Minnesota Twins General Manager Thad Levine joined Baseball Prospectus prior to Saturday’s game at Target Field against the Texas Rangers for a special press conference exclusively for fans. While Levine said he discovered he’d be the keynote speaker rather unexpectedly, he had a good answer for every question asked -- except mine.
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Levine won over the crowd in a heartbeat at the Sid Hartman Press Room, opening with a joke about deadline deals being negotiated via Tinder and how too much emphasis is placed on a profile pic. He even alerted the hundred or so fans that he would answer a different question than Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Aaron Gleeman asked, so it didn’t seem like he was dodging a question even when he was.
Gleeman also seemed enamored with Levine, calling the GM “a tad too good looking” after he left the conference room. But decades of Terry Ryan and the Bill Smith years from which the Twins are still recovering are reason enough to understand love at first sight.
I too was susceptible to Levine’s charm. While this was hardly a high-leverage situation, Levine’s charisma and confidence didn’t take long to fill the room. He’s comfortable in front of a crowd and could sell mudflaps to someone with no car. He would make a fine politician someday. At present, he’s a fine general manager.
Levine didn’t have to search for answers or words. Everything he needed was ingrained in his brain. Even as Gleeman grilled Levine about the lack of relief pitching pursued in the offseason, Levine reminded everyone of the arms the Twins lost to injury whom he and new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey expected to contribute this season. He wasn’t just talking about Glen Perkins, Trevor May and Ryan O’Rourke. Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois and Tyler Jay were also mentioned. That’s a very good reason why Matt Belisle’s was the only Major League contract offered to a reliever in the offseason. You don’t want to clog up roster spots when up-and-comers are banging down the door to the big leagues.
But I wanted to know why action wasn’t taken in response to those injuries earlier in the season. I opened by saying there are fans who might think trades could have been made earlier to improve the team and asked how the market forces differ from June to July and how that affected the moves they ended up making.
I imagined Levine would go on at length about how they tried to make moves while the team was still in first place, but the cost in prospects to fill the team’s needs was prohibitively expensive. Instead I got the only answer I didn’t want to hear about how the second Wild Card keeps teams in the hunt longer and makes them unwilling to sell in June. It was the longest answer he gave to a question asked by a fan. Even Gleeman chimed in to defend him by saying just eight to 10 teams would have been selling at the time.
I would have loved to follow-up with, “Well, you acquired Jaime Garcia and the $4 million or so he was owed on July 24th, and you were able to flip that rental to the Yankees within a week because you were willing to pay most of his contract. What stopped you from doing the same with Pat Neshek while the Twins were still in first place on June 25th? Or any other rental reliever on one of the eight to 10 teams clearly selling at the time?”
I urged the Twins to acquire bullpen arms back on June 7, with Neshek right at the top of the list. At the time, Neshek was owed $4 million or so, and while Levine and Falvey were understandably focused on acquiring young, controllable pitching, they were also hoping to “vanquish the foes,” as Levine put it. He even acknowledged the Twins’ negative run differential and how it didn’t affect their decision to buy because, well, they were in first place for 50 days.
“As much as you want to dismiss the fact that there were some underlying metrics which would suggest that maybe we were overachieving, the facts were we overachieved for three months, and we weren’t going to take that lightly,” he said.
So where were the reinforcements for baseball’s worst bullpen at the time? If money’s not an issue, was Philadelphia asking too much in return for Neshek? Well, we know Colorado gave up 20-year old, A-ball shortstop Jose Gomez (think Jermaine Palacios), 22-year-old, high-A, right-handed reliever and strikeout machine J.D. Hammer (think Lewis Thorpe but right-handed and better at missing bats; the newly acquired Gabriel Moya is probably more comparable but wasn’t a Twin on June 25th) and 20-year-old, A-ball, right-handed starter Alejandro Requena (newly acquired lefty Tyler Watson is the only 20-year-old pitcher on the Twins’ A-ball roster, but if you go up a level, lefty Lachian Wells would be comparable, and he’s also the only 20-year-old pitcher on the Twins’ high-A roster).
