Max Kepler has been one of the game’s more frequently mentioned trade candidates over the past month or so. The signing of Joey Gallo added another left-handed bat to a Twins outfield that was already very deep in that regard. Kepler, as the oldest and most expensive of Minnesota’s in-house lefty outfielders, seemed the likeliest player to move if the front office wanted to deal from that surplus to address anywhere else on the roster.
While the German-born outfielder drew reported interest from the Marlins and Yankees this offseason, the Twins obviously haven’t found a deal they consider satisfactory. Dan Hayes of the Athletic wrote this morning Minnesota hasn’t found the level of interest in Kepler they’re seeking and now seem likely to keep him into the season. Assuming that’s the case for the entirety of Minnesota’s outfielders, they’ll carry a group of Kepler, Gallo, Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Nick Gordon and Matt Wallner as left-handed options, with center fielders Byron Buxton, Michael A. Taylor and Gilberto Celestino all hitting from the right side.
Manager Rocco Baldelli would be able to get some of those players into the mix at non-outfield positions, of course. The Twins don’t have a set designated hitter, leaving room to rotate a number of options as quasi-rest days. Gordon can play the infield (mostly at second base), while Gallo and Kirilloff each have plenty of first base experience.
Kirilloff is returning from a second straight season-ending wrist surgery. Buxton has a lengthy injury history and has only once reached 100 MLB games in a season, no doubt playing into Minnesota’s recent acquisition of Taylor. Celestino, Wallner, Kirilloff and Larnach each have options remaining and can be sent to the minors — which seems a stronger possibility for the first two than for either of Kirilloff or Larnach.
There’s enough flexibility that Minnesota doesn’t have to deal an outfielder simply to free up playing time. As Hayes points out, however, not making a trade could be seen as missing out on an opportunity to balance the roster in other areas. As things stand, the Twins seem likely to deploy Gallo, Buxton and Kepler as their primary outfield, with Kirilloff at first base and Gordon and/or Larnach manning DH.
Hayes writes that Gallo has expressed a willingness to move back to first base if the club desires, though a key portion of the 29-year-old’s overall value is derived from his Gold Glove-caliber corner outfield work. He hasn’t started an MLB game at first base since 2018, with teams preferring to take advantage of his athleticism and arm strength on the outfield grass.
If everyone’s healthy, Minnesota should have an elite defensive outfield. Buxton and Taylor are two of the sport’s best defenders. Kepler and Gallo are high-end corner outfielders who can cover center if needed. Kepler’s glovework had been one of the key selling points in his trade candidacy, as a lackluster center field market has left a few other clubs rolling the dice on inexperienced options at the position. The Red Sox signed Adam Duvall, who’s 34 and has started 68 career games in center, to man the position. Miami is moving Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center after acquiring Luis Arraez to play second base.
To the extent other teams are interested in Kepler as a possible center field fit, it doesn’t appear they’re willing to meet the Twins’ asking price. Minnesota will plug him back into right field and hope he can more closely approximate his .252/.336/.519 showing from 2019 than the roughly average .220/.314/.392 mark he’s managed over the past three seasons.
Kepler has strong plate discipline and contact skills but consistently runs one of the league’s worst averages on balls in play. A lack of line drives suggests that’s not entirely poor fortune, though he has also seen plenty of overshifts that’ll no longer be permissible given the forthcoming rule changes. Kepler is playing this season on an $8.5MM salary. He’s due at least a $1MM buyout on a $10MM club option for the 2024 campaign.
Another player who could factor into the outfield mix at some point is Royce Lewis. He won’t be available at the start of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee last June. It was the second straight year he’d torn the ligament. The former first overall pick is expected to be ready at some point midseason. The re-signing of Carlos Correa means Lewis isn’t likely to get much shortstop run, barring a Correa injury.
Lewis recently informed reporters he started swinging again three weeks ago and has progressed to straight-line running (link via Megan Ryan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). While there’s no present path to everyday reps at one position for the 23-year-old, he noted president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine each stressed his value to the organization after they retained Correa. Lewis spoke about his excitement for the star shortstop’s return and expressed a willingness to play anywhere on the infield or outfield depending on the team’s needs once he’s healthy.
