The Twins have a strong enough rotation that rival clubs are expressing interest in their starters, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. That’s not to say that the club is shopping any of those pitchers or seriously considering the incoming offers, but it seems it is an avenue that could be available to them prior to the deadline.
The Twins lost Tyler Mahle earlier this year when he required Tommy John surgery and have been without Chris Paddack all season due to him undergoing the same procedure last year. Nonetheless, they still have a five-man rotation of Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Pablo López, Bailey Ober and Kenta Maeda, all of whom are generally pitching well to varying degrees. Maeda is the only one with an ERA above 4.13, and his 4.62 mark is skewed by a 10-run drubbing he suffered earlier in the year just before landing on the injured list.
The club would be under no pressure to move anyone from that group. Their 54-50 record is strong enough to put them atop of the American League Central, a game and a half clear of the Guardians. But the interest might be a symptom of this year’s strange market. The expanded postseason and some tight divisions have made it so few teams are clear-cut sellers, which seems to be leading to more trades between contenders. The Twins already made one such trade, as they and the Marlins swapped relievers earlier this week.
With so many other clubs looking for pitching, perhaps the Twins would consider trading one of those five aforementioned names in order to address a different part of their roster, then leaning on a depth starter. They have veteran Dallas Keuchel in the organization on a minor league deal, who has an ERA of 0.69 in Triple-A with an opt-out opportunity on deadline day. They have some other depth options on the 40-man roster like Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson, though neither are having especially dominant seasons. Paddack could also potentially return in September, with Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com reporting as much back in June.
The Twins have been reported to be seeking bullpen help and right-handed bats, while they are getting trade interest in their outfielders and now their starters. Perhaps that will put them in a position to make a “baseball trade” or two in the coming days, one that sees them upgrade for the pennant race by parting with major league pieces and keeping their farm system relatively intact.
As to which pitchers they could move, Ryan and Ober are young and haven’t yet reached arbitration, meaning it would be a shock to see them moved unless it were part of a very large deal. López just signed an extension in April and seems to be a long-term piece in Minnesota. Both Gray and Maeda are impending free agents, however, so perhaps Minnesota would have some more openness to a trade there.
Maeda, in particular, seems like he could be a sensible candidate. Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Twins gave some thought to trading him and giving his rotation spot to Keuchel. However, that’s still a tough decision since Maeda has been so good since returning from the injured list. It’s only been six starts but he has a 2.48 ERA, 34.4% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate in that time. Even when considering a “baseball trade,” it’s tough to subtract someone pitching that well.
Gray has a strong 3.15 ERA for the year but has hit a small rough patch of late. He had a 2.50 ERA until a couple weeks ago but allowed 13 earned runs in his past three starts. He has a long track record of success, so it would surely be difficult to trade him as well. The Twins picked up a $12.5MM club option on his services for this year, which will leave just over $4MM left to be paid out at the deadline, before he reaches free agency at season’s end. There’s been nothing to suggest the Twins have considered moving him, but it’s likely other clubs are interested.
Maeda’s contract is a bit more complicated as he has a $3MM base salary but huge performance bonuses each year. He gets an extra $1MM for reaching 15 and 20 starts per year, followed by $1.5MM for starts 25, 30 and 32. He also gets $250K for reaching 90 innings pitched and that same bonus every 10 innings after that, all the way to 190, before a $750K bonus at 200 innings. His injuries have limited him to 10 starts and 48 2/3 innings so far, but he still has time to trigger some of those incentives, in addition to having about $1MM of his base salary remaining at the deadline.