You can see how Falvey and Levine have already improved the pitching depth throughout the Twins’ minor league affiliates. But what about the big league club that was contending despite a glaring weakness? Even if the price for Neshek is higher on June 25th than July 25th, there are still no top prospects in the conversation. Besides Palacios there’s no one you’d likely miss dearly, and the Twins have enough shortstop depth to help get over the sting if trading Palacios burns them. And if the Twins still fell out of contention, they could have flipped Neshek as they did Garcia before the deadline.
Instead, from June 26 through the July 31st trade deadline, the Twins went 11-19, with relievers taking the loss in six of those games. The glaring weakness of the Twins bullpen was exploited by the league’s best, and it didn’t have to be. Here are four more trades the Twins could have made in June that might have saved July.
Levine said his job is to work with all 29 teams in order to improve his team, so dealing within the division wouldn’t have stopped this one from happening. The White Sox were sellers before the season started, and they managed to turn a surprising season from Swarzak on a one-year deal into Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old utility bat tearing up AAA (.855 OPS). The Twins’ AAA utility man Niko Goodrum would be the closest comparison, but the Sox would likely demand another piece or a different piece altogether given his .720 OPS in AAA this year. None of those pieces would be Zack Granite or Mitch Garver, however.
While it’s probably more than Falvey and Levine would like to offer to get a guy they could have signed in the offseason, Swarzak’s .525 win-loss percentage with an average team this season would be best in the Twins’ bullpen, even if Brandon Kintzler was still with the team.
The Cincinnati Reds were 31-43 on June 25th. They didn’t trade Storen despite his cheap, expiring contract ($3 million), and it might have to do with his FIP being almost one and a half runs worse than his ERA. Still, Storen’s win-loss percentage with an average team of .508 is better than the Twins’ Taylor Rogers (.503) and Tyler Duffey (.494). He would have at least pushed each of them into lower-leverage situations. Of the six losses by the bullpen over the 30 games entering the deadline, Rogers and Duffey were responsible for two each.
Since the Reds couldn’t find a taker on Storen, he likely could have been acquired for a low-level prospect with a relatively low ceiling.
The Mets were seven games under .500 and 11 games back in the National League East on June 25th. They were even further out of the NL Wild Card standings. Boston scored Reed by sending the Mets three, 22-year-old relievers.
High-A, right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista might not have the ceiling of Twins’ A-ball lefty Andrew Vasquez. High-A righty Stephen Nogosek could be comparable to the Twins’ 24-year-old, high-A lefty Michael Theofanopoulos. And righty Jamie Callahan was promoted to AAA this season, much like the Twins’ Ryan Eades.
As far as rental relievers go, Reed probably would have demanded the best return of those available at the end of June, but he would have had the most trade value amongst rental relievers come the end of July, too. The 15 runs above a replacement player he amassed with the Mets is just two runs less than Twins’ starter Jose Berrios and four runs better than Kintzler.
I still would have liked the new Twins front office to make a splash and land Hand. I wrote en masse about Hand and was willing to part with one of the Twins’ shortstop prospects -- but not Nick Gordon. I can understand why this deal didn’t happen, but it would have been most helpful. Again, Hand could demand a ton at the end of July, but probably not as much as he would in June. He’s a keeper anyways given his arbitration eligibility until 2020.
It might be more difficult and more expensive to trade in June rather than July, but Falvey and Levine could have done something crazy like trade a top prospect and two others for Brad Hand on June 25th because: 1) they’re rookies and have more leeway than they ever will with ownership and fans, 2) Twins fans are fed up with the status quo, and 3) those newly acquired assets could still be traded a month later. But Levine didn’t know taking on Garcia’s salary would be valuable to other teams.
