There’s always something special in the air when the MLB season approaches its trade deadline at the end of July.
But in the Twin Cities, the only thing in the air right now is smoke from Canadian wildfires. And for the Minnesota Twins, their future outlook is coming off just as murky.
But that wasn’t the case heading into this season.
With World Series aspirations and the shadow of 18-straight playoff losses hanging over them, the team figured to be active on the trade market this year — but on the other side of the negotiating table. Their blueprint for success showed a foundation of a powerful offense, a one-two punch in the starting rotation, and the ability to create a lockdown bullpen out of thin air.
Needless to say, that plan hasn’t led them to the buyer’s end of trade calls.
But say things had gone closer to their original plan, what would this trade deadline look like for the Twins?
Sure, it’s a stretch to imagine this team close to contention based on what we’ve seen so far.
But let’s pretend that they’re a few games over .500 and looking to make additions that will propel them even further. We saw what happened when the 2019 club decided to mostly stand pat at the deadline, so there would be some urgency to make more substantial moves while the window for contention is still open.
Let’s start with the offensive unit.
They’re currently seventh in runs in the American League, sixth in wRC+, and fifth in slugging percentage.
For the most part, they go into their at-bats ready to attack the fastball early on. As a team, the Twins have a .516 slugging percentage on fastballs (best in MLB), and they’re batting .373 on the first pitch of their at-bats (fourth-best).
While those rankings are solid and put them among the likely playoff teams in the American League, there are a few notable holes. First base, for example, has been underwhelming. As a unit, Twins first basemen have produced 11% worse than league average and rank 28th in baseball when it comes to getting on base.
If the hypothetical buyer Twins were to look for an upgrade in this year’s trade market, they could look to franchise icon Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs. Even though he is set to be a free agent at year’s end, the price would definitely be lofty.
For what it’s worth, Rizzo has been rock solid this season, just as he has been for pretty much his entire career. He has a 114 wRC+ while playing a capable first base and would present an upgrade in two key areas: veteran composure in the playoffs/down the stretch (carried the Cubs to their first World Championship in 108 years), as well as coming through in clutch spots (.862 OPS in high-leverage situations this year).
I’d expect the Cubs to ask for at least one prospect in the Twins’ top 6-14 range in return. Would the fast-rising Jose Miranda pique their interest?
The Twins might balk at that asking price unless it’s part of an even bigger deal, which brings us to their next potential upgrade in the hypothetical.
The Cubs have an elite closer in Craig Kimbrel, who is almost certain to be dealt this week. He would be the clear-cut best reliever in Minnesota’s bullpen, pushing Taylor Rogers into a setup role. Plus, he has one more year of team control in the form of a club option, so he would be more than just a two-month rental. Kimbrel has a ludicrous 0.49 ERA while averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning pitched, so he would certainly be a welcome return in 2022. Perhaps the Twins would have been more willing to include Miranda and few more substantial pieces for a Rizzo/Kimbrel package.
The most exciting addition in this dream scenario would have been an ace starter to carry the Twins to, and through, the playoffs. We’ve seen teams pay a hefty price for that commodity bin the past. C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers, Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals, Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros, etc.
This year’s hottest trade chip happens to be a future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals.
Mad Max has won three Cy Young Awards and has been an All-Star eight times in his illustrious career. He won the World Series with the Nationals in 2019 and is one of the best pitchers of this generation.
This year, he has a 52% strikeout rate in close and late situations (best in MLB), a 2.32 ERA at home (eighth-best), and opponents are getting on base at just a .248 against him (sixth-best). He’s the frontline starter that any contender would want, and any opponent would hate to face down the stretch.
Yes, this is a pipe dream.
The painful reality is that this team will be saying more goodbyes than welcomes this week, but it’s always fun to picture what might have been, even if it’s hard to see. As fans are stuck in the midst of a disappointing season, the best Twins Territory can do for now is to keep dreaming and try to hold their breath until the smoke clears.