Minnesota Twins – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-05T23:25:42Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Connor Byrne <![CDATA[The Winding Journey Of An All-Star Slugger]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198272 2020-06-02T19:03:50Z 2020-06-02T19:03:50Z Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz has carved out a fantastic career with a few different teams since he debuted in the majors a decade and a half ago. As you’ll see below, it has been quite an eventful journey for a player who has gone from relatively unheralded prospect to 401-home run hitter with six All-Star nods on his resume…

Professional Entry

  • The Dominican Republic native entered the pros with the Mets, who signed him as an 18-year-old amateur free agent in 1998, but he never took a professional at-bat with the franchise.

Prospect Status

  • Cruz was not a leaguewide elite prospect as he climbed his way to the majors. At his best, he ranked as Baseball America’s No. 8 Brewers prospect in 2006. BA rightly wrote then that Cruz, the Brewers’ minor league player of the year, possessed “well above average raw power,” though it also expressed concern over “holes in his swing.”

Early Career Trades

  • In the first of multiple trades Cruz has been involved in as a pro, the Mets sent him to the Athletics in August 2000 for infielder Jorge Velandia. However, Velandia was a nonentity in the majors for the Mets. He amassed 92 plate appearances with New York across three years and stumbled to a .149/.281/.216 line.
  • Like the Mets before them, the A’s gave up on a young Cruz, but only after he spent a few years in their system. In December 2004, Oakland dealt Cruz and right-hander Justin Lehr to the Brewers for infielder Keith Ginter. Unfortunately for the A’s, Ginter mustered a weak .161/.234/.263 line over 156 PA in 2005 – his lone season with the club. As mentioned earlier, Cruz was a productive Brewers minor leaguer, though he didn’t get much of a chance in the majors as a member of Milwaukee. Cruz made eight appearances and totaled seven PA in 2005.

Headed To The Site Of His Breakout

  • The Brewers traded Cruz and former slugger Carlos Lee to the Rangers for righty Francisco Cordero, lefty Julian Cordero, and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix in July 2006. Let’s first address the non-Cruz pieces in that swap: Lee was a short-term success as a member of the Rangers, with whom he batted .322/.369/.525 with nine home runs in 260 PA. The Rangers didn’t make the playoffs, though, and Lee bolted for the Astros’ six-year, $100MM contract during the ensuing offseason. Francisco Cordero had a very nice run in Milwaukee, where he pitched to a 2.60 ERA with 11.6 K/9 and 60 saves in 90 innings from 2006-07. He left the Brewers for the Reds’ four-year, $46MM offer, which was then a record for a reliever. Julian Cordero never got past Single-A ball. Mench put up an unimpressive .256/.288/.403 line with nine HRs in 441 PA as a Brewer from 2006-07, while Nix collected a meager 61 PA with the club in parts of three seasons.

Overcoming Adversity

  • In hindsight, as effective as Lee and Francisco Cordero were after this trade, Cruz emerged as the most valuable piece for either team. It just took a few more years to finally happen. Cruz got off to a brutal start as a Ranger from 2006-07, when he combined to hit a dismal .231/.279/.384 with 15 HRs in 471 trips to the plate. Discouraged, the Rangers designated Cruz for assignment at the beginning of 2008, but they retained him after he cleared waivers. Cruz went on to mash 37 home runs in the minors that year, and he chipped in a tremendous .330/.421/.609 line and seven homers in 133 major league PA. That was truly the start of a fruitful run in Texas and in the majors as a whole. From 2009-13 as a Rangers regular, Cruz piled up 135 homers, batted .272/.331/.511 and won an ALCS MVP in 2011. To be clear, though, not everything went swimmingly for Cruz in the Lone Star State. The former outfielder’s defensive limitations helped lead to a catastrophic World Series loss to the Cardinals in 2011. Two years later, Cruz was hit with a 50-game suspension stemming from the Biogenesis scandal. However, Cruz contended he only took the substance to combat helicobacter pylori, a bacterial infection that caused a 40-pound weight loss.

Trips To Free Agency

  • The PED ban came at an especially inopportune time for Cruz, then a soon-to-be free agent; after rejecting the Rangers’ $14.1MM qualifying offer, he had to settle for a one-year, $8MM guarantee with the Orioles in February 2014. The move wound up as a positive for both sides, though, as Cruz rebuilt his stock as a member of a playoff team by slashing .271/.333/.525 and establishing a new career high with 40 homers.
  • Cruz returned to the open market the next offseason, but he did far better that time. In what looked like a questionable move by the Mariners, they handed Cruz a four-year, $57MM guarantee. As it turned out, Cruz more than lived up to his payday in Seattle, where he truly cemented himself as an all-world offensive player. He appeared in at least 144 games in each season from 2015-18 – a 1,967-PA stretch in which he racked up 163 homers, hit .284/.362/.546 and recorded an eye-popping 147 wRC+.
  • After his superb Seattle stint, Cruz reached free agency yet again prior to the 2019 campaign. And once again, the team that signed him came away happy. Cruz inked a one-year, $14.3MM guarantee with the Twins, though the pact also included a $12MM club option for 2020. Unsurprisingly, the Twins picked up that option after Cruz helped the team set an all-time single-season HR record (307) en route to 101 wins and a division title. Despite only appearing in 120 games, Cruz contributed 41 of those dingers. Pound for pound, it may have been his greatest season at the plate thus far – he registered a .311/.392/.639 line with a personal-high 163 wRC+.