“The deal we did there was a testament to Jim Pohlad and his support of our decision-making because he allowed for us to take Jaime Garcia’s salary, which, come to find out, we didn’t know this in the onset of the negotiation, the other teams who were competing for his services weren’t prepared to do that,” Levine explained. “So this is an area we weren’t aware of, once again, but we learned as we went through the trade negotiation that this was going to be a competitive advantage for us.”
That was the most disturbing thing I heard from Levine. It makes the collective genius thought necessary to turn A-ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa into AAA pitching prospect Dietrich Enns and AA pitching prospect Zack Littell sound like dumb luck. Both the Dodgers and Yankees made it a priority to cut into their luxury tax bill this season, so you can assume at least they have an interest in cutting salary. I think you have to assume the Nationals (seventh highest MLB payroll) and Cubs (ninth highest MLB payroll) would have an interest in saving money.
So if Pohlad was willing to pay Garcia $4 million to play elsewhere, why wouldn’t he be willing to pay Neshek $4 million to play for the Twins, assuming they can’t move him at the Trade Deadline? What about the roughly $4 million it would have cost to pay both Swarzak and Storen? Was there a $5 million cap on the amount he was willing to spend?
As you can see, Levine left us with more questions than answers thanks to his ability to woo a crowd of Twins fans, most of whom have never experienced anything but the curmudgeons Ryan and Smith. As a journalist, it was refreshing to witness an interviewee who was not only honest but entertaining. Not much was left to be desired except a trade in June that might have saved July.
I suspect Falvey and Levine entered this season hoping to be sellers at the deadline, and I would have asked that if I thought I’d get an honest answer. That’s not something a rookie GM will admit willingly.
Levine is a dealmaker who understands what it takes to build a contender. I have no doubts that he’s the right man for the job, but had Gleeman himself been hired as the Twins’ GM, I still would have left that conference room optimistic and a little weak in the knees.
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Everyone knows who won the Major League Baseball Non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Dodgers, Yankees and Cubs are obviously better. But what about the teams dealing those big pieces to the playoff puzzle. Who are the winners amongst the sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline?
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It seems like forever ago that the Chicago Cubs acquired Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals. The White Sox got two dynamite prospects back in high-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez (.903 OPS this season, Baseball Prospectus’s 9th overall prospect) and A-ball, right-handed starter Dylan Cease (12.5 K/9 this season, top-100 prospect). Both have the potential to be regular contributors to a MLB club, if not headliners.
The Cubs also parted with two more prospects from their high-A roster: first baseman Matt Rose and utility man Bryant Flete. That’s a nice haul for the White Sox. Even though Quintana is potentially controllable through 2020, getting one everyday player and a potential replacement in the starting rotation of the future is well worth sacrificing an ace when you’re years from contending.
After Quintana was shipped to the Cubs, Chicago GM Rick Hahn moved expiring contracts Todd Frazier and David Robertson (2) along with arbitration-eligible Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard and three prospects. Clippard’s contract expires at the end of the season, but he’s earning roughly $5.5 million less than Robertson, so the White Sox saved a few million dollars. They also got a nice return for the rentals they shed.
A-ball outfielder Blake Rutherford, 20, might be the headliner of this deal given he’s the highest rated prospect (36th overall two weeks prior to the trade according to Baseball America), but fellow outfielder Tito Polo is closer to the bigs (AA) and could debut before he’s 24 (he’s 22 now). Then there’s middle-of-the-rotation talent Ian Clarkin, 22, who should see AA next year if he can lower his walk rate (3 BB/9 this season). All three could be in the bigs before turning 25.
The White Sox were hardly done there. They turned a surprising season from Anthony Swarzak on an expiring contract (3) into Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old utility bat who seems to have AAA pitching figured out (.855 OPS). If Cordell is nothing more than a career utility man in the bigs, that’s a big win for the White Sox.
That’s not all. The White Sox flipped arbitration eligible, lefty reliever Dan Jennings to Tampa Bay for 24-year-old first base prospect Casey Gillaspie, who’s having a tough time finding his way to the show after breezing through just about everything but Fall League (.653 OPS this season, .554 in Fall League).
