Desire vs. Reality: What to Expect from the Twins at the 2022 Trade Deadline
The front office bucked a trend with the signing of Carlos Correa in the offseason; will they do the same at the deadline?
Minnesota Twins fans of a certain age — or sleep pattern — awoke on March 19 to find quite a surprise: the team had signed superstar shortstop Carlos Correa.
And while his “three-year” deal is functionally a one-year deal, it signaled exactly what head men Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seemed to suggest at the outset of the offseason — 2022 didn’t have to be a rebuilding season whatsoever.
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And to this point, the Twins have delivered. They’ve washed away most of last season’s memories with a 52-44 record and first-place standing in late July, and appear poised to make moves to shore up some very clear deficiencies on the current roster to make sure this team doesn’t only win another division crown, but perhaps finally makes some noise in October for the first time since most of the team’s core was in grade school.
Coming into this offseason, we had a slight inkling that the team could be up to something like this with the Josh Donaldson signing. Still, signing an aging yet still elite third baseman to a multi-year deal and grabbing a young superstar shortstop is not exactly comparing apples to apples.
We have a pretty good idea what this front office is all about at the deadline. They play things fairly close to the vest, proceeding more cautiously with trades mostly for relievers — and not exactly blockbuster trades, either.
Will the Twins’ front office buck that trend before the Aug. 2 deadline? It’s hard to say. We have a lot of reason based on track record to expect they won’t. However, going all-in — or close to it — in the one season they’re guaranteed to have Correa under contract seems to be a viable choice as well.
In any event, let’s have a look at the positions the Twins will likely to be looking for help. Let’s also have a look at who fans might dream on, and who might be more likely for the Twins to acquire based on recent trends from this front office.
And most importantly, let’s talk to it:
Who you want: Willson Contreras, Sean Murphy
Who wouldn’t want a catcher like Contreras? Catchers this good are almost never available at the deadline, and he’s hitting .258/.372/.471 with respectable defensive numbers with the added incentive of an impending free agency payday.
But the Cubs will rightfully expect a lot in return for Contreras, and someone will most certainly acquiesce. It might not be the exorbitant return Chicago might want for what I consider a franchise cornerstone — in my estimation, most contenders have a fairly solid catching situation — but it should still be enough to convince the Cubs to forgo draft pick compensation for more a more tangible return.
I wouldn’t sleep on the Yankees there.
As for Murphy, it’s easy to see the A’s stripping it down to the studs and thinking they might move their well-rounded catcher (115 wRC+/plus-10.6 defensive runs). A lot of teams would salivate over his defensive prowess, relative youth (28 in October) and years of club control (through 2025).
But with that said, the return is again going to be massive, and the Twins — despite their need in the short term — likely still see Ryan Jeffers as the future behind the plate.
His slash line doesn’t look that great, but for catchers, he’s been an above-average hitter (90 wRC+) and he’s strong behind the plate.
It’s not to say Murphy wouldn’t be a great fit for just about anyone, including the Twins, but it’s just not a move the Twins seem apt to make at this juncture.
Who you should (most likely) expect: Christian Vazquez, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki or a catcher of similar experience and/or skill
Gomes might not be available with the Cubs likely to move Contreras and in need of a bridge to Miguel Amaya, but he’d be a very nice fit for the Twins as he’s under club control next season for $6 million, which is a reasonable price tag for a capable backup catcher with ample experience and even some previous Cleveland ties. He wouldn’t hit much, but he’s played in 22 postseason games, including winning a World Series with the Nationals in 2019.
Beyond that, it would come down to the Twins sifting through the non-contenders or experienced backups to find their version of Henry Blanco, Tom Prince or Mike Redmond of years gone by. I frequently come back to the names of Suzuki and Jason Castro (former Twins, of course), and impending free agent Tucker Barnhart could make some sense, too.
Another option would be Christian Vazquez of the Red Sox, who is also up for free agency this offseason and is having a solid season (109 wRC+, plus-4.6 defensive runs).
Who you want: Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas, Zac Gallen, German Marquez
This would truly be a paradigm shift for this front office, and one that fans would welcome with open arms. Can you win a playoff series with a starting trifecta of (deadline acquisition above here)-Sonny Gray-Joe Ryan? I sure think so.
