Twins

Will Max Kepler Become Expendable By the Trade Deadline?

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Max Kepler has become a leader for the Minnesota Twins. The eight-year veteran was one of several players who broke out with the Bomba Squad in 2019. He’s a versatile player capable of playing center field. And this year, he became Minnesota’s gong coach.

But as much as Kepler is beloved in the Twins organization, almost every player on a mid-market team lives on borrowed time. With Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff pushing for a starting role, it’s fair to wonder if his time in Minnesota is coming to an end.

It would be a bold move for the Twins to deal Kepler at this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline. He ranks:

  • Second on the team in on-base percentage (.357) and wins above replacement (1.7)
  • Third in home runs (6) and RBI (25)
  • And fourth in OPS (.786) and slugging percentage (.429)

He is also hitting .280/.379/.475 with five homers and 22 RBI over his past 36 games and is a big reason why the Twins are leading the American League Central.

Kepler also continues to be an analytics darling. Baseball Savant lists him in the 94th percentile in expected batting average, the 90th percentile in expected slugging percentage, and 96th percentile in expected WOBA. Kepler is also producing a 10.2 percent barrel rate, which is just off the career-high 10.8 percent clip he posted last season.

The Berlin-born outfielder is playing some of the best baseball of his career. But it’s also why it’s time for the Twins to cash in.

While Kepler is in the middle of a solid season, Larnach is having an even better year in left field. Larnach leads the Twins with 2.0 WAR and ranks second in slugging percentage and OPS on the team.

Larnach also has the edge in analytics. His average exit velocity of 92 mph ranks in the 92nd percentile. While he could improve his contact, Larnach is making a case that he’s Minnesota’s most improved player.

But that still leaves an outfield big enough for the two of them. While Kepler and Larnach could hold down left and right field in a playoff run, it appears that Kirilloff is ready to return to the major leagues.

A lingering wrist injury has derailed Kirilloff’s past two seasons. But it appears he’s finally rediscovered his swing at the plate, hitting .386 with six homers and 19 RBI since May 15. With four home runs for Triple-A St. Paul last weekend, it’s a matter of when Kirilloff gets called up.

If he doesn’t look like the player that hit .172 before being sent down, it creates a good problem for Rocco Baldelli. All three players could warrant time in the outfield. However, with Byron Buxton, Gilberto Celestino, and eventually Royce Lewis capable of playing center, it basically gives the Twins two spots for three players.

While the Twins have depth in the outfield, the same can’t be said for the pitching staff. Sonny Gray has already been on the injured list twice, and Chris Archer always looks like he’s on his way to join him. With Dylan Bundy beginning to regress to his career norm, the Twins will need to add a pitcher. And they’ll need to give up someone good to get one.

For most teams, that could mean asking for young players. Larnach and Kirilloff would undoubtedly fit that need, but the Twins may envision pairing both players as part of a core that could compete through the end of the decade. That almost certainly eliminates any rebuilding team from trade conversations. While they might not be able to get Frankie Montas, Kepler has a skill set that would be more appealing to a contender.

Consider that the Atlanta Braves completely revamped their outfield at last year’s trade deadline. By adding Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler, they cleared their way to win the World Series. A similar team could look at Kepler the same way. With a $6.7 million salary for this season and another year of team control, teams could see him as more of a rental and could be willing to part with a similar caliber pitcher.

If this still sounds far-fetched, consider that the Twins traded Matt Lawton for Rick Reed at the 2001 trade deadline. The move was surprising because Lawton had similar career stats to Kepler the Twins traded him. While Reed didn’t pan out, the idea to trade for him was a solid move for a team in contention.

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