Twins

What's at Stake: A Twins Trade Deadline Primer

Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

There are just over 16 hours left until the trade deadline as I sit down to write this. The Minnesota Twins have made one move — trading for Sergio Romo.

We can all agree that isn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough even before the Cleveland Indians went out and traded Trevor Bauer for Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen and Yasiel Puig, and it certainly isn’t enough after, either.

As a general rule, I don’t believe in teams reacting to what others do when it comes to personnel — at least not directly. Sure, from a fan’s standpoint it makes sense, but it also lends itself to panic moves to keep up with the Joneses, and that’s just a recipe for disaster.

So where do the Twins go from here? Where do they concentrate their efforts? We’ll operate under the idea that no concept is completely off the table, and as a result, we’ll break down each part of the team overall.

Here’s what we see:

Offense

It’s not exactly earth-shattering here, but the Twins don’t really have any room to maneuver when it comes to their offense. Luis Arraez already has the team’s collective hands tied a bit in that when C.J. Cron returns, they’ll have to make some sort of difficult decision — whether it’s sending Arraez back, going to a 12-man pitching staff or for some reason making another personnel move like, say, DFA-ing Ehire Adrianza, which makes less than no sense.

The only thing that would make sense, in this case, would be if the Twins were pessimistic about Cron’s chances of returning from the right thumb inflammation that has cost him games on each side of the All-Star break. If that were the case, maybe a trade for someone like White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu might have made sense, but that’s a distant, faded memory with Cron starting a rehab assignment with High-A Fort Myers on Wednesday.

Jul 22, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) runs the bases and scores a run driven in by Yoan Moncada (not pictured) against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, and it’s probably the first time anyone’s said this about the Twins in a really long time, but the offense not only doesn’t need any help, but simply can’t use it even if they did acquire it.

It’s a good problem to have.

Starting Pitching

Well, barring some sort of pitcher trafficking, it won’t be Marcus Stroman or Trevor Bauer, both of whom were traded in recent days for, well, let’s just call them interesting returns.

It probably won’t be Noah Syndergaard either, as the Mets — oh, the Mets — allowed him to start on Tuesday night, the eve of the deadline, and risk potential injury with less than a day left before the final whistle blows at 3 p.m. Central on Wednesday.

So who does that leave? There’s a chance Syndergaard’s teammate Zack Wheeler could be an option — and again, who knows what the Mets might ask for after getting two good, but not elite prospects for Stroman — but more likely it would be more off-the-radar options like Texas lefty Mike Minor or Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

By Fangraphs WAR, Minor has been the 12th-most valuable starting pitcher in the American League this season — tied with Bauer and Marco Gonzales at 2.7 fWAR — while Ray ranks 25th in the National League — tied with Aaron Nola and Tanner Roark at 1.8.

Jul 24, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Mike Minor (23) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

They’re both lefties, but that’s pretty much all they have in common. Minor went from battling injury with the Braves as a starter, to a shutdown reliever with the Royals and back to a very, very good starter with the Rangers — though it took a little time to find his footing with Texas.

This year, Minor has fanned a batter per inning, walked just 3.1 per nine innings and doesn’t really have any rates that jump off the page as worrisome other than a 13.3 percent HR/FB rate, which isn’t surprising given this environment and still has resulted in a slightly below-average rate of home runs allowed per nine innings (1.27).

Minor throws respectably hard for a lefty (92.8 mph average) and has a slider and a changeup — both of which he’s thrown more than 20 percent of the time this season. He’ll also flash a curveball about 12 percent of the time. All of Minor’s pitches have respectable whiff rates — 9.2 percent on the fastball on the low end, 15.7 percent on the changeup on the high end — so at any given time he can go to the well for a strikeout when he needs one.

He isn’t a prototypical power pitcher, but he has all the tools in his toolbox to be a really, really nice No. 2.

Jul 28, 2019; Miami, FL, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) throws against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ray, on the other hand, also has good velocity for a lefty, but is very slider-heavy as a three-pitch guy with a curve he’ll throw about as often as Minor does. So really, he’s fastball-slider nearly 90 percent of the time.

Three numbers jump off the screen when talking about Ray.

  1. His strikeout rate — 11-plus K/9 in each of the last four years
  2. His walk rate — above 4.0 BB/9 last two years, above 3.5 the last four
  3. His home run rate — 1.60 this season with the crazy ball, but always teetering on the precipice of ugly

He’s posted good groundball rates in the past — so ostensibly, that should still be in there somewhere — and it’s feasible to expect that a small tweak here or there could help him rein in some of his issues. But he has some things you just can’t teach — like a 22.6 percent whiff rate on his slider and a 15.2 percent rate on his curve.

There are some things to dream on here, and he won’t be 30 until the end of the 2021 season.

Both Minor and Ray are free agents after the 2020 season.