Finally, the Royals worked with the White Sox to make a trade within the division for Melky Cabrera -- another expiring contract (4). In return, the White Sox scored 22-year-old, high-A righty A.J. Puckett (8.1 K/9 and 49 percent groundball rate) and A-ball lefty Andre Davis (9.1 K/9 and 44 percent groundball rate).
The White Sox lost Quintana, but also shed four expiring contracts and gained a top-10, top-50 and top-100 prospect, along with five others, making them the biggest winners amongst the sellers at the 2017 MLB Trade Deadline.
While the A’s couldn’t pry away any of the Yankees’ top three prospects despite Sonny Gray being under control until 2020, Oakland made out pretty well.The long-awaited Gray trade culminated in a return of MLB-ready right fielder Dustin Fowler, utility man Jorge Mateo (43rd overall prospect according to Baseball Prospectus) and righty James Kaprielian (58th overall prospect according to MLB and Baseball Prospectus).
Fowler forced his way onto the big league club at the age of 22. He had an .871 OPS at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 313 plate appearances before blowing out his knee in his MLB debut with the Yankees. He’s a five-tool player if he comes back healthy and is a legitimate MLB hitter regardless of his knee. Again, an everyday player who’s a year away for a controllable starter is a good return. And Oakland got two everyday players.
Mateo was the key to the deal for Oakland, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s 22 and would have speed maxed out on MLB 2K17. He was also tearing up AA pitching with a .906 OPS in 140 plate appearances. He’s playing mostly shortstop but is seeing time in center field, too, giving Oakland some options. He has the potential to be the difference-maker Gray already is, but again, would have an impact every day rather than once every five days.
Kaprielian, 23, is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but before the injury he was touted by Baseball America as having “front-of-the-rotation makeup and stuff,” so the A’s might have their new Sonny Gray if all goes well for Kaprielian. He starts a throwing program soon.
In all, it wasn’t a bad Trade Deadline for the A’s. While Beane didn’t move Yonder Alonso’s expiring contract in his All-Star season, the A’s hit a modest jackpot with the Gray trade to break even.
The Twins’ poker hand entering the All-Star Break looked a lot worse after a bad start to a West Coast road trip, but the Twins discarded and drew new cards until their hand was a winner. Rookie president Derek Falvey and new general manager Thad Levine turned 20-year-old rookie ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa into Jaime Garcia, and flipped Jaime Garcia for two prospects two years closer to the big leagues than Ynoa, both of whom could end up better than Ynoa. Lefty Dietrich Enns will likely get a cup of coffee this season, and righty Zack Littell has a big-league curveball that’s making AA hitters look silly.
How did Falvey and Levine manage to do this? They were willing to pay Garcia’s roughly $4 million in remaining contract, making for a better return from both the Braves and the Yankees.
The Twins also moved their second best trade chip in All-star closer Brandon Kintzler -- an expiring contract -- for Washington Nationals’ 20-year-old, A-ball pitching prospect Tyler Watson. While Watson doesn’t throw very hard (around 90 mph), he locates very well and has potential to add velocity. The lefty has 98 strikeouts in 93 innings and has only walked 24 this season.
The Twins also received $500,000 for international bonus spending from the Nationals, which could be used to sign an international pitcher like, say, Shohei Ohtani, who is also Japan’s best hitter. It would certainly make Paul Molitor’s days against the National League easier. Instead of worrying about double switches, he can just use Ohtani as a pinch hitter for his pitcher. Molitor might not be back to make those decisions, though.
Regardless of how things turn out, the Twins hit the jackpot at the MLB Trade Deadline in 2017 because not only did they win, but they hardly risked anything. They still have their ace and innings eater Ervin Santana and second baseman Brian Dozier through next season, and they retained all their shortstops throughout the minors (Nick Gordon, Royce Lewis and Engelb Vielma). They can resign Kintzler in the offseason, and they won’t have to worry about Ynoa starting an MLB career for three years or so. The Twins improved their hand for next season.