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It’s not exactly common to see a player thrive under three consecutive free-agent contracts, but Cruz has managed to accomplish the feat. He’ll have an opportunity to go 4 for 4 if he becomes a free agent again next winter. Although Cruz will turn 40 on July 1, his bat’s aging like fine wine, so it would seem unwise to doubt him.

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Teams’ Plans For Minor League Pay]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198078 2020-05-29T20:35:45Z 2020-05-29T20:14:47Z 3:14pm: The Astros will also pay their minor leaguers through August, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The Red Sox will do the same, Julian McWilliams and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe write. The Reds will pay theirs through Sept. 7, the end of the scheduled minor league season, per C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic.

2:16pm: As teams throughout the league make sweeping releases at the minor league level, neither the Twins nor the Royals plan on cutting any players, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). The Twins and Royals will also commit to paying all of their minor league player the current $400 weekly stipend through Aug. 31 — the would-be end of the minor league season — while providing full benefits. The Twins are also committing to front-office and baseball ops staff through at least the end of June, Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com tweets.

To this point, no other clubs in the league have made such a commitment. The Marlins, Padres and Mariners all agreed to pay their minor leaguers through season’s end, although none of that bunch is known to be entirely avoiding minor league releases. Seattle, in fact, reportedly cut 50 minor league players this week already. The volume of players being released around the league is jarring — the D-backs cut a reported 64 players — although it should be noted that many of the releases would’ve come at the end of Spring Training under normal circumstances anyhow.

That doesn’t detract from the gesture made by the Twins or Royals, of course. It’s a stark contrast to an organization such as the Athletics, who informed minor league players earlier this week that they’ll no longer be paid after May 31. As MLB.com’s Jim Callis observes (on Twitter), the decision made by the Twins and Royals could quite likely prove beneficial in recruiting undrafted players who are selecting among teams while capped at a $20K signing bonus this summer.

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Denard Span On His Future]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197786 2020-05-25T19:09:24Z 2020-05-25T19:08:14Z It’s been nearly 20 months since Denard Span suited up in a big league game, and the former Twins, Nationals, Giants, Rays and Mariners outfielder suggests in an interview with Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he may not do so again. Span reveals that he received offers in the 2018-19 offseason, although they clearly weren’t compelling enough to leave his young family. Span adds that he worked out this winter with an eye toward a 2020 return and received “two or three” minor league offers — but they came from clubs without much of a path to the Majors even in the event that he played well in Triple-A.

“I haven’t announced it, officially, but maybe this is it,” Span said when asked about retirement. “…I still would have the ability to help a team. But 36-year-old outfielders who haven’t played in two years … not happening. I’m very satisfied pouring my life into our family, to Anne, a wonderful person, and our two boys.”

Denard Span | Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If this is indeed it for the amiable Span, it’s been quite a strong career. A first-round pick out of high school by the Twins back in 2002, Span took nearly six years to ascend to the big leagues, but he made an immediate impact upon arrival. Twenty-four years old at the time, Span finished sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2008 and hit .294/.387/.432 (122 OPS+ and wRC+ alike) through 487 plate appearances, helping push the Twins to a dramatic Game 163 showdown with the White Sox. Minnesota fell in a crushing 1-0 loss to the South Siders, but Span had announced his presence in the big leagues and would never look back.

Over the next four seasons, Span was the consummate leadoff man in Minnesota, hitting a combined .283/.351/.381 with a nine percent walk rate and just an 11.5 percent strikeout rate. In addition to a knack for working counts and putting the ball in play, Span showed off well above-average baserunning skills and the ability to play plus defense wherever he was slotted into the outfield (center field, more often than not). Heading into the 2010 campaign, Span signed a five-year, $16.5MM contract extension that contained an option for an additional $9MM.

Span provided excellent value over the course of that contract, but he only spent half of it in a Twins uniform. As the Twins fell from their status as a perennial AL Central contender and moved into a rebuild, Span had two guaranteed years and the club option remaining on that highly appealing deal. Minnesota flipped him to the Nationals in a straight-up swap for then-vaunted pitching prospect Alex Meyer — a deal that proved regrettable for Minnesota after repeated shoulder injuries torpedoed Meyer’s career.

The Nats had no complaints, though, and that may have been the case even if Meyer had eventually developed into a quality big leaguer. Span hit .292/.345/.404 in three seasons with Washington, continuing to add value on the bases and in the field along the way. By the time he reached free agency, Span was solidified enough to command a three-year, $31MM contract from the Giants. Even as his glovework deteriorated — San Francisco didn’t help matters by continuing to play him in center for lack of a better option — Span remained solid at the plate. However, he played out the final year of that deal between his hometown Rays and the Mariners after the Giants sent him to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria trade.

