to get expensive, and is entering just his age-27 season.
- Alex Cobb – Orioles: Get past the shock of considering trading for a guy with an ERA near 5.00, and you’ll see he was very good in the second half last year — 2.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .665 OPS against — despite only fanning 5.9 batters per nine innings. His groundball rate was healthy all season — right around 50 percent — and the rest of his deal (three years, $43 million) isn’t terribly prohibitive.
- Chad Bettis – Rockies: I don’t know, I’ve just always felt like Bettis — who turns 30 in April — could be really good outside of Colorado. He doesn’t give up too many homers, and his groundball rate of 49.4 percent will play just about anywhere. His fastball isn’t a swing-and-miss pitch at all — few are — but he has swinging strike rates of 12 percent or higher on his changeup, slider and curve over his career.
- Don’t trade for relievers.