Another deal that seems forever ago was the Tigers’ trade of free-agent-to-be J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Lugo was Arizona’s fourth-best prospect and is putting together a nice year at AA playing mostly third base (.741 OPS). The 22-year-old can play shortstop, too, and will likely get a taste within the next two years.
Alcantara is a 20-year-old shortstop in high-A who will stick at short regardless of his bat, which has been good enough (.696 OPS). King is another shortstop in rookie ball who is just 18 years old and impressed in his first professional season (.815 OPS in 2016).
The Tigers also traded their coveted closer Justin Wilson, and they packaged him with the expiring contract (albeit less than $1 million remaining) of catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. While Wilson could be controlled through next season, the Tigers netted corner infielder Jeimer Candelario, who has already seen time in the bigs, 18-year-old shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes, cash and a player to be named later.
While Candelario is big-league ready with the bat and serviceable at third base, Paredes has the range to stick at shortstop and displays great plate discipline (54 Ks in 395 A-ball PAs). The trades give the Tigers a pretty good chance of fielding a competent shortstop for years to come if they trade Jose Iglesias before he becomes a free agent after next season. Lugo could also make Nicholas Castellanos expendable in either of the next two seasons. He’s a free agent in 2020. If the Tigers are going to rebuild, Iglesias, 27, and Castellanos, 25, would demand outstanding returns, and by the looks of it, the Tigers are preparing for that potential payday.
The Phillies turned 36-year-old reliever Pat Neshek into 20-year-old, A-ball righty Alejandro Requena (K:BB ratio of 4.0), 22-year-old, high-A righty J.D. Hammer (13.5 K/9) and 20-year-old, A-ball shortstop Jose Gomez (.811 OPS). They also flipped a 33-year-old Howie Kendrick for 21-year-old, A-ball lefty McKenzie Mills (5.36 K:BB ratio). Oh, and there was that Jeremy Hellickson trade that netted 23-year-old strikeout machine Garrett Cleavinger (10 K/9 at AA this season) and MLB outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who has experienced a sophomore slump in his second season at 29 (OPS+ down to 64 from 117). Those are some pretty nice pieces given the chips Philly had.
The Jays were able to shed two expiring contracts. The struggling Francisco Liriano netted everyday outfielder Nori Aoki, who’s arbitration eligible this offseason despite being 35, and budding outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez from Houston. Hernandez, 24, already has 112 MLB plate appearances from 2016 and boasts a .724 MLB OPS. He’ll likely roam the Rogers Centre outfield when roster expand.
The Blue Jays also moved veteran reliever Joe Smith to Cleveland for AA lefty Thomas Pannone and 18-year-old second baseman Samad Taylor. Pannone, 23, earned a promotion this season after striking out 12.7 high-A batters per nine innings. That strikeout rate has hung around one per inning in AA, so Pannone could see the bigs as early as next season.
Taylor has good range at second base and has proven he can hit low-A pitching (.300 BA, .795 OPS) despite being three years younger than most of his competition. A promotion to high-A this season is unlikely given how little of the year is left, but Taylor has looked like a quick study thus far.
The Padres decided against putting their best chip on the table in Brad Hand. Instead, they dumped an expiring contract in Trevor Cahill and two arbitration eligible relievers in Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter on the Royals. The Royals sent struggling, lefty relievers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, and rookie-ball second baseman Esteury Ruiz, who has an OPS of 1.063 in 122 plate appearances despite being almost two years younger than his competition. So San Diego replaced the MLB relievers sent to Kansas City and gained an 18-year-old middle infielder who can apparently hit. Not too shabby.
The Rangers got their room comped because they were willing to lose a lot. The Rangers did what they should have and moved their biggest expiring contract in a season they weren’t contenders.Yu Darvish had to go, and the Rangers got a pretty nice return despite Darvish being a rental.