But the Twins have never traded for a pitcher of this ilk. They attempted to swing a deal for Zac Gallen back in 2019 right around the time he faced the Twins, only to be rebuffed by the Marlins with the notion they weren’t willing to trade him (something they did a few weeks later, if memory serves, for Arizona prospect infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr.).
Marquez would be the one to watch here, though the Rockies seem to be in a perpetual state of “not rebuilding.” The righty is 27, throws the hell out of the ball and is signed through 2023 with a 2024 team option for $16 million.
The “we can fix him” Twins would love to have their hands on him.
Most fans are going to be upset if the Twins don’t land a starter from this group. I would say…justifiably so. The thing the Twins are missing is that Game 1 starter in the playoffs, which I would say each of these guys are. And maybe Gray is, too. But then the Twins are very clearly not three deep for a series — which is a must.
Again, this is the one year the Twins for sure have Correa. The Twins have a young offensive core, a glut of good-but-not-great position player prospects and a very obvious need.
It’s time to make a deal.
Who you should (most likely) expect: Merrill Kelly, JT Brubaker, Jose Quintana, Nathan Eovaldi, Noah Syndergaard, Martin Perez, Chad Kuhl
Each of these guys would, at least immediately, probably viewed as a disappointment by Twins fans — and again, justifiably so.
But each of them also has their reasons for being a Twins target, and they’re not necessarily bad reasons either.
Kelly is 33, but signed for reasonable money through his age-35 season (option for age 36) and will basically give a team 7.0-8.0 strikeouts per nine, a 1.25ish WHIP and an ERA somewhere in the vicinity of 4.00.
Should that pitcher start Game 3 of a playoff series for you? If you replied “meh” I totally get it. Pitchers like Kelly have value in the regular season. Heck, even in the postseason with how we’ve seen teams piece things together with three or four innings from a starter followed by bullpen hopscotch.
But again, it won’t move the needle enough to keep Twins fans from not really feeling it.
Fans might dismiss Brubaker out of hand because he’s 2-8, but he has a lot of underlying metrics (9.3 K/9, 3.75 FIP) that help make his 4.02 ERA and 1.42 WHIP look less questionable. Again, the “we can fix him” Twins would look at Brubaker as a guy who is a tweak or two from being a dependable No. 3 starter. He’s not super young (28) and throws a ton of sliders, so it’s not like he’ll cost an arm and a leg to acquire, and as we know the sliders will endear him to this front office and coaching staff, alike.
Quintana is 33, but basically back on his grind as the guy who won’t wow you with any of his peripherals but will have an ERA in the high 3s or low 4s at the end of the season. He walks nobody, strikes out about 7.0-8.0 per nine and gets grounders at about league average with a fastball that is by no means overpowering. He’s basically the older version of Marco Gonzales (and not as much older as you might think).
Eovaldi throws the hell out of the ball as well, but he’s also 32, a free agent to-be and has been absolutely annihilated by home runs this season. In fact, 18 of the 79 hits he’s allowed have left the yard this season (2.2 HR/9), but he still strikes everyone out, walks nobody and induces grounders at a rate above league average. Any sort of regression in his HR/FB rate (22.8 percent!) and he could easily moonlight as a No. 2 starter.
Syndergaard’s 2022 has been exactly what one would expect from a pitcher who had thrown 2.0 — literally, two — innings in the previous two seasons. The command has been pretty good, the grounders are mostly there but the strikeouts have lagged behind as the righty is averaging a career-low 94.1 mph on his fastball.
Is there a reason to expect Syndergaard’s velocity to rebound? I think, actually, the answer is yes. However, I’m convinced that’s more likely next season than this, based on his trends this season and again what we basically know about guys ramping up their innings totals after barely pitching in recent seasons.
(image credit: Fangraphs.com)
The idea that Syndergaard might not have a ton to give a team down the stretch is something worth considering. He’s only on a one-year deal, so it would be on the team to do the right thing for him health-wise — which the Twins, based on their handling of pitchers, would seem likely to do — but if it gives them a leg up to sign him perhaps in the same way the Red Sox retained Eovaldi, it still might be worth considering even if it isn’t entirely a play for 2022.
