ESPN’s David Schoenfield predicted the Minnesota Twins would sign 29-year-old, free agent starter Alex Cobb during the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World -- a fitting place for an MLB Hot Stove that was slow to heat up.
The stove is finally preheated, with the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball, Shohei Ohtani, choosing to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees working with former Yankee Derek Jeter to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins.
The moves certainly don’t improve the Twins’ chances of returning to the postseason in 2018. The Angels were just five games back of the Twins for the second Wild Card spot in 2017, and the Yankees finished six games ahead of the Twins for the first Wild Card spot. And while the Twins’ best division opponent, Cleveland, hasn’t done much, they finished 2017 with a 17-game lead over Minnesota.
The Twins stand to pick up plenty of games playing in the AL Central next year. With the Tigers, White Sox and Royals all rebuilding, the 2018 Twins should be better than their 41-35 record within their division in 2017. But with the Angels, Mariners and Yankees improving their rosters considerably, Twins fans can expect a worse record against AL East and AL West clubs if the Twins make no moves.
But the Twins have money to spend, which is the only reason Schoenfield offers in defense of his prediction that the Twins sign Cobb. Given the Twins’ rotation, though, a starting pitcher worth just two wins above replacement in 2017 isn’t going to be enough to hold off the rest of the American League.
There aren’t as many open spots in the Twins’ starting pitching rotation as in past years. Jose Berrios is finally entering a Spring Training with a firm hold on a rotation spot. Ervin Santana returns, and the Twins are hoping the Kyle Gibson that showed up in the final month of the season is the Kyle Gibson they get all season in a contract year.
Adalberto Mejia was worth .8 WAR in 2017 over 98 innings and should get a chance at one of the Twins’ rotation spots. Mejia improved considerably from 2016, dropping his hard-hit percentage from 42 to 32 percent. That’s better than both Cobb’s (37) and Gibson’s (36) hard-hit percentages in 2017.
So without Cobb, the Twins have four capable starters. Then there’s Phil Hughes, who is a huge question mark. Minnesota president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine have to be entering the season expecting nothing from Hughes. If the Twins end up with a replacement-level reliever in Hughes, they’d likely take that. Hughes certainly has earned the right to compete for a starting role in Spring Training, though.
Trevor May could come off of Tommy John surgery and compete for a starting job, too. While the Twins need reliable relievers, which May was prior to surgery, Twins Daily’s Seth Stohs thinks bringing back May as a starter would be easier on his arm and body.
Then there’s the rotation depth in Rochester, where there are six starters fighting for five spots. If the Twins add no starters, Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero would be fighting for one big-league rotation spot with up to two other big-leaguers (Hughes and May). They’d also be fighting to all stay in AAA, with Romero the most likely candidate to return to AA Chattanooga. But at some point during 2018, one or more of these young hurlers will have earned a call-up. So what should the Twins ask Santa to bring them at the Winter Meetings?
Obtaining Chris Archer’s team-friendly contract through 2019 should be the Twins’ first priority. He’s owed less than $7 million next season, and his deal even comes with team options for 2020 and 2021 at $9 million and $11 million, respectively. He’s one of five pitchers to throw over 200 innings in three consecutive seasons, and he’s a solid number two starter despite his 1.2 WAR posted in 2017.
Archer was a victim of his hard-hit percentage increasing from 33 percent in 2016 to 39 percent in 2017, but a lot of those hard hits occurred late in games when some would argue his manager, Kevin Cash, left him in too long. Jim Turvey writes: “If Archer had exited every game in the sixth or earlier last season, his ERA would have dropped from 4.02 to 3.68.”
So Archer isn’t going to match Santana when it comes to pitching complete games, but having Santana in front of him in the rotation should make Paul Molitor comfortable pulling Archer for a reliever in or prior to the sixth inning.
Acquiring Archer would be worth parting with Nick Gordon, as the Rays’ worst hitters were at second base and shortstop last season. It would also give the Rays a reason to trade shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who rebounded from posting a 64 OPS+ in 2016 to put up an 88 in 2017 and is a free agent in 2019.
Mostly, Archer is more desirable than Darvish because of his team-friendly contract and Darvish’s struggles in the postseason and down the stretch of the regular season last year.