Willie Calhoun (MLB’s 82nd ranked prospect) will likely see time in the Rangers’ outfield this year and projects to be a regular contributor thanks to his bat (.922 OPS in AAA this season). A.J. Alexy is a 19-year-old, A-ball righty missing bats like crazy (10.5 K/9), and Brendon Davis, also 19, projects as a potential utility infielder or regular second baseman in the bigs.
While two of the pieces are probably further from the show than the Rangers would like, turning an expiring contract in a non-contending year into a potential everyday player who’s cheap and controllable is a deal you do every time.
Texas also moved expiring contract and catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Colorado for a player to be named later. Again, a return is better than nothing at all, especially given the season Lucroy’s had. His OPS+ (67) is almost half of what it was last season (129), and he’s been uncharacteristically bad behind the plate, too (-4 runs fielding).
Finally, arbitration eligible, righty reliever Jeremy Jeffress was moved to Milwaukee for 25-year-old righty Tayler Scott, who went from AA to AAA as a result of the swap. Scott was averaging a strikeout per inning in AA Biloxi, but his 5.1 walks per nine innings will have to decrease if he’s going to earn a call.
So the Rangers scored one potential everyday player who will play this year, a reliever who’s proven he can miss bats in the minors but also misses the strike zone a lot, a couple of guys with high ceilings at least three years away, and a player to be named. All they had to give up was their season, their best pitcher, their catcher and a reliever, for whom they paid dearly. Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson is the 12th-ranked prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, and Luis Ortiz is 68th, so it looks like the Brewers won that trade. But Texas got something instead of nothing. That’s like getting your room comped, right? It’s still disappointing, but at least you’re disappointed in a comfortable place.
Almost all the Reds’ expiring contracts and potential trade chips were hurt with the exception of Drew Storen, and the Reds didn’t move him despite his team-friendly, $3 million contract. Zack Cozart -- 10-day disabled list. Scott Feldman -- 10-day disabled list. Bronson Arroyo -- 60-day disabled list. Just bad luck.
The only trade the Reds could muster was Tony Cingrani for the 31-year-old Scott Van Slyke and catching prospect Hendrik Clementina, who seems to have figured out how to hit (.994 OPS this season, never higher than .694 in three prior years).
The Giants have trade assets, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija haven’t been any good, Denard Span didn’t draw any interest, and the Giants wouldn’t trade their biggest asset, Buster Posey. They did move Eduardo Nunez’s expiring contract, but it will be a long time before the Giants know if the return is worth the Adalberto Mejia they gave up to get Nunez in the first place. Mejia has become one of Minnesota’s most consistent starters.
A-ball righty Shaun Anderson and rookie-ball righty Gregory Santos were all the Giants could pry from the Red Sox. Anderson was well on his way to a promotion and got it via the trade. But his first start with San Jose didn’t go well (3.1 IP, 5 RA, 3 ER). While he was the same age (22) as his competition with Greenville’s A-ball squad, he’s a year younger than most his California League competition with high-A San Jose.
Santos is just 17 years old, but has a 1.06 ERA over 34 innings in the Dominican Summer League thanks to an 82-percent groundball rate. That’s 22 percent higher than his groundball rate in his first season.
The Braves might not have had much leverage in the Jaime Garcia deal, but had they waited a few more days, the Yankees might have offered more than what they got from the Twins. Regardless, the Braves are losers for failing to move other expiring contracts.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki has arguably been the best he’s ever been with a bat and behind the plate, but the Braves couldn’t find a taker despite his cheap $1.5 million salary. Brandon Phillips is also a free agent at the end of the year and wasn’t moved. That might be the market’s fault rather than Atlanta’s, but Suzuki taking at-bats from Tyler Flowers while the Braves sit 11 games back of the Wild Card is just idiotic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzuki is moved in August, though.
For some reason the Orioles think they’re contenders. Baltimore might be just 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, but the Orioles don’t have a pitcher who can win that Wild Card game let alone a regular playoff game. Dylan Bundy’s ERA+ of 102 is highest on the team, which is lower than four of the Yankees’ starters and three of the Rays’ starters. To truly put that in perspective, the Twins have three starters better Bundy. Baltimore has the second-worst, starting pitching ERA in baseball. But they’re contenders because they have Jeremy Hellickson now.