Neither Perez nor Kuhl are all that exciting, but their teams are out of it and they could churn some very important innings down the stretch as the Twins look to maintain their lead. Stability isn’t sexy, but it would be a welcome addition with the relative instability that guys like Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy (more so earlier in the season) and some of the youngsters have provided on a start-by-start basis. A minimalist quality start — three earned runs or fewer in six innings — comes out to a 4.50 ERA over the long haul, but that should be enough for this offense to win more often than not.
Who you want: David Bednar, Jorge Lopez, Joe Mantiply
So…a couple things here. First, we all get the general idea or perception that the Twins don’t believe in going BIG for relievers. Secondly, we look at this list and quite frankly it’s not a massive list of guys like peak Josh Hader or Aroldis Chapman. Those guys just aren’t available right now.
But part of our perception lies to us. The Twins acquired Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo at the 2019 deadline. Neither was an overwhelming success story for the Twins — quite the contrary with Dyson — but they ended up being two of the better relievers traded that deadline.
Does that change the narrative that they don’t go big at the deadline? No. But if they traded for some of the best relievers on the trade market that year change the calculus? I think it does — at least a bit.
But the issue lies here that these are the three relievers I think are most talked about. Some of the guys in the list below will probably make your personal preference in the first tier, and that’s OK too.
All three of those guys will have many, many suitors.
None have them have been good for all that long, particularly. This underscores the whole notion of paying big for relievers in the first place.
Bednar was very, very good last season for the Pirates as well, but before that he had a 6.75 ERA over his first two seasons with the Padres (just 17.1 innings, but stick with me here)
Even with this season’s success, Lopez still has a career ERA of 6.04. Now that unfairly penalizes him for the struggles he had as a starter — let’s call this the Andrew Miller complex — but again the track record for a 29-year-old reliever is mighty short, and the shelf life, for all we know, might be as well.
Mantiply is a lefty who has been brilliant for the Diamondbacks this season, and his success is largely predicated on strikeouts (9.1 K/9), walks (0.5 BB/9), grounders (56.3 percent) and limiting homers (0.7 per nine). All of those things together are wonderful, but he also throws a million 90.2 mph sinkers and does not have a reliable track record of getting righties out beyond this season.
Now don’t let this make you feel like I’m saying none of these guys are worth acquiring. They most certainly are. However, it also lends to one wondering why the Twins aren’t first in line for these guys (being the team turning them from coal into diamonds rather than vice versa). And in some ways, they have been, with guys like Wisler, for instance (still not entirely sure why they didn’t retain him).
But does giving one of these guys a look take an opportunity away from a possible player to carve out that exact same role? In that sense, wouldn’t the Twins be paying, I guess, dollars on the penny to grab a guy they otherwise hope to be developing?
I guess an example would be Griffin Jax — a year ago. Would you see anything like 2022 coming for Jax? Now what if you DFA’d him to make room for an acquisition like the ones above. Unless that pitcher is completely lights out moving forward — not impossible — it’s a net negative based on what the acquisition cost was, in addition to that DFA’d pitcher providing value elsewhere.
Liam Hendriks might be another reasonable example, more so that he never got a chance as a reliever with the Twins as opposed to the fact that it took him multiple seasons after leaving to become the fire-spewing monster he is for the White Sox right now.
Who you should (most likely) expect: Anthony Bass, David Robertson, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Bard, Carl Edwards Jr., Matt Moore, Chris Martin, Ryan Brasier (and many others)
I’m not going to dig into these guys — or any others — individually except to say they’re either free agents to-be, guys who’ve ascended or returned to form this season, or might be undervalued based on some statistics (like Brasier’s 5.50 ERA but 3.52 FIP).
I get and like the idea of being penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to building bullpens, but it’s still a bad look unless it works like it has for, say, the Rays in recent years. The Twins are doing the churn the Rays do in a lot of ways — though Tampa would not have Tyler Duffey at this point in his service time, for one — but fans won’t see the success of the process unless it provides results.
And in that way, that’s really what it’s all about. However you build a bullpen — whether it’s like the Yankees of a few years ago or the Rays from every year — if the results aren’t there, not many fans will be receptive to the process.
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