The Minnesota Twins got a jump-start on the trade deadline by flipping Nelson Cruz and minor league pitcher Calvin Faucher to the Tampa Bay Rays for pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman last Thursday afternoon.
We’ll talk about that deal more in detail later on here, but it’s not an uncommon trade pairing. The Twins matched up on the Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young deal many moons ago, and more recently swapped infielder Jermaine Palacios for starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi prior to the 2018 season.
There was no mystery which direction the deadline might take for the Twins, so the Cruz deal was largely the removal of a band-aid obscuring a wound that just hasn’t healed all season long.
This was the first of what could be many moves for the Twins — but will at least most certainly include the sloughing off of impending free agents to teams who can better use their services down the stretch run.
So here, less than a week before the trade deadline, we’ll try find some ideal trade fits and take a stab at what they might bring back in a trade from said team. Sounds like fun, right?
Let’s talk to it (in order of perceived likelihood of being dealt):
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons
To say Simmons hasn’t given the Twins what they expected would be underselling it. Sure, metrics vary on his defense from pretty good (plus-2.4 runs on Fangraphs) to astounding (100th percentile in outs above average via Statcast), but he’s swung a wet pool noodle to the tune of a .221/.287/.290 slash line this season.
Even accounting for the offensive context that was, at the very least, depressed before the Spider Tack crackdown, that’s still only a 63 wRC+ — a 35-point drop from last season and the worst single season in his career by nearly 10 points (71 in 2014).
The difference is that Fangraphs liked his defense a lot more that season (plus-19.7 runs) and he was about to embark on a run that saw him total 16.1 fWAR over a four-year span, including a pair of years with above-average offensive production (above 100 wRC+).
Those days appear to be long gone.
Still, Simmons will have a fit not only this offseason in a loaded shortstop market, but even now as the Twins look to flip him in the next few days. A few playoff teams may be able to use shortstop help down the stretch, and failing that, the price should be low enough that a team would see value in bringing him in as a late-inning defensive replacement who can play a few games a week at short to stay sharp.
The Possible Fits: Athletics, Reds, Rays
From Oakland — Simmons for INF Vimael Machin (NR on MLB.com’s Top 30)
Elvis Andrus is having an almost identical offensive season to Simmons, but Statcast hates his defense. Machin is almost 28 and hasn’t done much in the big leagues (.446 OPS in 94 PA), but has shown strong plate discipline in the minors and is having a terrific season at Las Vegas (.312/.398/.546, which is a 128 wRC+ in the PCL).
From Cincinnati — Simmons for RP JC Keys (NR on MLB.com’s Top 30)
The Reds’ playoff odds are bleak (13.5 percent via Fangraphs), but this is a subtle tweak that won’t cost much and could keep them in the mix with the Brewers. Keys is a reliever with command issues who gets a lot of strikeouts.
From Tampa Bay — Simmons for OF Ryan Boldt (NR on MLB.com’s Top 30)
This one is probably too easy, as Boldt is a Minnesota native who doesn’t appear to have a future in the Rays organization. Fangraphs didn’t rank him among their top-62 Rays prospects (!) this past offseason, and he’s slashed a respectable .250/.332/.429 at Triple-A Durham. He’ll be 27 in November.
Relievers Alex Colome & Hansel Robles
Colome and Robles will have suitors because teams are always looking to cheaply address the middle of their bullpen. To find teams who might be interested, I looked into which contending teams had the shakiest ERAs in what was deemed “middle leverage” innings this season:
Rays - 4.03 (ninth)
Braves - 4.40 (15th)
Mariners - 4.64 (19th)
Red Sox - 4.82 (20th)
Phillies - 4.86 (21st)
Colome and Robles — at least at present — can’t be trusted to throw innings of terribly high consequence, but are the kinds of guys contenders will put in when they’re trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning and hope they can hold it down while the offense plays catch up.
I can also see some teams with shaky bullpens in general just look to stock up like the Nationals did in 2019 when they won the World Series. Teams I could see from that mold are the Reds, Blue Jays and A’s.
The Possible Fits: Rays, Braves, Red Sox, Phillies, Reds, Blue Jays
I don’t think there’s really much reason to go this granular. The Twins will probably aim for a very, very young prospect or a reliever in the minors who fits the Pat Light profile (live arm, needs refinement) back when they made the Fernando Abad trade.
Starter Michael Pineda
Pineda is hanging on with a 90 mph fastball and a whole lot of guts, as he’s made 13 starts, averaging just a touch over five innings with respectable, but not great rates: 7.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9 and a 3.93 ERA (4.29 FIP).
Teams aren’t going to want a guy like that to start in the playoffs, but he could hold down the No. 4-5 spot on a rotation that needs stability to find its way to the postseason.
So then, it’s about finding teams who could use some back-end rotation help on the way to the playoffs.
The Possible Fits: Blue Jays, Rays, Braves, Red Sox
From Blue Jays — for INF Tanner Morris (No. 30 on MLB.com’s Top 30)
The Blue Jays need pitching help in the worst way, and Morris would give the Twins some infield versatility in addition to a good eye at the plate. Would also be worth considering Patrick Murphy if the Jays would be willing to include him. He’s a 6-foot-5 starting pitcher who turned 26 last month and has posted some interesting secondary numbers in the minors in recent seasons.
From Rays — for INF Kevin Padlo (No. 18 on MLB.com’s Top 30)
MLB.com lists Tampa Bay’s rotation right now as Ryan Yarbrough, Shane McClanahan, Michael Wacha, Josh Fleming and Luis Patino. That’s kind of wild for a team right in the thick of things in the AL East. Landing Padlo, who has mostly played third but can also play a little first and has seen limited time in the big leagues, would be a nice fit. He’s only hit .214/.293/.413 at Triple-A Durham this season, but slashed .265/.389/.538 across Double- and Triple-A as a 22-year-old in 2019.
From Braves — for OF Justin Dean (No. 24 on MLB.com’s Top 30)
Dean is a spark plug as one of the fastest players in the minors. He’s slashed .247/.367/.359 in 64 games at Double-A Mississippi with 19 stolen bases against just four unsuccessful attempts. He turns 25 in December, and has a career on-base percentage in the minors of .380.
From Red Sox — for INF Cameron Cannon (No. 26 on MLB.com’s Top 30)
Cannon was incredible his final year at Arizona (.397/.478/.651) but has underwhelmed as a pro so far. He had just a .608 OPS between Rookie ball and Low-A after being drafted, then was unable to follow it up with the 2020 season being canceled. He’s hitting a respectable .288/.334/.438 this season, but it’s at High-A Greenville, where he’s a bit old for the level (he’ll be 24 in October).
Starter J.A. Happ
This is just a dart throw. Maybe someone wants him to soak up innings at the back end of their rotation, but I can’t see too many decent teams interested.
The Possible Fits: Blue Jays, Rays, Mariners
This will almost certainly be a player to be named later or cash, if not a DFA with a team taking a chance on him after he clears waivers. Nothing to see here.