Possible Trade Partner: Minnesota Twins

What Went Right: CC Sabathia
What Went Wrong: CC Sabathia
(Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The Twins and Yankees had a very one-sided rivalry in the mid-to-late-aughts, a rivalry that included four ALDS matchups from 2003-2010 and two wins by Minnesota. Not series wins, individual game wins. New York took all four of those ALDS meetings by a total of 12 wins to two.

The Twins have run off a pair of 95+ loss seasons since last getting bounced from the postseason by the Yankees, so they’re in something resembling a rebuilding phase. I say “something resembling a rebuilding phase” only because they’re still signing free agents and trying to piece together a contender given their weak division, yet they’re still closer to another 95-loss campaign that a playoff berth.

If Minnesota does decide to commit to a rebuild this winter (unlikely but possible), they would have several pieces of interest to the Yankees. I’m not talking about Joe Mauer, whose contract is prohibitive and days behind the plate are numbered, or even Ryan Doumit, who just signed a contract extension. Yesterday I wrote about utility man Jamey Carroll, now here are two outfielders who might fit in New York…

Josh Willingham
When you hit .260/.366/.524 (143 wRC+) with 35 homers and a 12.4% walk rate, you’re going to generate some buzz like the soon-to-be 34-year-old Willingham did this season. The Twins reeled him in with a three-year contract worth $21M last offseason, a deal that sure looks like one of the biggest bargains of the winter at this point.

The Yankees need to replace Nick Swisher and Willingham is one of the few outfielders who can provide similar offensive production. This year was a career year for him and I don’t expect him to repeat it, but he still hit .257/.360/.476 (127 wRC+) with an average of 23 homers per year from 2009-2011. He’s consistently offered power (.233 ISO since 2010) and patience (12.2 BB%), plus his right-handed bat would help balance out a lineup short on righty power given Alex Rodriguez‘s decline.

Willingham, however, is an atrocious defensive outfielder who has only gotten worse following 2010 knee surgery. His best position is probably first base or even DH at this point. You’re also getting nothing on the basepaths and usually a stint on the DL at some point during the season as well. His value stems exclusively from his bat, but luckily for Willingham he can really hit.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Denard Span
The 28-year-old Span is generally considered to be more attainable than Willingham because the Twins already have his center field replacement lined up — Ben Revere put together an 88 wRC+ and stole 40 bases while playing stellar defense this summer. Span is signed to a long-term contract that will pay him $4.75M next year and $6.5M the year after before a $9M club option ($500k buyout) comes into play for 2015. For luxury tax purposes, the average annual value is a friendly $3.3M.

The concern for the Yankees is that Span is basically Brett Gardner with half the stolen bases and half the called strike threes. He broke out during the 2008-2009 seasons (119 wRC+ in 1,087 plate appearances) but has hit just .271/.334/.397 (95 wRC+) in 1,584 plate appearances since. Concussion and shoulder problems have hampered him the last two years and could be to blame for the declining offense, but he was perfectly healthy in 2010 and still managed an 89 wRC+ in over 700 plate appearances.

What Span does provide is crazy good contact skills from the left side (10.9 K% and 92.0% contract lasts three years) and some patience (8.5 BB%) to go along with dynamite defensive ability. He ranks ninth in UZR (+21.9) and tenth in DRS (+24) among all outfielders over the last three seasons, but he hasn’t played anywhere other than center since 2009. Although it would create a stellar defensive outfield, Span and Gardner are completely redundant. The Yankees would be lucky to get ten homers out of the duo combined.

* * *

One of the oddest trade discussions to (reportedly) take place in recent years involved Span and the Nationals at last year’s deadline, when the Twins were willing to trade him for a reliever (Drew Storen) but Washington haggled over which reliever (offered Tyler Clippard instead). Given their lack of a long-term center fielder, it seemed like an easy call for the Nats. I highly doubt the Yankees would be lucky enough to pry Span away with just a reliever now that Minnesota has revamped their bullpen (3.77 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 2012), but even if they wanted to replace Swisher with a contact-and-speed, defense-first outfielder, they’d probably just re-sign Ichiro Suzuki. They know him and it would only cost money.

