The Minnesota Twins have been shorthanded all season, but help is on the way. With Byron Buxton, Luis Arráez, and Kenta Maeda returning soon, the Twins will be as close to their complete roster as they have been since the opening week of the season.
An optimist would say that, with a healthy lineup, the Twins could go on a run to return to relevance in the American League Central. But the reality that they will likely be sellers at the trade deadline has to be settling in, given that they sit 15 games back of the Chicago White Sox.
That’s what will make the next few weeks interesting. With a return to health, the Twins can convince the front office that they have enough pieces to keep their core together and hope for a return to contention in 2022. Even if they don’t, their play on the field could also decide whether they are sellers and to what extent they overhaul the roster.
Take the return of Buxton as an example. The Twins are 97-53 over the past three seasons when Buxton is in the lineup, but they’ll have a tough decision to make if he gets on a hot streak and other teams call to inquire about his availability.
The Twins are a better team when Buxton is on the field, but he’s only had one healthy season back in 2017. With injuries piling up, Minnesota may be reluctant to give him a contract extension in the same neighborhood as the six-year, $150 million deal George Springer signed with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason.
Buxton brings a similar combination of speed and power, so it would make sense for his camp to ask for something similar, putting the Twins in a bind. If they feel that they won’t reach an extension with Buxton, they could attempt to sell high by dealing him to a contender.
The same goes for Maeda. After finishing second in the Cy Young running last year, he was counted on to be the staff ace this year, but his 2021 season has been a disappointment. Perhaps the groin issues that sidelined Maeda will linger for the rest of the season, but he also brings value if he can turn things around.
There is always a market for pitching at the trade deadline. If Maeda puts together two or three quality starts, he becomes an intriguing target. This could dissuade the Twins from trading José Berríos and leave another valuable homegrown player on the roster for next year.
Even Max Kepler could be a target for teams craving offense. His .212/.303/.424 slash line isn’t impressive, but he’s still two years removed from hitting 36 homers. With an affordable contract that doesn’t expire until 2024, a power-starved team could look to acquire Kepler and help clear playing time for Trevor Larnach.
All of this comes during a stretch where the Twins will play 28 of the 42 games before the trade deadline against AL Central opponents. A hot stretch may not get the Twins back into contention, but it could give the front office an idea of what this team could look like next season.
The Twins’ best option could be a hybrid. Instead of completely blowing everything up, they should try to find a way to put them in the best position to succeed in 2022. While short-term players such as Nelson Cruz and Andrelton Simmons should be moved, there’s no guarantee that there will be a market for their services.
Jorge Polanco should be a part of the solution, but trading some recently extended players like Kepler and Miguel Sanó would open playing time for younger players. They should also test the waters with Buxton and Berríos but only make a deal if it completely favors them. Otherwise, they can keep both and make one last run in 2021.
Either way, the next six weeks will be intriguing as the Twins head toward the trade deadline. If the Twins begin to heat up, so will their activity on the trade market.