If the Twins can’t score Archer, Cole is a logical second option. His 2.8 WAR in 2017 was just one win less than Darvish’s, and Cole will make a fraction of what Darvish demands in arbitration the next two seasons. And if the Twins wish to retain Nick Gordon, the Pirates could be a better trade partner than Tampa given their need for young, starting pitching.
Yu Darvish was worth 3.8 WAR last season. That’s not close to competitive with aces in the league, but would make him a solid number two starter on any team, including the Twins. Santana finished 2017 with 4.8 WAR and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.
The Twins should resist overpaying Darvish, though, considering their starting pitching depth and the aforementioned availability of number-two starters with team-friendly contracts.
So instead of spending all that money Schoenfield cites, the Twins would be better off trading for a short-term solution to add to their pitching staff that will allow them to be even more active in free agency next year, when Clayton Kershaw is likely to be available. The Twins could even move Miguel Sano to first base and acquire either Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado with Joe Mauer’s contract expiring. Whether the new front office is willing to let the long-time face of the franchise go is a question that won’t likely be answered until next year.
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The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline is one of the most exciting days of my year. I’ve taken the day off from work in the past to keep an eye on deadline moves that would make or break teams’ seasons. Here’s a reason for fans of every team to have hope at the MLB Trade Deadline.
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Reason for hope: The Astros are frontrunners with the throttle floored and no one in the rearview mirror. Making moves at the Trade Deadline in every sport can torpedo a team, though. Think of how the Minnesota Wild stumbled into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Houston’s reason for hope is they’re really good already, but they’ll likely add a starting pitcher to turn that hope into high expectations.
Reason for hope: The Dodgers are hardly the Astros’ equivalent of the National League. While they led Houston by a half game at the All-Star Break, the next three closest teams in the overall standings were in the National League. Arizona was 7.5 games back on Monday, while Boston was 10 games behind Houston. The Dodgers can afford to make a move, and have been linked with closer Justin Wilson and were intrigued with J.D. Martinez before the season. Those moves could help the Dodgers pull away from the rest of the National League in the hunt for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Reason for hope: The Diamondbacks have the pitching to compete in the playoffs. They’ve allowed the second fewest runs behind the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see if Zack Godley can continue his fantastic season thus far (181 ERA+, .947 WHIP in 69.2 IP).
Despite all that, the Diamondbacks are going all-in this year, looking for pitching depth and a bat they can use either in the infield or outfield. My guess is they’ll target a fourth or fifth starter for a playoff push (Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jaime Garcia, Scott Feldman), a closer (David Robertson, Brad Hand, Brandon Kintzler) and a bench bat (Seth Smith?). I wouldn’t count them out on Chicago’s Jose Quintana, though, either.
Reason for hope: Like the Dodgers, the Nationals have the most important thing going into the playoffs -- premiere starting pitching. Now they need a premiere closer. Also like the Dodgers, they’re apparently interested in Justin Wilson.
Reason for hope: Boston leads the very tough AL East and has the starting pitching to stay there, so they can afford to take it slow. They’re waiting to investigate bullpen trades, but will probably pick up someone for lower-leverage situations. Maybe they’ll deal with Minnesota like they did last year in acquiring Fernando Abad for Pat Light, who was ultimately released. They could get Brandon Kintzler and move him from the ninth inning to the sixth or seventh -- or just when no one’s on base.
Reason for hope: All’s quiet on the Western front. The Rockies had the second wild card locked up with the defending champions 8.5 back at the All-Star break, but they did already acquire Zac Rosscup from the Cubs. He’s dealing at AAA Iowa (12.7 K/9 and 1.048 WHIP) and could help keep his old team out of the playoffs.
Reason for hope: The Cubs were 5.5 back of Milwaukee at the break, and the Brewers won’t be seeking rentals. The Brewers also have injury issues. It doesn’t sound very hopeful, right? Well, there’s still outfielder Lewis Brinson, who’s recovering nicely at AAA (.985 OPS) from a bad cup of coffee in the bigs (3-for-31). He’ll be back and better than he was, giving Ryan Braun time to heal. Look for the Brewers to target young, controllable pitching (Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray), but don’t expect anything too crazy (more likely is a controllable bullpen arm like Brad Hand or Cincinnati's Tony Cingrani).