Willingham is a different case since the only free agent outfielders who could match his offensive production are Josh Hamilton and Swisher. Normally bringing a dead pull right-handed hitter to Yankee Stadium would give me pause, but Willingham has the kind of power to overcome Death Valley in left-center. I’m not too concerned about that with him. Considering his luxury tax friendly contract (just $7M average annual value through 2014), maybe the Yankees have to overpay a bit to get the production they need at affordable rates. The Twins appear to be very disinclined to move him however, so chances are this is all moot.

What Went Right: CC Sabathia
What Went Wrong: CC Sabathia
  • Rey22

    Can Willingham be any worse than Sheffield/Abreu out there in right? We’ve already put up with their defense for a while in exchange for some offensive production.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Additionally, with Gardner & Granderson covering a lot of ground, perhaps they can help cover for his poor D. Seems like a viable option at the right place. That kind of offensive production doesn’t come cheaply and I like adding a RH bat to the OF.

      • jjyank

        I think if they moved Gardner to center, it might cover up a bit of Willingham’s shortcomings, for sure.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          I’m counting on that happening regardless of who plays right.

          • jjyank

            I hope so.

      • Jersey Joe

        Also, that 2007 team was fine with even Damon playing center and Cabrera playing left, or in 2008 when center field was Cabrera/Gardner/Damon and left field was Nady.

        However the 2005 team with Matsui/Williams/SHeffield was horrible as far as defense goes.

        I hope they can pry away Willingham, I would even give up Heathcott in the right deal.

    • Winter

      From just a quick glance at baseball-reference, Willingham appears to be worse than Abreu but better than Sheffield.

  • Robert

    It doesnt take a rocket scientist to know that the 4 owners of the Yankees (Hal,Hank,and there two sisters)have pulled the plug on spending!!!!
    2013 outfield sign Ichiro for RF and bring up Zmont and Melky Mesa as backups. Have this group keep the OF warm for Slade,Austin,Williams and Flores to battle it out in 2014

    • Engelbert


    • Phil

      don’t think those 4 guys are going to be ready for 2014 ..2015 more likely..

    • 0-Fur is Murder

      Do rocket scientist really follow baseball?

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Yes, and I know this with certainty.

      • Weeks

        Mostly just rocket surgeons.

  • Duh Innings

    The Twin the Yanks should’ve acquired was Scott Baker and he wouldn’t have cost a single prospect.

    3.14 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, 123 SO, 126 H in 134 2/3 IP across 23 games (21 of them starts) in 2012.

    63-48, 4.15 ERA lifetime, only 31 years old.

    The shitass Cubs got him for a year and $5.5M base plus up to $1.5M in incentives. His base salary cost only $1.5M more than the 2012 salary of Freddy Garcia and $1.25M more than the 2012 salary of Pedro Feliciano ($4M salary for 2012 + $250K buyout.)

    Had the Yanks signed Baker, they could’ve re-signed Soriano, signed Soria, and with that best bullpen in baseball (Rivera I will assume is coming back/Robertson/Soria/Soriano/Aardsma/Logan/Rapada) went with a Sabathia/Hughes/Baker/Nova/Phelps rotation to start 2012 (if Pettitte returns just replace Nova or Phelps with him which means Nova and Phelps battle for the fifth starter job.)

    Cashman let the Cubs get Baker for $4.5M less than the cost of 2012 Kuroda, $7.8M less than the offer Kuroda turned down for 2013, and the Red Sox get Ross for $1.3M less than the cost of 2012 Martin across two years. But he did get Eli Whiteside LOL. Good job Cashman. Idiot.

    • Winter

      I was gonna whip out some stats to show why you’re wrong, then I looked back and realized you’re so incoherent I can’t actually figure out what your trying to say.

      • gc

        The “Duh” part pretty much sums it up. As usual with this guy.

      • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Drew

        Took me 3 times to read that last paragraph to sort of understand what he was trying to say.

    • jjyank

      What does Ross and Whiteside have to do with any of this?