Another dude who spiked in 2019. Hmm …
deGrom Texas Ranger
Baseball needs some of that so it doesn’t die off. Hopefully, banning the shift and baserunning changes will revive it and make it what it was up until last year (maybe even a return to the good old Bonds era of the early 2000s).
we will never return to the “good old Bonds era” unless MLB decides to allow “good old sterpids” back into the game.
For Love of the Game
I’d settle for a happy medium. Banning the shift and the baserunning changes should help emphasize athleticism rather than analytics. I have to problem with analytics, but it went too far. But let’s not return to the Bonds-McGwire-Sosa antics. That was an unsustainable race to the bottom.
deGrom Texas Ranger
There should be a way to downvote an article. This is terrible news!
Curly Was The Smart Stooge
Good news, let’s close the door on this rumor, too much emphasis on a player who is not all that viable.
Teams probably figure they’ll DFA him eventually and he can be picked up for nothing. Twins would be cutting off their nose to spit their face if they keep Kepler over one of those kids. WAY too many outfielders, and they might well need a 1B if Kiriloff isn’t ready or bombs again. Speaking of which, this means they’re out of the Gurriel and/or Voit markets.
Curly Was The Smart Stooge
Comrade Tipsy McBlotto
What are you snorting, Seam? DFA’ed? Are you trying to troll?
Still have to believe the Twins will trade probably Kepler over any of the others. I wouldn’t give him away, I still see him benefiting from the non-shift rule. Has to be right now one of if not the top defensive outfield. Kepler could have easily won the gold glove last year.
They can put Taylor out there too in an all defense configuration. He’s one of the best outfield defenders in the game.
The problem is, they already have three GG caliber OF. Buxton, Taylo, Gallo. Kepler is redundant.
Yep. The Gallo signing is and remains bizarre. I’m sure they expected much better offers for Kepler when they signed Gallo.
This one belongs to the Reds
Sorry Yankee fans.
Don’t apologize we didn’t want that jabroni. Hopefully Cabrera wins the LF job at this point.
Was really hoping they would sign or trade for a regular LF so Cabrera could be a super utility guy.
Yeah that kid has promise tho.
Comrade Tipsy McBlotto
When Kepler wins the MVP this year, that’ll make you the jabroni: CravenJabroniMoorehead
That’s a good one, comrade. Very funny. Now put down the phone and finish bagging my groceries 🙂
Lol Cabrera interestingly enough is the hott / warm name right now… but both as as a prospect , he couldn’t carry Max’s jockstrap with 2 hands…
Max would be twice as hott a prospect if not 3 times as Cabrera interesting how it all plays out bc Max is a bit Sean Burrough or Jeremy Reed ish…. ( present day)
For Love of the Game
Lots of outfielders, almost all with major question marks. I guess the Twins are trying to make it up with volume!
I think they need to sign Tyler Naquin to make it an even 10 in the OF mix. Let them battle for 4 or 5 spots. Let the chips fall where they may!
Twins time to deal with what’s in their hand. Twins would need a proven closer or 2 pitcher to make any trade sense.
Lewis getting the highly coveted vote of confidence means nothing.
Kepler is not worth anything like that. He has some of the lowest exit velocities in the sport, which has led to the lowest BABiP in recent history (and not for bad luck reasons). Basically all he’s got is good corner OF defense. And you get him for one season. That’s worth a back end of your pen reliever at best.
With the way the Twins OF has been ravaged by injuries the past couple of years this is probably the smart play. That said a RH option at 1B is still needed unless they think Christian Vazquez can play 1B against lefties with Ryan Jeffers Catching
Well should be a top 5 defense and a bottom 5 offense outfield..
They really should move Kirilloff and Gordon while they still have a high value. Too many players but not the value in the guys they want to trade.
They must be asking too much. As the article points out, he is just an average player from an offensive standpoint.
These “they have more players than spots” scenarios always seem to get resolved by an injury or two in camp. Then teams are glad they held onto guys.
Gotta love the small market Twins
Yeah, and truth be told they’re a mid-market (despite how they operate)…almost exactly in the middle of the middle too, being ranked at #18 right behind the Rox/Miami & IFO the Cards.
Twins were around $150MM last year and sit at about $140MM right now this year.