Bullpen

There are too many names to break down as in-depth as we did with Minor and Ray, but let me reiterate some points I’ve made on the podcast, on Twitter and in this space:

  • It doesn’t seem like the Twins will pay full market rate for an elite reliever with name recognition
  • Chances are the Twins will add at least one more solid reliever at a reasonable price, even if it doesn’t drive fans crazy with excitement

It just doesn’t make sense to trade someone like Trevor Larnach for Will Smith, a non-injured Ken Giles or as part of a package for Felipe Vazquez — it just doesn’t.

But if the Twins can focus on the next tier of relievers and shop around to see who has the most reasonable prices, here are some names I like:

  • Baltimore’s Mychal Givens: Down year, down price? Has pitched some huge innings for the O’s in recent years and still has big-time stuff.
  • Colorado’s Scott Oberg: Unsung stud of the Rockies bullpen — 1.62 ERA/3.35 FIP, 9.5 K/9, 48.7% GB rate. Won’t come cheap, but under control through 2021.
  • Baltimore’s Paul Fry: Four years of control, numbers don’t really jump off the screen but 8.0 K/9 with a GB rate over 60% is a really, really good pitcher. Keeps the ball in the park — especially useful this year.
  • Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy: Has revived his career as KC’s closer this season — 3.32 ERA/2.19 FIP, 10.8 K/9, 0.42 HR/9 — and age (34) and salary ($16.5 million in 2020) should keep cost down, even if teams find middle ground with cash changing hands.
  • San Francisco’s Sam Dyson: Not flashy but just gets it done. All rates look good — 8.3 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 0.53 HR/9, 55% GB rate — and he’s still throwing 93-94 mph with another year of control after this season. Will San Francisco sell? Time will tell.
  • Texas’ Jose LeClerc: Big-time arm, big-time stuff, big-time ERA (4.34) in a strange year for 25-year-old righty. Command can be an issue, but pieces are in place for an elite reliever here. Do Twins have time to work on him?
  • Texas’ Shawn Kelley: No-frills, dependable middle reliever on IL with biceps issue. Can battle the HR ball a bit but numbers across the board are fairly solid. Shouldn’t cost much.
  • Detroit’s Shane Greene: Not as good as ERA indicates (1.18 ERA/3.70 FIP) but is probably a step below elite guys because of rough 2018 season (5.12 ERA). Has another year of control and has really, really taken steps forward with strikeouts and grounders this season. Will Detroit deal in-division?
  • Arizona’s Andrew Chafin: One of the best relievers you’ve never heard of. Lefty, has fanned a batter per inning or more the last four years with healthy GB rates prior to this season. Been better against lefties for his career, but can get righties out when things are going well. Could be a sneaky get. Under control through 2020.
  • Chicago’s Alex Colome: Riding the wave of an insanely low BABIP (.150), could be a non-tender candidate with expected raise from $7.325 million this year. Still, has respectable numbers and has been very, very good the last four or so years.
  • Colorado’s Carlos Estevez: One of the hardest-throwing relievers in the game (97.7 mph) and the whiff rate (15.6 percent) and strikeouts (11.0 K/9) have come this year. Has battled home run issues this season, but was very good in that respect before, and Colorado certainly plays some role. Sneaky potential here. At least three years of control.
  • Toronto’s Daniel Hudson: Not sexy — 32 y/o, 2.87 ERA/4.23 FIP, 1.26 WHIP — but could be a dependable cog and a Kelley replacement without the injury risk. Has been brilliant — 25-9 K/BB, 1.71 ERA, .555 OPS in 21 IP — since June 1.
  • Baltimore’s Richard Bleier: Lots of weird peripherals but the upshot here is a career ERA of 2.86, 61.6% GB rate and he allows almost no home runs. No strikeouts, no walks. He’s like the Willians Astudillo of pitchers.
  • New York’s Robert Gsellman: Three years of control, but this is entirely on physical projection. Career ERA of 4.47 and FIP of 4.19, but when he’s right he strikes batters out and gets some grounders. Throws hard, too.
  • Toronto’s Joe Biagini: Coming off two really ugly years, but has put together some decent peripherals. Has a lot in common with Tyler Duffey, for what it’s worth.
  • Seattle’s Roenis Elias: Mostly just a guy, but he’s served as the closer for the Mariners this season and brings good velo and an 11.7 percent swinging-strike rate from the left side.
  • San Francisco’s Tony Watson: Unassuming lefty with good, but not great career numbers who can free up Rocco Baldelli to use others as he pleases with short stints earlier in games. Not as many strikeouts this year, but still throws moderately hard and gets grounders. Reverse splits — .253 wOBA for RHH/.356 for LHH — this season are a bit odd as well. For his career, though, he’s been able to get guys out from both sides.

This might not even be the full list, either. Don’t be surprised if the Twins’ front office wizards find another name or two which make sense at the right price.

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Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

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