All told, Span has logged 11 seasons in the Major Leagues and batted a combined .281/.347/.398 with 71 home runs, 265 doubles, 72 triples, 185 stolen bases (in 244 tries — 76 percent), 773 runs scored and 490 RBIs. He was never an All-Star despite a strong career that checked in at 28 wins above replacement per both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference — a likely result of the understated manner in which he brought value to his teams (on-base percentage, baserunning, defense).

Clubs clearly saw the value in Span, though, as he was a regular from the moment he debuted up through the end of the 2018 season, and he inked a pair of multi-year deals that helped propel his career earnings north of $58MM (including his draft bonus). Best wishes to Span moving forward, whatever the future holds.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Latest On MLB Teams’ Plans For Employees]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197595 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z A variety of MLB teams have already revealed plans for the year for non-player employees. Some have instituted furloughs and/or pay cuts while others have committed to carry employees through the fall. Still other teams are taking things on a month-to-month basis, with several revealing their latest plans in recent days.

At least three teams have decided to continue paying employees in full through at least the end of June. The Cardinals are one such team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. The Twins are also in that camp, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com tweets. And the White Sox are adjusting work hours but not take-home pay, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Elsewhere in the central divisions, there were some cuts. The Cubs are keeping their full slate of employees at full-time capacity, but are instituting some salary reductions, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reported on Twitter. And though the Pirates will not draw down their baseball operations staff, they will reduce pay in that arena while furloughing some business employees, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Out west, the Giants will retain their entire full-time staff but will be trimming pay for those earning over $75K, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Part-timers have been furloughed.

The Astros have committed to maintaining full pay and benefits for full-time employees, but only through June 5th, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Whether some action could occur beyond that point remains to be seen. The Orioles are also still in flux, but the organization appears to be leaning towards keeping staff as usual through June, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter).

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Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Twins Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197418 2020-05-19T19:10:11Z 2020-05-19T18:30:24Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR.  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

So far, we’ve done the RoyalsTigersIndiansWhite SoxRaysYankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  The Twins are next.

We’ll start by removing free agents Nelson Cruz, Homer Bailey, Tyler Clippard, Rich Hill, Alex Avila, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Odorizzi, Ehire Adrianza, and Trevor May from consideration.  We’ll also take out righty Sergio Romo, who has a club option for 2021.

Josh Donaldson will take one spot on the protected list due to his no-trade clause.  I’ll lock down ten additional players:

Max Kepler
Jose Berrios
Jorge Polanco
Mitch Garver
Miguel Sano
Byron Buxton
Michael Pineda
Kenta Maeda
Taylor Rogers
Luis Arraez

That leaves four players to choose from this group:

Jorge Alcala
Willians Astudillo
Jake Cave
Randy Dobnak
Tyler Duffey
Zack Littell
Sean Poppen
Eddie Rosario
Devin Smeltzer
Cody Stashak
Lewis Thorpe
LaMonte Wade Jr
Matt Wisler

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly four players you think the Twins should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft. Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[How Does Twins’ Future Payroll Look After Spurt Of Multi-Year Contracts?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197415 2020-05-19T17:50:03Z 2020-05-19T16:45:14Z 2020 salary terms are set to be hammered out in the coming days. But what about what’s owed to players beyond that point? The near-term economic picture remains questionable at best. That’ll make teams all the more cautious with guaranteed future salaries.

Every organization has some amount of future cash committed to players, all of it done before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. There are several different ways to look at salaries; for instance, for purposes of calculating the luxury tax, the average annual value is the touchstone, with up-front bonuses spread over the life of the deal. For this exercise, we’ll focus on actual cash outlays that still have yet to be paid.

We’ll run through every team, with a big assist from the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database. Next up is the Twins:

(click to expand/view detail list)

Twins Total Future Cash Obligation: $154.02MM

*includes buyout of club options

*does not include portion of Kenta Maeda’s 2021 salary owed by Dodgers

*estimated 2021 salary for Michael Pineda (specific contract breakdown unknown)

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Rich Hill Discusses Health]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197238 2020-05-16T05:49:11Z 2020-05-16T05:49:11Z
  • The Twins signed injured left-hander Rich Hill in December with the expectation he’d miss a large part of the season. That was before the coronavirus pandemic ran amok, though, and now the Twins might get a full season (if there is one) out of Hill. The 40-year-old, who’s still recovering from the primary revision surgery he underwent in November , told Betsy Helfand of the Pioneer Press, “(I’ve) been able to make the most out of the situation so I’m right where I should be as far as rehab progression-wise, so if we do have a season, I should be ready to go when we kick off something of a spring training.” That means the Twins could get an entire season out of a hurler who has been one of the most effective starters in the majors on a per-inning basis since his out-of-nowhere breakout in 2015. Dating back to then, Hill has combined for a 2.91 ERA with 10.67 K/9 and 2.82 BB/9 in 466 1/3 frames as a member of the Red Sox, Athletics and Dodgers.
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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[A Quietly Built, Quietly Strong Bullpen]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196591 2020-05-05T23:40:04Z 2020-05-05T22:35:01Z The 2019 Twins captured the baseball world’s attention with their historic home run output, and most of the other talk surrounding the team focused on questions within the rotation. The Twins won the AL Central with ease but were yet again bounced by the Yankees in a familiarly lopsided series. Entering the offseason on a low note and with four starting pitchers reaching free agency, the focus was again on the rotation. Yet somewhere along the way, the Twins quietly put together one of the most formidable collections of relievers in the game.