Donaldson, Correa, Buxton.. they’ve handed out some pretty significant contracts lately. They’re not operating like a small market team at the moment anyway.
I should’ve said “how they’re perceived” instead… good points, man.
Honestly, I think Twins fans just like to cry about being small market and unable to compete when they get swept out of the playoffs (if they make it).
Funny how it’s not the Twins fans crying about it here in this thread it’s Yankee fans saying it, lol.
They’ve been a lot of fun to follow and a large wave of control over seemingly quality players on offense is exciting. Pitching is scary after this year
Dalbec, German, and a bag of balls with salary relief for the Sawx? Throw in Duran!
You had us in the first half
This suggests that the Yankees will go with Hicks out of camp. I’d prefer Cabrera, but they don’t ask me.
Considering their glut of outfielders, it seems to me that the Twins are more likely to get something valuable in trade for Kepler before this season starts, than if they keep him and give him limited playing time. But they don’t ask me either.
The problem I see is that Kepler isn’t a great everyday player and best serves the current roster as a late inning replacement. I’d leave Gallo in the OF unless he doesn’t hit a lick. Kiriloff and Larnach aren’t great defenders so they get occasional starts or move to 1B. Taylor might a late inning defensive replacement with an occasional start when Buxton is DHing.
Gallo hasn’t hit a lick in 9 seasons. Kepler has. Kepler is better than Gallo.
LF Buxton, CF Taylor, RF Gallo to keep Buxton in the lineup.
Buxton won’t be playing anywhere other than CF and DH until he’s either in his mid 30’s or absolutely and completely devastated by injuries
Gallo backup. Gallo is a sub .200 hitter almost his entire career. Kepler is better.
Gallo is very similar to Kepler in his style of hitting. However, where Kepler is better, imho, is that he doesn’t strike out like Gallo does. Gallo strikes out a ton, walks some, or homers (a true 3-outcome hitter). The shift won’t help him because of his swing. Kepler, on the other hand, makes a lot more contact and isn’t limited to 3 outcomes. I could see where the shift limitation will help Kepler. Their defense is also very similar – both are excellent defenders.
Has anyone seen the Royals? Are they still a franchise?
Better than the Tigers.
It seems you laid it all out all the reasons why it’s still highly likely the Twins trade Kepler, he’s got a club option for next year $10m so this conversation continues…
Kepler’s probably been hit harder than any other player in baseball by the shift. His xOBA is about 40pts below his actual
Statcast has Kepler at 23.8% line drive while Fangraphs shows the poor 19.9% showing. Also no idea what the commenter talking about exit velocity is talking about. Kepler’s average exit velocity and hard hit rate was basically dead center across MLB hitters at 51st and 49th percentile respectively.
Kepler can crush the ball pretty well though and he’s frequently in the top 10% of the league in max exit velocity.
It boils down to Kepler being a league average bat with exceptional defense in the corners. He’s about a 2 WAR player over a full season. Not great. Not a boat anchor.
His biggest problems are pop ups (mostly to short right) and lots of ground balls (like 40% or somewhere around there)
I’d expect Larnach to start the season in AAA along with Celestino.
I’d guess Gordon becomes a utility infielder, Taylor utility OF. Buxton becomes the CF/DH, probably swapping back and forth at DH with Gallo.
The Twins will undoubtedly continue to shop Kepler, but I think Gordon becomes more likely to be moved now.
Gallo sucks, Kirilloff will be needed at first, Gordon will be needed as backup infielder, Buxton will be hurt, and you don’t want Michael A. Taylor playing everyday. Kepler must stay!
They’re cornering the market!
Kepler was arguably the best fielding RF in the American League. His knowledge of how to play the peculiar overhang at Target Field is valuable to the team too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been barreling the bat well. But he has shown the ability to do so in the past (witness the 3 dingers in a game against Trevor Bauer).
Some Twins hitters have slipped in recent years with hitting coach turnover. Trading Kepler now would be selling low. So the Twins are probably counting on him hitting better at front of season and moving him once Larnach and Kirilloff are proven ready for prime time.
Celestino seems expendable now with more CF depth added between Taylor and Gallo, and with Kepler still on board.
How can you get rid of the German home run leader!