Reason for hope: The Indians lead the deep AL Central, but Kansas City is lurking, and the Minnesota Twins just won’t quit. Getting Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis back healthy should help, although neither were performing well before their injuries. Losing Austin Jackson for most of July is the biggest hit the Indians have taken besides that to their manager, Terry Francona, who’s recovering from surgery addressing an irregular heartbeat. So there’s likely a move that needs to be made to keep Cleveland in front of the surging Royals, and it’s probably in the form of a fourth outfielder who can play center. The return of Rajai Davis makes sense, especially given his ability to steal a bag. He led the league with 43 steals with Cleveland last year at the age of 35.
Reason for hope: The Yankees’ have starting pitching depth (and a great rotation if Masahiro Tanaka figures it out) and a dynamite bullpen. The chink in the Yankee armor might be at first base, unless Gi-Man Choi continues to homer every six at-bats. The Chris Carter experiment has failed miserably thus far, but there’s not a lot of right-handed, first basemen available via trade. The Giants are reportedly shopping Brandon Belt, who’s signed for $17.2 million annually over the next four years, or the Yankees could acquire a lefty-swinging, first baseman (Lucas Duda, Matt Adams, or even Yonder Alonso) for less since Carter’s a free agent after the end of next year.
Reason for hope: The Royals have recovered nicely from a slow start and look like a playoff team. Boy, do they need a shortstop, though. Alcides Escobar has been historically bad at the plate (43 OPS+), but continues to show above-average range at short while being average overall on defense.
Switch-hitting Freddy Galvis might be all the Royals need to make another run at a World Series. They would lose a few runs defensively, but Galvis’s OPS+ is more than double Escobar’s (90), and Escobar could come off the bench as a defensive replacement.
Reason for hope: The Twins are investigating trades for controllable starting pitching. That would include Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Julio Teheran and Dan Straily. The Twins have the prospects to acquire any one of the five mentioned, any one of which would be a lift for a team that’s had a revolving door that’s seen Nik Turly, Felix Jorge, Adam Wilk and Nick Tepesch split seven starts amongst them. The Twins won one of those seven games, which forced them to hope Bartolo Colon returns to the form that made him an All-Star last season at the age of 43.
Not only are the Twins having trouble fielding competitive starting pitchers, the starters they’ve thrown out there don’t go deep into games. Kyle Gibson is averaging five innings pitched per start. Adalberto Mejia is averaging five innings pitched per start. Hector Santiago was averaging five innings pitched per start before going on the 10-day disabled list. Only All-Star Ervin Santana and phenom Jose Berrios have managed to get into the sixth inning regularly, so there’s a need for bullpen arms in Minnesota, too.
I fully expect Falvey and Levine to be one of the many teams vying for Brad Hand, who graduated high school in Chaska, Minn. If the asking price is too high, they will find somebody, because they’ll likely take advantage of All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler’s high value and trade him due to his expiring contract. The trade market is always full of reliable relief pitching, but it generally comes at a high price. It’ll be even higher for the Twins’ Falvey and Levine because they’re seeking controllable pitching (think Hand, Justin Wilson, David Phelps, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and AJ Ramos).
Reason for hope: The Rays are the complete opposite of the Twins. They have competitive starting pitching and a good bullpen (four relievers have an ERA+ above 100). While they could really use an upgrade the fifth time through the rotation, they hope Blake Snell either returns to form (113 ERA+ in 2016 compared to 87 this season) or Futures Game MVP Brett Honeywell is that upgrade.
The Rays even have a lineup that can compete in the playoffs. Mallex Smith has been a fine replacement for Kevin Kiermaier in center field and at the plate. While they’ve lost Colby Rasmus for the rest of July, they have outfield depth in Peter Bourjos and Shane Peterson. The Rays are just looking for a bullpen arm, but might have what they need with Brad Boxberger returning from injury. They’ve also transitioned Chih-Wei Hu to the bullpen, and he could be a contributor when rosters expand. Hu was acquired from the Twins last year for Kevin Jepsen, who is currently seeking work.
Reason for hope: The Cubs are the defending champs and are chasing a young Milwaukee Brewers team in the NL Central. If that’s not enough reason for Cubs fans to have hope, then here are a few more reasons: Kyle Hendricks comes off the disabled list after the All-Star Break, Jake Arrieta is at his best in the season’s final two months (1.100 WHIP in August, .896 WHIP in September and October over his career), and Kyle Schwarber seemed to figure something out at AAA Iowa (1.192 OPS in 44 PAs there and 4-for-14 with 2 doubles and a homer since his return).