    Following last year’s All-Star break, Twins relievers ranked ninth in the Majors in ERA (4.03) but led MLB in FIP (3.56), xFIP (3.87), SIERA (3.53) K-BB% (20.7%) and walk rate (5.9%). The Twins, long known for their reliance on soft-tossing, “pitch to contact” arms, saw their bullpen post the fifth-best overall strikeout percentage (26.6%). They tied for fourth in swinging-strike percentage (13.1%) and ranked fifth in opponents’ chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone (33.9%).

    A half season’s worth of bullpen data is obviously not a definitive declaration of their status as elite, but the post-All-Star-break qualifier is of some note with regard to the Twins in particular. Minnesota opened the season with a host of reclamation projects and cast-offs in the relief corps. From Opening Day through the Midsummer Classic, the Twins saw Mike Morin, Blake Parker, Matt Magill, Ryne Harper, Adalberto Mejia and Trevor Hildenberger all make at least 13 appearances and total 14 or more innings. Harper, to his credit, was a legitimate contributor — although fielding-independent metrics forecast some regression, and his production faded in the second half.

    The rest of that largely nondescript group was more or less out of the picture in the second half. Mejia, Morin, Magill and Parker were designated for assignment in a span of two weeks in mid-July. Mejia was claimed by the Angels, Morin was traded to the Phillies for cash, Parker also signed in Philadelphia after electing free agency, and Magill was traded to Seattle for cash. Harper’s role was reduced as his results regressed, and Hildenberger only tossed 2 1/3 innings as September call-up before being non-tendered in the winter. (Harper was designated for assignment and traded to the Nats in February.)

    What was left of the Twins’ bullpen proved to be a remarkably effective unit.

    Taylor Rogers, Mitch Garver | Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

    Taylor Rogers cemented himself as the club’s closer after the addition of a new slider spurred a 2018 breakout. He threw his first slider in 2018 on Memorial Day, and dating back to that game, Rogers owns a 2.07 ERA (2.52 FIP, 2.77 xFIP) with 11.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9 and a 48.7 percent ground-ball rate in 117 1/3 innings.

    Tyler Duffey showed promise as a starter in his debut season with Minnesota but had bounced between the Majors and minors since. Duffey has acknowledged that at first, he wasn’t fully comfortable or familiar with much of the new data that was presented to him by the Twins’ analytics department, but he fully bought in this year and ditched his two-seamer and changeup to go with a four-seam and curveball-heavy arsenal. The result? A 2.50 ERA (3.06 FIP, 2.94 xFIP) with a career-high 12.8 K/9 and a whopping 15.3 percent swinging strike rate. In the second half of the season, Duffey posted a 1.53 ERA with a 47-to-8 K/BB ratio.

    Tyler Duffey | David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

    Another former starter, Trevor May, has steadily improved his relief work since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2018. The 30-year-old free-agent-to-be rattled off 64 1/3 innings of 2.94 ERA ball in 2019, including a 2.81 ERA (3.81 FIP, 3.67 xFIP) in 32 second-half innings. May saw his strikeout percentage spike from 25.5% in the first half to a hefty 35% in the second half, and his walk rate made similarly positive gains (11.9% in the first half; 7.3% in the second).

    The Twins’ late-July acquisition of veteran Sergio Romo wasn’t the biggest headline grabber of deadline season, but the three-time World Series champ pitched 22 2/3 innings of 3.18 ERA ball (3.35 FIP, 3.91 xFIP) with a pristine 27-to-4 K/BB ratio. The two-plus months Romo spent in the organization clearly made a favorable impression, as he returned on a one-year, $5MM deal with a club option for the 2021 season.

    But the most anonymous parts of the bullpen’s success were rookie right-handers Zack Littell and Cody Stashak.

    Littell, a 24-year-old rookie, was summoned for depth in mid-May and took a long-relief beating during a blowout in order to save the ’pen (eight runs in four innings). Optioned to Triple-A the next day, Littell returned about a month later and proceeded to reel off 30 2/3 innings of 0.88 ERA ball with a 27-to-8 K/BB ratio. The only runs scored against him came on a trio of solo homers. Obviously, Littell isn’t going to make it through a season with a 100% strand rate, but that dominant finish to the year likely cemented his spot in the ’pen.

    As for Stashak, he was never regarded as a prospect of particular note even within the Twins’ system, but he logged a 3.13 ERA with a 23-to-1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings in his MLB debut. Stashak is an extreme fly-ball pitcher who doesn’t throw especially hard or generate great spin on his heater or four-seamer … yet he posted an eye-popping 28.7% swinging-strike rate on his slider last year. There’s likely some regression coming for both Littell and Stashak, but both positioned themselves as near-term pieces even if they do take a step back.

    At this point, outside of Rogers, the closer, it’s perhaps become apparent that this is a group of all right-handers. As such, targeting lefty relievers seemed like a logical course of action this winter. And the Twins did indeed go out and get the reliever who was the second-toughest pitcher on lefties in all of baseball last year (min. 30 innings): Tyler Clippard — another righty.