Orioles executive Dan Duquette said the team traded for Hellickson and his expiring contract because they sought reliable starting pitching. His definition of reliable must simply be someone who shows up for work on time, because there’s nothing reliable about Hellickson’s performance on the job.
After experiencing a bit of a revival last season (113 ERA+), Hellickson has regressed back to his old self (96 ERA+). He’s averaging two fewer strikeouts per nine innings than last season. So Baltimore still doesn’t have a pitcher who can win a playoff game.
Baltimore also acquired infielder Tim Beckham from the Rays, but at least he has a positive OPS+, barely (101), and is controllable until 2021. He’ll replace the injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop, and it only cost the O’s 19-year-old righty Tobias Myers, who was holding his own at low-A despite being three and a half years younger than his competition. I don’t think the O’s knew what game they were playing. As of this writing they have a run differential of -66, are two games under .500 and have a 6.4-percent chance to make the playoffs, which is a little better than your chances of winning at keno.
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Former Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan always had money to work with but rarely used that money as effectively as new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine did prior to Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.
While it has been said by me that Falvey and Levine waited too long to make a move to improve their team, they appear to have fleeced the Atlanta Braves when trading for Jaime Garcia. The Twins flipped rookie-ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa to Atlanta in exchange for Garcia and the entirety of his remaining contract -- a little more than $4 million.
Garcia made one start as a Twin and was traded to the Yankees on Sunday. Falvey and Levine were again willing to take on most of Garcia’s remaining contract with the hopes of landing better prospects. That willingness to spend paid off, as the Twins landed AA right-hander Zack Littell and AAA lefty Dietrich Enns.
Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press pointed out that Littell’s xFIP is first amongst Eastern League pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Parker Hageman says Littell’s curveball is a plus pitch, and the move toward devastating curveballs rather than overwhelming velocity has become commonplace for analytical baseball minds. Littell would have been a huge score for the Twins without Enns. He’s is averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and 6.5 strikeouts per walk with AA Trenton. ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski thought the Braves should be annoyed with the Twins for scoring such a nice prospect with their former player.
Enns is just a big bonus for a team that’s closer to competing than expected. Enns boasts a four-pitch mix and has been fantastic at every minor league level. His WHIP has never been higher than 1.214, and his K/9 has never been lower than 6.9. He was striking out almost one batter per inning with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could get a cup of coffee with the Twins when rosters expand. Hell, he could take Kyle Gibson’s spot this year.
The 2018 Twins rotation returns just Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios -- so far. Santana could very well be traded by the time I finish writing this. It’s safe to say Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson are done, and we don’t know if Phil Hughes will ever pitch again. This pair of moves by the Twins pair of rookies in the front office gives the Twins some pieces to create competition for rotation spots in Spring Training next year.
So a team in desperate need of young, controllable starting pitching traded for a rental, and then traded that rental for exactly what it needs. Both Littell and Enns could be big parts of the Twins rotation in a couple years, along with Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia, and perhaps, AA Chattanooga's Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves.
With the addition of Littell, the Southern League’s best Lookouts have a pitching staff worth seeing. That includes recent relief addition Gabriel Moya via the trade of AAA catcher John Ryan Murphy, who was once Aaron Hicks until Terry Ryan…
I digress. If Falvey and Levine keep this up, they will have turned around the Twins in short order. If Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton improve upon their already impressive performances this season, Minnesota will be in the playoff conversation for a long time given the pitching Falvey and Levine have and will continue to acquire.
Closer Brandon Kintzler is going to be traded before the deadline, probably for another pitching prospect. But the Twins could sign Kintzler and a whole lot more in free agency this offseason. Minnesota is a pitcher’s paradise as long as Buxton roams center field (18 runs above average fielding), Max Kepler gallops through right (5 RAA fielding), and, now, wherever Zack Granite is (20 BIS runs saved above average per year in center). Granite has forced his way into the lineup by playing a premiere position really well in the absence of the best player at that position. He’ll keep getting plenty of at-bats.