Chicago has called just about everyone looking for starters, but Theo Epstein isn’t going to sacrifice the farm for the season. Cubs fans can expect a move for a backend starter, which could help them catch Milwaukee.
Reason for hope: The Cardinals’ starting rotation is legit, and I doubt they intend to break it up via trades. They even watched Jose Quintana and have expressed interest in Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, so the Cardinals are betting they aren’t out of the NL Central. And that’s exactly what they should do. They were tied with the Cubs just 5.5 games back of the division-leading Brewers at the All-Star Break, so the Cardinals could be buying at the deadline.
Reason for hope: Mike Trout returns Friday, and the Angels have expressed interest in Miami’s Dee Gordon. They even scouted Jose Quintana, so it looks like the Angels are all-in this season despite their best starter being Alex Meyer (102 ERA+). They do have the bullpen to close games, and an offense that has the potential to score runs with the return of Trout. Put Gordon at second base, and you’ve got a team that can steal some bases (if Trout ever steals again given the injury) and steal a run or two on defense. It will take more than Quintana to shore up the starting pitching, though.
Reason for hope: The Rangers still have Yu Darvish, and will likely get four more starts out of him before they’re forced to decide whether to buy or sell. They entered the All-Star Break just three games back of both Wild Card spots and have the second-highest run differential amongst the teams contending for the Wild Card (+29), so Texas could be right in the thick of things come the end of July.
The Rangers’ pitching staff outside of Darvish is pretty darn good, too, so don’t think moving Darvish will end their playoff push necessarily. But Andrew Cashner and Cole Hamels have been lucky, each sporting an ERA almost a run less than their respective FIPs.
Even with their big Trade Deadline acquisition from last year, Jonathan Lucroy, having an OPS+ that’s 55 points lower than last season’s, the Rangers look like buyers. Robinson Chirinos has been picking up the slack at catcher, and the only performance that’s been truly troublesome is that of second baseman Rougned Odor, who’s having the worst year of his young career (73 OPS+ is 20 points lower than that of his rookie season). The Rangers’ fate likely depends on him.
Reason for hope: Seattle’s not out of it yet. The Mariners were just four games back of both Wild Card spots at the All-Star Break. They have competent starters (if they can stay on the field), a great bullpen and a lineup that can score in bunches. General manager Jerry Dipoto is even willing to take on more payroll at the Trade Deadline given the large investment already made this season ($155.2 million). Don’t be surprised if he scores Yu Darvish.
Reason for hope: The Blue Jays were five games back of a Wild Card spot at the break and, like the Angels, have shown interest in Dee Gordon and Jose Quintana. Toronto has three solid starters and a fantastic bullpen, but Troy Tulowitzki hasn’t been the Tulo of old. He’s having the worst offensive season of his career since entering the league, mostly due to a .450 OPS against left-handers this season. Someone like the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar (career .770 OPS against lefties) could allow Toronto to platoon Tulo until he’s right, but the Blue Jays might roll with what they’ve got and see where they stand at the end of July.
Reason for hope: The signing of Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $1.5 million deal hasn’t burned the Braves, and there’s always a team looking for a catcher at the deadline. Atlanta could score something of value thanks to Suzuki’s best offensive year since his All-Star season with Minnesota in 2014. He’s even throwing out more runners than he has since 2012. Trading Suzuki will also allow Tyler Flowers more at-bats against lefties (just 23 PAs this season).
Reason for hope: While Baltimore sits a game ahead of Toronto in the AL East, their run differential is 14 runs worse. The Orioles are not contenders because just one of their starters, Dylan Bundy, has an ERA+ over 100 (and it’s 101). They should be shopping both Zach Britton and Brad Brach, who could both close for a contender and come with an extra year of arbitration eligibility, which should lift the potential return for the Orioles. They’ll likely move just one, and likely the one who brings the best return, which could be Brach given Britton’s much larger salary and injury issues this season.
Reason for hope: So far it seems the Pirates are unwilling to trade their biggest trade chips -- Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen -- but that could all change come the end of July. Ken Rosenthal thinks Josh Harrison is a fit for Boston, but even that’s a stretch. The biggest reason for hope in Pittsburgh at the Trade Deadline is the return of left fielder Starling Marte from his PED suspension.
Reason for hope: With any luck, Mets fans should get to see Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia all pitch in July. And since the Mets have no interest in trading Steven Matz, it’s vitally important that expiring contracts Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce are moved for what should be nice returns. Both players boast an OPS+ of 125 or higher, and should draw plenty of interest from clubs seeking left-handed bats.