    Clippard joined the Twins on a modest $2.75MM guarantee for the 2020 season, and while he doesn’t throw with his left hand (obviously), his dominant changeup makes him an excellent weapon against southpaw swingers all the same. Lefties posted a laughable .123/.210/.255 batting line against Clippard in 2019. That translated to a .207 wOBA, tying Roberto Osuna and trailing only Oliver Drake (another former Twin — oops) for best in the big leagues. That wasn’t necessarily a one-year aberration, either, as Clippard has better career numbers against lefties (.187/.266/.322) than righties (.207/.295/.387).

    If the Twins want to add a true lefty to the mix, they can always move Devin Smeltzer and/or hard-throwing Lewis Thorpe into that role, although the plan for them  appeared to be to continue working as starters early this spring. Perhaps expanded rosters will bring that pair and others into play; righties Randy Dobnak, Jorge Alcala and Sean Poppen all made their big league debuts last year, with Dobnak in particular impressing as a starter. Waiver claim Matt Wisler is another depth option with an intriguing Statcast profile. Among non-roster players, southpaw Danny Coulombe punched out 61 hitters in 36 1/3 Triple-A frames last year and had looked impressive with the Twins this spring. Jhoulys Chacin could give some long relief innings and provide rotation depth.

    The Twins’ bullpen may be lacking a bit in name value, but among the 366 pitchers who faced at least 200 hitters last year, the Twins placed five in the top 70 in terms of xwOBA: Rogers (20), Duffey (22), Clippard (31), Romo (43) and May (tied for 70th). And none of their second half success was attributable to their biggest deadline pickup — righty Sam Dyson, who now famously kept a shoulder injury to himself prior to being traded and required surgery after just 11 1/3 ugly innings.

    When a team jettisons about half its bullpen in a two-week span in July and sees its primary deadline acquisition bust, most would expect rough waters ahead. Instead, the Twins quietly enjoyed some of the best relief work of any club in last year’s second half and look well positioned for the future. Both May and Clippard will be free agents this coming winter, but there’s plenty of room to re-sign either and several depth in-house depth options to step up into those spots should they land elsewhere.

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    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Remember When The Twins Traded Wilson Ramos For Matt Capps?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195956 2020-04-25T01:02:00Z 2020-04-25T01:02:00Z Nearly ten years ago, the Twins traded top catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps. Was the move justified? MLBTR’s Steve Adams makes his video debut in today’s discussion with Jeff Todd.

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[The Twins’ Breakout Slugger]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195421 2020-04-18T05:10:52Z 2020-04-18T05:10:52Z Last July, a happier time when something called Major League Baseball was actually taking place, I wrote a piece singing the praises of Twins catcher Mitch Garver. At that point, Garver was amid a breakout season in which he served as a key member of the Twins’ high-powered offense, aka the Bomba Squad – a unit that piled up an all-time record 307 home runs. Garver contributed about 10 percent of those, totaling 31 and finishing as one of five Twins who hit 30 or more.

    Garver wasn’t just a one-trick pony who offered just power last year, either, as he wound up with an outstanding .273/.365/.630 line over his 359 plate appearances. Because he was part of a behind-the-plate timeshare with Jason Castro, Garver made just 93 appearances on the season. That means he hit a homer every three games; he also wound up with a .357 isolated power mark that paced all players who amassed 300-plus trips to the plate (AL MVP Mike Trout and AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez were his closest competitors).

    Speaking of Trout, he has a new teammate in Castro, who will be the Angels’ starting catcher in 2020 if a season ever gets underway. The Twins, meanwhile, are now poised to hand the reins to Garver, whom free-agent addition Alex Avila will back up. Judging by what he did last season, Garver has a chance to end up as the Twins’ most productive catcher since Joe Mauer’s heyday donning the tools of ignorance.

    It wasn’t just a matter of Garver posting all-world bottom-line production with the bat last season. He also ranked among Statcast’s top hitters in one important category after another. To name some examples, Garver was in the 85th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average (.380, compared to a real wOBA of .405). He was also remarkably consistent, evidenced by a 155 wRC+ in the first half and a 154 mark in the second. Furthermore, the right-handed slugger managed numbers that were easily above average against lefties and righties alike (198 wRC+ versus LHPs, 130 off RHPs).

    It’s not easy to find a red flag when it comes to Garver’s 2019 offensive outburst. Adding to his appeal, he performed pretty well behind the plate. Sure, Garver threw out a paltry 16 percent of would-be base stealers (league average was 11 points better), but he did finish a solid 28th in Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs Above Average metric and a slightly better 24th as a pitch framer.