Who can the Twins target in 2018 free agency, and who would actually consider it? Jake Arrieta might consider putting his increased flyball percentage in front of a go-get-it outfield. It’s up five percent from last season, and his groundball rate is down seven percent. Hell, Jaime Garcia could return in free agency if he enjoyed his first and last day at work with the Twins. I don’t see any reason why Yu Darvish wouldn’t want to pitch in Minnesota, either. Given Levine’s Rangers roots and the aggressive approach Falvey and Levine have taken in their first year with the Twins, I expect it to continue. These aren’t your father’s Twins.
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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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I’ve mentioned Brad Hand as a trade target for the Minnesota Twins in two previous blogs, and now that we know the Twins’ surprising performance has Thad Levine targeting trades for long-term assets prior to the July 31 trade deadline, it seems Brad Hand is the Twins’ perfect trade target. Here are the reasons:
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Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers have worked out nicely in high-leverage situations, and the Twins have struck gold with closer Brandon Kintzler. But Kintzler’s a free agent at the end of the season, and is likely trade bait. Glen Perkins has a team option for 2018 that won’t be picked up, and while the Twins expect to get Trevor May back next year, they have no idea what to expect from him after Tommy John surgery (his recovery from which he’s documenting at MLBTradeRumors.com).
Hand has the stuff to close, and the Twins could trade Kintzler and transition to Hand without damaging their chances to contend this season. Depending on who they give up, they could actually improve their chances. Plus, Perkins won’t have to pitch in high-leverage situations upon his return.
Hand won’t be a free agent until 2020, and while he’ll make more in arbitration next year than the $1.375 million he’s making this year, he’s still a steal given his .984 WHIP this season.
Hand not only limits runners on the bases, but he misses a lot of bats. His K/9 (10.8) is down slightly from last year (11.2), but his K:BB ratio is better this year (4.25) than last (3.08).
Glen Perkins will make $6.5 million this year. Hand will be lucky to make half that next season. The Twins' budget of $108 million is one of the highest in Minnesota's history, too.
Hand won’t cost the Twins a ton of prospects, either. While he’s one of the top relievers on the trading block, he’s not a closer and won’t command a return like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller did. The trade market is also deep with relievers, so the Twins could probably part with a pair of prospects that are a few years away from contributing at the major league level.
Hand attended Chaska High School in Chaska, Minnesota. While the local talent angle was taken by Levine’s predecessor, Terry Ryan (Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, Caleb Thielbar, Cole DeVries, Pat Neshek, Michael Restovich, Terry Steinbach and Paul Molitor all graduated from Minnesota high schools), Andy MacPhail seemed to make it work (Kent Hrbeck, Jack Morris and Dave Winfield). Plus, fans love cheering for locals.
We all know the Padres have a giant hole at shortstop, but the Twins shouldn’t move Nick Gordon to get Hand. They don’t have to, either, as the Padres are fielding two outfielders 22 or under -- Manuel Margot and Allen Cordoba. I don’t know if that means the Padres would be interested in Eddie Rosario or Eduardo Escobar, but if they are, that might be a deal the Twins could make with Zach Granite knocking down the door to the majors with his bat.
The Padres need help at the lower levels of the minors, too. Shortstop Javier Guerra (22) has struggled at high-A this season and last, as has outfielder Taylor Kohlwey (22) this year. And Peter Van Gansen (23) might not make it out of high-A, so there are some holes in San Diego’s lower affiliates that could be filled by Twins talent like Jermaine Palacios or Max Murphy. My guess is the Padres feel they’re probably three or more years away from contending, so a couple of 20-year-old prospects with high upside might be a perfect fit.
Twins fans might not like the idea of letting go of a young player with promise, but that’s what you have to give up to get someone who’s good right now and will be good for quite some time.