Reason for hope: Dee Gordon is drawing a crowd, and while he can be controlled through 2021, the Marlins could make a killing by moving him given the interest. I’m guessing the Marlins would like to be competing in three years or so, when Giancarlo Stanton is still in his prime.
Starter Dan Straily and reliever David Phelps are also drawing a ton of interest, and while the Marlins would be giving up multiple years of control with both pitchers, the returns should be fantastic.
Reason for hope: J.D. Martinez must be moved if the Tigers don’t intend to extend him. His contract is expiring at the end of the year, and he happens to be entering free agency after his best season ever (.991 OPS, 159 OPS+). Packaging him with Justin Wilson should set the Tigers up with more than half a starting lineup of high-ceiling prospects. While the window has closed in Detroit, a new window can be opened through these two players.
Reason for hope: Yonder Alonso should command a king’s ransom, and as I mentioned earlier, the Yankees are a logical fit. Sonny Gray could be moved, but Oakland would lose the affordable control it has over the righty until 2020. Rajai Davis should draw interest from a playoff-bound team based on his baserunning ability alone. Billy Beane never disappoints at the Trade Deadline, so A’s fans have plenty of reasons for hope.
Reason for hope: Jose Quintana and David Robertson are already drawing plenty of interest, and both should bring solid returns. Number one on Kenny Williams’ list to move, though, is Todd Frazier’s expiring contract. The Todd-father has once again managed an OPS+ over 100 and is serviceable at third base defensively. The Yankees could be a fit, given Chase Headley’s 87 OPS+ this season.
What to watch: Zack Cozart is a prime trade candidate. His OPS this season is 241 points higher than his career OPS. He’s 31 and a free agent at the end of the season. Cozart will almost certainly have a new team in August and beyond. The Reds should demand a lot for the shortstop, and move Scott Feldman, too. Feldman’s contract is also up at the end of the year, and he’s somehow raised is K/9 by one from last season (7.5). He’d be a great addition for a team in the hunt looking to shore up the back end of its rotation (Chicago Cubs?) .
Reason for hope: Brad Hand is probably the most valuable reliever available and comes with two years of team control after this season. If you think pitching in Petco Park has helped him, that’s not the case. Hand has nearly doubled his K/9 since 2015 -- from 6.5 to 11.5. The Padres should get exactly what they want for him and nothing less.
Trevor Cahill is a free agent at the end of the year and has returned to his 2015 form, striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He hasn’t been helped by Petco Park, either. His FIP (3.50) is just marginally higher than his ERA (3.38). The Padres should end up with a nice return for one of the cheapest rentals on the market (owed less than $1 million the rest of the season).
Reason for hope: The Giants are reportedly taking offers on Brandon Belt, who could be another target of the Yankees. It would also open the door for Buster Posey to transition to first base full-time at some point. Belt would command quite a haul despite his contract due to his consistency throughout his career. He’s never posted an OPS+ below 100 and has played 799 games over his seven seasons so far.
Nick Hundley is an under-the-radar name to watch at the deadline. He’s a solid catcher offensively (91 OPS+) and about average defensively. He could help a bunch of teams looking for a platoon option at catcher down the stretch (Colorado and Arizona could use catchers that can hit right-handed pitching).
Eduardo Nunez is also a player who can help a playoff-bound club. He can play third, short or left field and runs the bases well. If he can show he’s healthy coming off the 10-day DL, expect him to draw interest, albeit for a limited price.
Reason for hope: Pat Neshek is an expiring contract who will be moved and should bring a nice return given his unique delivery that has allowed him to flourish late in his career. He’s an All-Star at 36, and would be a welcome addition to a playoff team’s bullpen.
Daniel Nava is another expiring contract, and he’s having his best year since 2013. At 34, he won’t be back with Philadelphia next year, so the Phillies should get whatever they can for the switch-hitting outfielder who still saves a lot of runs on defense.
Freddy Galvis is set to earn more than $5 million in arbitration next year and will be a free agent after, so Philly might as well take advantage of his best offensive season and deal him to a contender. See, even Phillies fans have reasons for hope at the MLB Trade Deadline.
Even if your team is a seller, the MLB Trade Deadline can be a day that changes your team’s future and fortunes forever.
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