A five-game losing streak has dropped the Twins’ record to 54-53, and their AL Central lead has shrunk to a half-game advantage over the Guardians. Caught in an unusual position of both trying to win the division and perhaps reload the roster for a better shot at contending in 2024, the Twins appear to be flexible with their plans heading into the trade deadline, as The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reports that the club is at least listening to offers about starters Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda. However, “they’d need to be blown away to make a deal that potentially harms their own postseason chances,” Hayes writes, since starting pitching has been such a key plank of the Twins’ success this year.
Reports from earlier this week suggested that Minnesota had at least considered moving Maeda, and that the Twins were getting interest in general about their rotation depth. Since it would count as a major shock if any of Joe Ryan, Pablo Lopez, and Bailey Ober were traded, pending free agents Gray and Maeda seem like far more viable trade candidates, even if the odds of either moving don’t seem too high.
As Hayes notes, there’s no harm for Minnesota in testing the market for Gray or Maeda, just in case a team desperate for starting pitching is willing to overpay as other options are removed from the board as the deadline approaches. Re-signing both Gray and Maeda this winter doesn’t seem likely whatsoever, and it seems quite possible that the Twins might let both veteran pitchers walk in free agency. Ergo, exploring trade opportunities now is a logical tactic, especially if another team is willing to offer the right-handed hitting or bullpen help that the Twins are currently looking to obtain.
Dallas Keuchel has looked great for Triple-A Saint Paul since signing a minor league deal with the Twins back in June, as the former AL Cy Young Award winner has a 1.13 ERA over 32 innings. Since Keuchel has an opt-out clause in his contract on August 1 (trade deadline day), some kind of decision is coming soon, and Keuchel could be the logical replacement if Minnesota did move Gray or Maeda. In terms of Keuchel himself as a trade chip, Hayes writes that there is only “minimal interest” from other clubs, which isn’t surprising given how Keuchel’s MLB results have so badly tailed off in the last two seasons. The southpaw has a 6.35 ERA over 222 2/3 Major League innings since the start of the 2021 campaign, and he has yet to see any big league action in 2023.
Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said earlier this week that the club’s left-handed hitting outfielders were drawing interest, and Hayes reports that Trevor Larnach in particular has been on the radar of the Mets and Padres. Larnach is only a couple of years removed from being a top-100 prospect, though he has a modest .223/.315/.380 slash line over 669 career plate appearances. This lack of performance and a season-ending core muscle surgery in 2022 have kept Larnach from really establishing himself in the majors, not to mention how the Twins’ outfield depth has led to Larnach spending a lot of extra time at Triple-A.
Since Larnach is only 26 and has a limited sample size of MLB experience, it makes sense why the Padres, Mets, and probably several other teams would want to bet on a post-hype breakout. It’s worth noting that Larnach hadn’t hit very much in Triple-A prior to this season, and even his .234/.363/.431 slash line over 157 PA for Saint Paul in 2023 is only decent, rather than a clear sign that Larnach has nothing more to prove in the minors.
With the Mets already looking ahead to 2024, a hypothetical New York/Minnesota trade package could include a right-handed hitting outfielder like Tommy Pham or Mark Canha, or reliever Brooks Raley. All would essentially be rental pickups, though Canha and Raley are controllable through club options for the 2024 season. Raley has pitched well enough that his $6.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) looks like a good bet to be exercise by the Mets, Twins, or whatever team might own his rights after the deadline.
Of course, injuries can always change the equation for any team as the deadline approaches, and the Twins placed Alex Kirilloff on the 10-day injured list today due to a right shoulder strain. Caleb Thielbar was activated from the 15-day IL in the corresponding move, with the left-hander returning after missing close to two months with an oblique strain. This came on the heels of a previous IL stint due to another oblique problem, resulting in Thielbar making only one big league appearance since May 6.
Kirilloff has been trying to play through the injury for several days, as manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters (including Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune) that Kirilloff was hurt diving for a ball. Kirilloff is “just not able to swing the bat right now because he’s feeling some weakness in his shoulder,” Baldelli said, so the decision was made to put the first baseman on the IL for a full rest.
Wrist problems have plagued Kirilloff in the past, and his recovery from a wrist surgery last year delayed his 2023 debut until May 6. Finally healthy and given an extended chance to play, Kirilloff looked to be having a bit of a breakout season, with a very solid 124 wRC+ to show from his .270/.357/.442 slash line over 258 plate appearances while mostly playing as Minnesota’s regular first baseman. Donovan Solano and Joey Gallo are likely to be platooned at first base while Kirilloff is out, and if the Twins get any indication over the next two days that Kirilloff might be facing an extended absence, first base help might be added to the club’s deadline checklist.