    All said, the Twins seem to have stumbled on a gem in Garver, who joined the organization as a ninth-round pick in 2013 and who appears to have developed into a formidable all-around contributor. The 29-year-old was quietly one of the reasons the Twins won 101 games and an American League Central title last season. If they’re going to enjoy similar success going forward, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Garver continue to have a big hand in it.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Why The Twins Could Trade A Slugger This Winter]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195250 2020-04-20T14:52:04Z 2020-04-16T03:48:43Z While some clubs have struggled to find continuity in their outfield — the Cardinals, Padres and Blue Jays come to mind — the Twins have enjoyed a rather reliable trio in recent years. True, injuries to Byron Buxton have frequently held him out of the lineup, but the general expectation over the past three to four seasons has been that Buxton would be flanked by left fielder Eddie Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler. Since 2016, Rosario ranks fourth among MLB left fielders in innings. Kepler ranks seventh in right-field innings. Both would likely rank higher on those leaderboards were it not for occasional stints manning center field while Buxton mended from injuries.

    And yet, as much of the team’s young core has been locked up on long-term deals — Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano are now all signed through at least 2023 — Rosario finds himself nearing free agency. The 27-year-old slugger agreed to a $7.75MM salary this winter and is controlled through 2021. There have reportedly been some talks between the two sides in recent years, but nothing has come together. Other key members of the Twins core remain unsigned (e.g. Buxton, Jose Berrios, Taylor Rogers) but are controlled an additional year beyond Rosario.

    Moreover, the Twins now find themselves with a pair of corner prospects pushing for a spot in the big leagues sooner than later. Former first-round picks Alex Kirilloff (2016) and Trevor Larnach (2018) both rank comfortably among the game’s best overall prospects and both found success in Double-A in 2019. The former returned from a wrist injury to hit .283/.343/.413 (121 wRC+) through 411 plate appearances, while the latter hit .295/.387/.455 in 181 PAs — good for a 148 wRC+ that was an exact match for his mark through 361 PAs in Class-A Advanced.

    Both Kirilloff (No. 9 overall on Keith Law’s prospect rankings at The Athletic) and Larnach (No. 45 at Baseball America) are 22-year-old corner outfielders with bats that have been deemed close to MLB-ready. Both would’ve likely advanced to Triple-A in 2020 had the season begun under normal circumstances, and it’d be reasonable to think that either could’ve made his MLB debut this year. Each notched an OPS north of 1.100 during brief Spring Training showings (30 PAs for Larnach, 22 for Kirilloff). Beyond that pairing, Brent Rooker posted a 139 wRC+ in Triple-A last year. He’s not as highly regarded and may be more of a first base or DH type in the long run, but Rooker’s been playing left field regularly since being drafted 35th overall in 2017.

    It’s unlikely that any of those prospects would’ve been plugged directly into the Major League lineup to begin the season under any circumstance, but it’s nevertheless notable that Rosario’s name crept up in trade rumblings this winter. Had a deal come together, the Twins could’ve added a one-year stopgap, turned to Marwin Gonzalez as a primary outfielder and/or given Jake Cave an opportunity to establish himself.  As it turned out, retaining Rosario only left the club with enhanced depth.

    At some point in the near future, the Twins will have to ask whether they’re better off paying Rosario another raise in arbitration — though it remains to be seen how much of an increase he’ll get over his current salary next time — or whether some combination of Kirilloff, Larnach, Cave and Rooker can provide similar or greater value at a fraction of the price. Minnesota only has $55.5MM on the 2021 books as of this writing, so it’s not as if payroll is an immediate issue, but Rosario’s game isn’t without its flaws, either.

    A former high-end prospect himself, Rosario has never demonstrated much plate discipline, but his swing-happy tendencies revved up to new levels last year. Jeff McNeil was the only qualified hitter in the Majors last year who swung at a higher percentage of pitches than Rosario’s 59.1 (although he didn’t chase out of the zone nearly as much as Rosario and had a markedly better contact rate on pitches in the zone). On top of that, only three qualified hitters chased balls out of the zone more than Rosario.

    To his credit, Rosario has greatly improved his bat-to-ball skills, cutting his strikeout rate from 25.7 percent in 2016 to 14.6 percent in 2019. But Rosario’s penchant for swinging at pitches out of the zone leads to far more weak contact than one would expect from a player who hit 32 home runs in 2019. His 89.1 mph average exit velocity ranked 123rd of 250 qualified hitters, per Statcast, and his 36 percent hard-hit rate ranked 166th in that same grouping. Despite his clear power, Rosario hasn’t ranked higher than the 34th percentile of big league hitters in terms of hard-hit rate in any of the past four seasons. His expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) has hovered around league average or a bit below.

    This isn’t intended as a piece meant to disparage Rosario, who has proven himself to be a useful corner outfielder. He’s averaged 27.6 homers over the past three seasons, ranks seventh in the Majors in outfield assists in that time and, with the exception of a 2019 season during which he played through a notable ankle injury, he’s graded out as a reliable and at times well-above-average defender.

    A rangy left fielder with a strong arm, consistently solid batting averages and 25- to 30-homer pop is a fine player — even if he comes with some on-base deficiencies. But when corner outfield options are typically plentiful in free agency and there are a pair of top-tier prospects looming in the upper minors, it’s easy to see the front office debating Rosario’s future. Rosario isn’t going to fetch a top-of-the-rotation arm in a trade given his rising price, questionable OBP and waning club control, but the Twins will still surely ponder whether their resources can be better allotted elsewhere soon — if they haven’t already.