    • Get Phelps Up

      “3.14 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, 123 SO, 126 H in 134 2/3 IP across 23 games (21 of them starts) in 2012.”

      He missed all if 2012 with TJS.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Baker is nothing more than a glorified Phil Hughes anyway. Practically indistinguishable. One of those guys is enough for me.

  • Duh Innings

    Willingham and Span? This is what it’s come to?

    Give Mason Williams or Tyler Austin a shot.

    If you re-sign Martin and Ibanez, you have Cano, Jeter, Teixiera, Granderson, Gardner, and yes, even Rodriguez to make up for any offensive deficiency Williams or Austin may have.

    I’d rather see a kid making the rookie minimum play than a hacker who can’t play RF really? (Willingham) or a super #4 OF (Span) who would cost the Yanks at least two prospects.

    • jjyank

      How about we see how Williams and Austin do in AA before putting them in the big leagues, hm? It is extremely likely that Span and Willingham would run circles around those two if they were in the MLB right now.

      • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

        Exactly. The idea that you can skip AA and AAA is just ludicrous.

        • Ghost of Joe Dugan

          If Mike Trout, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle had to get some AA and/or AAA AB’s what makes you think that Williams & Austin don’t DUH?

    • DC

      How about not assuming Willingham and Span “is what it’s coming to” simply because Mike wrote a potential trade partner piece.

    • Jersey Joe

      Okay, Mason Williams projects to be an above-average player, by no means he is supposed to be Matt Kemp. He is maybe an All-Star in his prime, but Mason Williams could be anything from Justin Maxwell to Bernie Williams. I wouldn’t take the risk and call him up this year.

  • Brian

    Choo & Masterson from the Indians for Yanks Hughes, Warren & Betances…..fair trade?

    • Winter

      I don’t know if the Yankees want that. Choo, despite his defense, is still yet another left-handed platoon bat. Hughes and Masterson have almost identical ERA+ over any time period you want to look at (Hughes is ever so slightly better). They’re peripherals are also near identical. I don’t think this is a trade the Yankees want to make.

      • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

        I think the Indians would laugh at this offer.

        • Jobu

          So what you are saying is . . . this trade proposal is bad for all parties involved – teams, players, fans, pets, everyone!

          • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

            As a Yankees fan, i’d do this trade tomorrow.

            Masterson is at least as good as Hughes though maybe with a lower ceiling if you still hold out hope that Hughes can cut back on his Homers so the trade comes down to Betances and Warren for Choo.

            Can’t see the Indians making that move.

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

    Willingham is an interesting candidate depending of course on the price to get him. I could see him play RF against lefties (if they resign Ichiro) and spend the rest of the time at DH though I think you wouldn’t bring back Ibanez in that case.

  • angel

    Enough of this nonsense!!! Yanks should send Nova, Cervelli, Nuñez and Betances to Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton. Please think big, be bold and leave the nonsense to your kids.

    • Max

      Yeah that would totally be enough to get Stanton. Not like he’s the best young hitter in baseball or anything cost controlled for the next four years. The Marlins will totally move him for some spare parts.


      • Rey22

        Mike Trout would like to have a word with you…

    • DC

      Stanton’s jock maybe.

    • Rey22

      Way too much to give up for the Yanks. Future ace, starting catcher, future all star SS and future closer for a 4th outfielder? Cashman would get fleeced.

      Offer them Eli Whiteside and have them throw in a couple of prospects they got from the Blue Jays along with Stanton and then maybe you have a deal.

      • Max

        F that, I’m not moving Whiteside! We just got him!

    • Ghost of Joe Dugan

      Sounds more like a package that would land you Mike Stanton.

    • Phil

      Nova, tyler austin, Warren, CoJo and Joba…..(Marlins are dumb) oh and pick up Nolasco salary!

  • Josh

    Phelps, Heathcott, Sanchez, Marshall & Nunez for Stanton & Nolasco or bust.

  • Mister D

    I wouldn’t be against a two part deal where we take in Span and send out Gardner to a team who “loses” the Bourn sweepstakes.