Twins

Manuel Margot Was A Better Fit This Year Than Michael A. Taylor

Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

As Spring Training games began in Fort Myers, the Minnesota Twins seemed to be waiting on one more move to put a bow on their offseason. Some fans hoped to see another big splash similar to the Carlos Correa signing in 2022. Could they land Cody Bellinger or Blake Snell? Realistically, Minnesota’s final move would likely always be a low-end starting pitcher or a right-handed hitting outfielder.

Over the weekend, reports linked the Twins to utilityman Enrique Hernandez. Hernandez’s decision was expected sometime Monday. Twins fans were debating whether he would be a good addition as a backup center fielder to replace Michael A. Taylor’s role from last year.

Instead, they traded for Manuel Margot. In typical Derek Falvey fashion, he filled an area of need by unexpectedly trading for someone under the radar. Adding Margot was feasible for Minnesota at the beginning of the offseason before he was sent from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Tyler Glasnow trade. Then, after the Dodgers brought Hernandez back Monday, it opened the door for the Twins to add the right-handed hitting Margot.

By adding Margot, the Twins got the right-handed hitting outfield bat they wanted to complete their offseason. Taylor coming back to Minnesota was still on the table. So how can Margot fill the role held by Taylor a season ago?

Taylor was Minnesota’s fourth outfielder and a viable backup for Byron Buxton in center field. However, Taylor became the team’s everyday center fielder from opening day. He made 110 starts and 126 appearances in center field last year. However, Buxton is on track to get back into center field. That means Margot can become what the Twins wanted Taylor to be in a platoon role with corner outfielders Max Kepler and Matt Wallner.

Minnesota’s lineup has a good mix of young talent and respected veterans. Their .762 team OPS against right-handed pitching, which was top-3 in the American League, was one of their biggest strengths last year. Their .726 team OPS against lefties was 10-best in the junior circuit. A healthy Buxton and Correa will likely help the team more than anyone. But Margot can help increase the Twins’ OPS total in a platoon role with left-handed-hitting corner outfielders.

Margot owns a .255/.309/.385 career slash line, and he has a .760 career OPS against lefties. In 2022, he crushed southpaws with a .875 OPS. However, power isn’t a major part of Margot’s production. Instead, he’s more of a doubles and singles hitter. Margot has only hit 18 home runs over the past three seasons, and he’s a 44.1 percent career ground ball hitter. But Margot makes up for that by reaching base. He has a .309 career OBP and a .310 OBP in 2023, thanks to a 17.8 percent strikeout rate, about 5 percent lower than the 22.1 percent league-average strikeout rate.

Last year, Taylor had a .220/.278/.442 slashline with a .720 OPS and a career-high 21 home runs. His 96 wRC+ was below average (100 is league average), but every team needs a capable No. 9 hitter, and he filled that role well. Margot will also likely be penciled in toward the bottom of the order when he’s in the lineup. He made 72 appearances in the seven- through nine-hole last year.

Margot doesn’t have Wallner or Taylor’s raw power. However, Buxton and Correa will add power against lefties if they bounce back this year. Margot can make an impact on the lineup as a slasher. Taylor had an increase in power, but it also led to an increase in strikeouts. His 33.5 percent strikeout rate in 2023 was a 10 percent increase from his 2022 rate. Combine that with a 6.7 percent walk rate (8.4 percent is league average), and Margot’s ability to get on base at a higher rate becomes appealing.

He had a down year in 2023. Margot didn’t give the Rays any offensive firepower as an everyday player. He had a .680 OPS and only 4 home runs over 311 at-bats in 99 games last season.

Margot struggled as an everyday player. But he has a better opportunity to increase his production in a platoon because the Twins will put him in more advantageous situations as a hitter. In 2023, Margot had 217 at-bats against right-handed pitching and only 94 against left-handed pitching. Another bonus is that he gets away from Tropicana Field, where he had a .589 OPS in Tampa compared to a .771 OPS on the road.

Margot doesn’t own any Gold Gloves like Taylor, but he has a reputation as a high-value fielder. In 2019, Margot had a 13 OAA clip in center field. However, that number dipped to -1 OAA when he was a center fielder a year ago. If he can play more right field, which Taylor never had to last year, things get easier for Margot.

Health will be one of the biggest factors for Margot. An elbow injury and knee and hamstring issues limited him to 99 games last year. Knee and hamstring problems also limited him to 89 games last year. A healthier Margot would likely have more stolen bases, a higher OPS against lefties, and a better defensive rating.

There’s an underrated benefit to trading to Margot rather than signing a current free agent. Margot was in the Dodgers camp over the last two weeks. Training with a team and facing live pitching means there is no different ramp-up for him like any other player in camp. Bringing in a veteran off the street like Taylor after Spring Training has already begun means they need more time to prepare for live big-league pitching. Now, the Twins don’t have to wait for Margot to catch up.

So, does adding Margot make the Twins a significantly better team than if they would have ponied up for Taylor? No, it’s more of a lateral move. Margot and Taylor can play center well and put up roughly league-average numbers. Margot is cheaper because his $10 million price tag has the Dodgers picking up at least $4 million in 2024 and a potential buyout of his $12 million mutual option in 2025. The Twins might not have been able to afford Taylor if he wanted a contract similar to that of other center fielders this offseason who got deals in the $8 to $10 million range. Taylor also could be due for some regression after the career season he put together at the plate.

Center field insurance should always be a priority for the Twins. Even though it cost some prospect capital, Minnesota landed someone who filled one of their most crucial depth roles. Margot looks capable in a platoon outfielder role, even if he and Taylor’s duties aren’t the same.

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Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

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