    Some may argue that Buxton or even Kepler are the better pieces for the Twins to consider moving from the current outfield group. But Buxton’s 80-grade glove and speed are harder to replace, and he’s controlled an additional year while currently earning less than half of Rosario’s salary. In terms of ceiling, he’s the highest of the bunch even in spite of his frequent injuries. Kepler’s extension, meanwhile, allows the Twins to control him for another five years and $38MM — the final season of which is a $10MM club option.

    The alternative, of course, is to eventually look to package some of the aforementioned young talent to address other areas of need — likely high-end rotation help. The Twins’ offseason quest to bolster the starting staff ended up with more quantity-over-quality outcome than many expected, as the club missed on its top targets and instead pivoted to a surprising four-year deal with Josh Donaldson. Part of the reason they weren’t able to add an impact starter was the simple fact that virtually none were available in trade, but that could change down the road.

    With three former top 40 picks thriving in the upper minors, two of them top 100 picks, and a long-entrenched mix of quality regulars at the MLB level, it seems inevitable that Minnesota’s outfield depth will undergo some form of reshaping in the near future. (None of this even mentions 2017 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis — a shortstop who some feel is destined to end up in center field instead.) Of course, this is the type of logjam that rebuilding clubs look forward to eventually trying to manage, and it serves as a reminder that despite their current lack of prototypical “ace,” the Twins are well-positioned for another run of competitive years in the American League Central.

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Prospect Faceoff: 2 Future AL Central Stars?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=195079 2020-04-14T00:51:44Z 2020-04-14T00:51:44Z The Twins’ Royce Lewis and the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. are among the jewels of their respective clubs’ farm systems, and if we’re to believe prospect gurus, there isn’t much separation between the two. Both players are regarded as top 30 prospects, MLB.com ranking Lewis ninth, FanGraphs placing him 13th and Baseball America putting him in the No. 26 spot. Witt checks in at Nos. 10, 23 and 24 on those lists.

    Lewis, now 20 years old, entered the professional ranks as the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. At $6.725MM, Lewis received what was then the largest bonus ever given to a player drafted out of high school. Lewis came roaring out of the gates at the lower levels that year and the next season, though his production has dropped of late. He made his debut in Double-A ball last season and batted .231/.291/.358 (88 wRC+) with just two home runs in 148 plate appearances, though it’s worth noting that he was much younger than the typical player at that level. And Lewis, to his credit, did absolutely thrive dominate during the autumn in the Arizona Fall League, where he earned Most Valuable Player honors. There are some concerns about his “cacophonous” swing, as FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen explained in February, but he added that “the star-level talent will eventually shine through.”

    Just where Lewis will line up in the majors remains to be seen. He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions (including center field), and the Twins seem to have found a long-term answer at short in Jorge Polanco. Likewise, the Royals are in nice shape at short with Adalberto Mondesi, so it’s up in the air where Witt will fit if he does arrive in Kansas City someday. They and the Twins can worry about how best to align their defenses at a later date, though.

    [RELATED: When Will The Royals Contend Again?]

    Witt, the son of former MLB hurler Bobby Witt, joined the Royals as the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. He, like Lewis, got to the majors after a tremendous performance as a high school shortstop, and wound up signing for an almost $7.8MM bonus. But Witt endured his struggles during his initial taste of pro ball last summer, hitting .262/.317/.354 (85 wRC+) with only one homer in 180 PA in rookie ball. Nevertheless, Longenhagen compared Witt to Rockies star Trevor Story just a couple weeks ago, writing, “There are going to be some strikeouts but Witt is a big, athletic specimen who is very likely to not only stay at shortstop but be quite good there.”

    Whichever positions these two play, we’ll be looking at a couple AL Central standouts if they develop according to plan in the coming years. Which prospect would you choose?

    (Poll link for app users)

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    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Derek Falvey On How To Get A Job In Baseball]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=194410 2020-04-04T06:22:55Z 2020-04-04T06:22:04Z I posed this question to many of MLB’s top-ranking baseball operations executives.  Just like the rest of us, these people are currently sheltered in place with their families trying to get some work done in these difficult and strange times.  The following ten execs kindly took the time to answer my question: Ross Atkins of the Blue Jays, Jeff Bridich of the Rockies, Ben Cherington of the Pirates, James Click of the Astros, Mike Elias of the Orioles, Derek Falvey of the Twins, Matt Kleine of the Brewers, Dayton Moore of the Royals, Brodie Van Wagenen of the Mets, and Dick Williams of the Reds.  Their answers are below.

    My suggestion – dive into a topic within the game that interests you, learn as much as you can about it, and then generate a work product that shows you have the baseline skills and passion to impact a baseball operation as soon as you walk through the door. Don’t be afraid to try something because you might fail. Of all the resumes we get, it’s the ones that are accompanied by a work product (and therefore a willingness to put yourself out there) that generate the most interest.  – Derek Falvey, Twins President of Baseball Operations

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[How The Delayed Season Impacts The Twins]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=194434 2020-04-03T16:24:04Z 2020-04-03T16:24:04Z All 30 big league clubs are waiting to see whether a 2020 season will be played at all, but assuming a season is able to take place in some capacity, the prolonged delay will impact some clubs more than others. We’ve already run through the Yankees, Angels, Phillies and Athletics in this regard.

