The Twins entered the offseason with ample payroll room but have mostly stuck to smaller-scale additions. Kyle Farmer was brought in from the Reds to act as shortstop insurance in the event Carlos Correa departed. Christian Vázquez inked a three-year free agent deal to address the catcher situation the front office had prioritized, while Joey Gallo signed a one-year deal two weeks ago.
That latter move added another left-handed bat to what had already been a fairly crowded outfield mix. Even with Mark Contreras designated for assignment in a corresponding move, the Twins have nine listed outfielders on their 40-man roster. Six of them hit left-handed, which makes it seem likely they’ll subtract at least one from the group in a deal that nets help elsewhere on the roster.
Most of the attention will be focused on right fielder Max Kepler. He’s the most straightforward trade candidate in the outfield and has drawn some interest earlier in the offseason. Kepler is the most expensive of the group, due at least $9.5MM through the end of next season on the contract extension he signed back in 2019. Controllable via club option through 2024, he has the least amount of contractual control of anyone in the group.
That could all make the 29-year-old Kepler the most likely Twins outfielder to be dealt, but it’s also going to tamp down the appeal he’ll have on the trade market. He’s coming off a .227/.318/.348 line with just nine home runs through 446 plate appearances, his second straight season hitting slightly worse than league average. Kepler’s 36-homer showing from 2019 looks like an outlier. His plus defense in right field, quality plate discipline and perhaps a forthcoming benefit from the limitations on shifting mean he should still have some trade value on his contract, but Minnesota’s not likely to recoup an overwhelming return.
If the offers on Kepler aren’t especially persuasive, could president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, GM Thad Levine and their staff turn attention elsewhere? Minnesota has a number of younger outfielders who could instead be made available, particularly if the deal nets them help at shortstop and/or in higher-leverage relief innings.
- Nick Gordon (controllable through 2027, likely eligible for arbitration after 2023)
Gordon might be the most appealing of the bunch. A former top five draftee and highly-regarded prospect, his status dipped from 2018-21. Gordon’s bat had seemed to stall out in the upper minors and his middle infield defense wasn’t exceptional enough to overcome it. It seemed as if he could find himself on the roster bubble after a tough rookie season in 2021, but Gordon was a valuable utility option for Minnesota last year. He hit .272/.316/.427 with nine homers in 443 plate appearances. Defensive metrics didn’t love his work up the middle but considered him a roughly average left fielder.
The 27-year-old isn’t entirely without question marks. He has a very aggressive offensive approach that consistently leads to modest walk totals. Some clubs figure to have concerns about how often he’ll maintain a suitable on-base percentage. Yet he’s also shown some defensive flexibility and hit very well when holding the platoon advantage. Last season, Gordon posted a .289/.329/.465 line against right-handed pitching and his 41.5% hard hit rate against northpaws ranked 12th among 299 hitters with 200+ plate appearances. He’s exhausted his minor league option years, meaning he has to stick on the big league roster.
- Trevor Larnach (controllable through 2027, eligible for arbitration after 2024)
Larnach is also a former first-round pick who was a top minor league talent for a number of seasons. He’s shown solid power and plate discipline in the minors but the production has been more intermittent against big league pitching. The Oregon State product is a .226/.316/.371 hitter in 130 MLB games the past two years. Larnach has walked at a robust 10.2% clip while making plenty of hard contact. He’s offset those promising numbers with a few more grounders than ideal and, more importantly, a strikeout rate pushing 34%.
While he doesn’t have much defensive versatility, Larnach is a quality defender in the corner outfield. He’ll be 26 in February and is still two seasons from qualifying for arbitration. He probably hasn’t done enough to cement himself as an everyday player in the crowded Minnesota outfield but has shown enough promise to believe he could be a quality regular if he can even modestly improve his contact rate. Larnach’s 2022 season ended in June after he underwent surgery to repair a strain in his core muscle. He still has a pair of minor league options remaining, so it’s possible he heads back to Triple-A St. Paul if he sticks in Minnesota.
- Alex Kirilloff (controllable through 2027, likely eligible for arbitration after 2023)
Another former first-round draftee and top prospect, Kirilloff hasn’t yet found much MLB success. He’s a .251/.295/.398 hitter in 104 MLB games, a disappointing start for a player whose bat is his carrying tool. It’s obvious Kirilloff’s capable of more if he can stay healthy, though, considering he’s had each of the past two seasons cut short by right wrist issues that necessitated surgery.
Kirilloff is still just 25 and mashed with St. Paul in 2022, posting a .359/.465/.641 line with ten homers in 35 games. That brought his career minor league slash line up to .328/.378/.519 in parts of five seasons. The Minnesota front office may have no interest in selling low on Kirilloff given that kind of offensive upside, but other clubs figure to at least inquire whether they can buy low given his injury issues. He has one option season left.
- Matt Wallner (controllable through at least 2028)
Wallner is the least established of the group. The former Southern Mississippi star just made it onto the MLB roster as a September call-up. He played 18 games down the stretch. Wallner, who draws praise from prospect evaluators for his power potential, otherwise split the season between Double-A Wichita and St. Paul. He hit .277/.412/.542 with 32 home runs in 571 plate appearances between the top two minor league levels. Wallner just turned 25 and still has all three options remaining.