    Turning to the Twins, who’ll be looking to defend their first division crown since 2010, they’ll suddenly have the opportunity to get nearly a full season out of one of their most important pitching pickups of the winter: left-hander Rich Hill.

    Rich Hill | Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The 40-year-old Hill underwent “primary repair” surgery on his left ulnar collateral ligament over the winter and inked a one-year, $3MM deal with Minnesota (plus $9.5MM of available incentives), knowing that he’d miss the first few months of the season. Primary repair is a less invasive alternative to Tommy John surgery that can be pursued depending on the extent of the tear and its location within the ligament; Hill’s injury met the requisite criteria, and he was targeting a June or July return to the mound. It’s now possible he’ll be ready to join the Twins’ rotation early in a truncated season — if not from the very outset.

    Manager Rocco Baldelli gave an update on Hill’s status in a recent interview with Steve Phillips and Eduardo Perez on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, suggesting that Hill is rehabbing and throwing and has “done very well — about as well as you could ask for.” To this point, there’s no reason to think his initial rehab timetable needs adjustment.

    Hill wasn’t the ace that many Twins fans hoped to see the front office add this winter, but on a per-inning basis he remains highly effective. The durability concerns with the veteran southpaw are very real even if his recovery from offseason surgery goes as planned, but there’s no denying how good Hill has been recently when able to take the mound. In 58 2/3 innings last season, the lefty pitched to a 2.45 ERA with 11.0 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 — despite pitching part of the season with the ligament damage that necessitated his surgery. Hill only managed 327 regular-season innings over the past three years, but he logged a 3.30 ERA with just under 11 punchouts per nine frames in that time and also chipped in 37 innings of 2.43 ERA ball in the playoffs.

    The postponement of Opening Day not only gives Hill more time to get up to speed — it also should allow the Twins to more easily manage his innings. It’s likely that rosters will be expanded at least early on, which should give Baldelli some extra relievers if the club wants to limit Hill to three to five innings per outing to begin the season. One of the Twins’ previously projected fifth starter candidates — Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe or non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin — could potentially be paired with Hill in a tandem or piggyback type of arrangement.

    Additional downtime will also allow the Twins to ensure that several key players are at full strength to begin the year. None of Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco or Marwin Gonzalez was expected to open the 2020 campaign on the injured list, but each is recovering from surgery. Buxton went under the knife last September to repair a torn labrum and was only just about to get into Grapefruit League games when Spring Training was suspended. Baldelli has said Buxton would’ve been ready for Opening Day, but there shouldn’t be any doubt about his shoulder’s well-being now.

    Polanco, meanwhile, underwent surgery to repair an ankle injury that dogged him throughout the 2019 season. He appeared fine at the plate, hitting .295/.356/.485 with 22 long balls, 40 doubles and seven triples, but it’s possible that the nagging ankle issue contributed to Polanco’s lackluster defensive ratings and his lack of stolen bases (just four). Gonzalez, meanwhile, underwent a debridement of the patellar tendon in his right knee over the winter and was a bit behind schedule in camp. He should be fully up to speed once play resumes.

    There are also possible implications for suspended right-hander Michael Pineda, who still has 39 games remaining on a reduced 60-game ban issued late last year. That suspension will still be in effect if the 2020 season is able to be played, and there’s been no indication that it’d be shortened or prorated to reflect the reduction of games on this year’s schedule. If the season is canceled entirely, however, ESPN’s Jeff Passan has previously reported that drug suspension wouldn’t carry into the 2021 campaign. Pineda would seemingly be able to join the rotation from day one.

    The hope in Minnesota is that by the end of whatever season we get, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Hill and Pineda will combine to make the bulk of the starts. With six starters, plus the trio of Dobnak, Smeltzer and Thorpe on hand as depth options (and perhaps Chacin as well), the Twins should be well-equipped to handle regular doubleheaders and fewer off-days in the accelerated regular-season schedule.

    In a worst-case scenario that sees the season postponed entirely, the Twins could see holdovers Odorizzi, Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz and Trevor May all reach free agency. Meanwhile, Hill, Bailey, Tyler Clippard and Alex Avila could depart without ever formally suiting up in a game that counts.

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Buxton Would've Been Ready For Opening Day]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=194055 2020-03-30T12:09:32Z 2020-03-30T12:09:32Z The Twins’ expectation is that center fielder Byron Buxton would’ve been in center field on Opening Day had the season commenced on time, writes Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The 26-year-old underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder last September, and manager Rocco Baldelli said in a weekend conference call that Buxton’s rehab from the procedure “could not have gone smoother.” Buxton was a bit limited early in camp during the first spring training, but he’ll be on a normal schedule if a second (likely abbreviated) training camp is able to come together. Injuries have plagued much of Buxton’s career — crashing into the center field fence on the regular and frequently laying out for diving attempts take their toll on a body — but he turned in a .262/.314/.513 slash line (114 OPS+, 111 wRC+) in 295 plate appearances when healthy last season. Despite playing in only 87 games, he tied for fifth among MLB outfielders in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.

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