Scouting The Trade Market: Minnesota Twins

Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)
Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is now one week and one day away, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of which teams will be sellers and which will be buyers. The Yankees, like or not, will be buying. Yesterday’s Chase Headley trade confirmed that. They’re 1.5 games out of a playoff spot in Derek Jeter‘s final season and selling just isn’t something they’ve done during the Steinbrenner era. Rotation help is a clear need, ditto an upgrade in right field. Possibly second base too, though they might be able to solve that internally.

At 47-53, the Twins have the ninth worst record in baseball, and GM Terry Ryan recently told Rhett Bollinger he is planning to listen to trade offers for his veteran players over the next eight days. “We’re in a tough spot right now and we’ve been in a tough spot for four years, so you have to listen. And that’s what we do,” said Ryan. Outside of Brian Dozier, hometown guys Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins, and probably the resurgent Phil Hughes, I’m not sure Minnesota has any untouchables.

I’ve been splitting these Scouting The Market posts up into position players and pitchers by team, but the Twins have an amazingly thin roster, so I’m going to lump all of their trade chips together into one post. Prying Dozier and his right-handed pop/above-average defense at second base loose would be an amazing get for the Yankees, but I just don’t see it. Here’s a look at the Twins players who are actually available and possible fits for the Yankees.

OF Josh Willingham
The 35-year-old Willingham has consistently been an above-average hitter since breaking into the league full-time in 2006 — his 117 wRC+ in 2007 was his lowest from 2006-12 — and his best season came in 2012, his first in Minnesota. He hit .260/.366/.524 (142 wRC+) with 35 homers that year, which was the first covered by his three-year contract worth $21M. In hindsight, the 2012-13 offseason was the perfect time to trade him. His value was never getting any higher.

Willingham dropped down to .208/.348/.368 (102 wRC+) with 14 homers in 471 plate appearances last season while missing a month and a half with cartilage damage in his left knee. This year he is sitting on a .212/.358/.412 (116 wRC+) batting line with nine homers in 215 plate appearances around a hairline fracture in his left wrist that sidelined him for almost two months. (He suffered the injury on a hit-by-pitch.) As the batted ball data at Baseball Heat Maps shows, the average distance of the balls Willingham has hit in the air is holding steady, which is encouraging:

Josh Willingham Batted Ball Distance

The Yankees have only gotten 16 homers out of their right-handed hitters this season and right-handed power is Willingham’s best tool. He might not ever hit 35 homers like he did two years ago again, but his .200 ISO is in line with his career average (.214). He’s actually hitting more balls in the air than ever before (29.1% grounders), which helps explain his career worst .250 BABIP. Fly balls are often easy outs. Willingham has always drawn a ton of walks (16.7% this year and 12.0% career) and, frankly, that’s something the Yankees need in addition to his righty pop. He isn’t going to hit for much average, but if healthy he’ll hit the ball out of the park and still get on base at a respectable clip.

Willingham has played left field exclusively the last five years, which is a problem. He has only 264.1 career innings in right and they all came way back in 2009. The Yankees would be asking him to play an unfamiliar position by sticking him in right. Willingham’s contract is a non-issue since he’s in the final season of his deal and similar rental outfielders like Ryan Ludwick and Shane Victorino have not cost much in recent years, so the left field/right field thing is the only problem. He’d be a fantastic addition to the lineup. It’s just a question of where he’d play.

Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

3B Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe, 28, made a name for himself by hitting 24 homers two years ago even though it came with a less than impressive .235/.301/.455 (105 wRC+) batting line. Leg and wrist problems limited him to 14 homers and a .254/.309/.392 (93 wRC+) line last year, though this season he’s rebounded to hit .243/.315/.413 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and an already career-high 29 doubles in 355 plate appearances. Plouffe did miss time with a ribcage/oblique problem last month.

Like Willingham, Plouffe’s calling card is his right-handed power. He owns a .170 ISO this year and a career .171 ISO, which is solidly above-average, though he has actually hit for more power at home in spacious Target Field (.187 ISO) than on the road (.153 ISO) over the years. The spray charts show Plouffe does the most damage when he pulls the ball to left, which fits well with Target Field but not Yankee Stadium. Teaching a guy to go the other way to hit for power is not something that is easy or can happen overnight.

The various defensive stats say Plouffe is a below-average defender but not a disaster at third base, though that position is no longer a problem with Headley on board. He also has experience at first base, second base, and in the two corner outfield spots, so there would be ways to get him into the lineup, plus he’d give the team third base protection next year. Plouffe is what he is, a low batting average third baseman with some power and just enough walks (7.5% career) to get on base three out of ten times. He’s making $2.35M this year, his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two, so there’s a good chance he’ll be a non-tender candidate soon. Mark Reynolds was traded for two Triple-A relievers at a similar point in his career, and he hit 44 homers the year before the trade, so yeah. The price shouldn’t be high.

RHP Kevin Correia and RHP Samuel Deduno
The Yankees need some innings, right? Well, these two can given them. I’m not saying they’ll be quality innings, but they’ll be innings. The 33-year-old Correia has a 4.76 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 20 starts and 113.1 innings this year, and over the last few seasons he’s been consistent 4.40-ish FIP guy who misses zero bats (4.29 K/9 and 10.8 K%) but limits walks (2.30 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%). His ground ball rate (41.2%) isn’t anything special either. Correia would be a pure rental (owed another $2M or so), but, in addition to not being very good, he doesn’t really fit what the Yankees look for in a pitcher, namely grounders and/or strikeouts.

Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Deduno, 31, has been a swingman for Minnesota this year, pitching to a 4.32 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 73 innings across eight starts and 13 relief appearances. Last season he managed a 3.83 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 108 innings as a full-time member of the rotation (for half the year). Unlike Correia, Deduno has some bat-missing ability (7.15 K/9 and 18.1 K%) and really excels at getting grounders (55.2%) thanks to his heavy upper-80s sinker. The pitch runs all over the place (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) and he backs it up with a hard low-80s curveball. The Yankees just brought in Brandon McCarthy for his ground ball heavy ways and adding Deduno would be along the same lines, though he doesn’t offer the same name value. Both Deduno and (especially) Correia figure to come cheap. Deduno is still in his pre-arbitration years, by the way.

Miscellaneous Relievers
The Twins seem to have a knack for rostering relievers I’ve never heard of. Their primary setup men ahead of Perkins are righty Casey Fien (2.34 ERA and 3.23 FIP) and lefty Caleb Thielbar (2.81 ERA and 3.26 FIP), who bounced around waivers and signed out of an independent league, respectively. Lefty Brian Duensing (2.35 ERA and 3.90 FIP) has been around a while and been used in every role imaginable, but this year he’s settled in as a one-inning reliever. Not necessarily a matchup guy either. Veteran retread Matt Guerrier (3.86 ERA And 3.92 FIP) and long man Anthony Swarzak (4.34 ERA and 3.37 FIP) don’t excite anyone. Meh. I don’t think you could convince me any of these guys would be a real help going forward, but more pitching never hurt anyone.

* * *

Willingham is the best fit for the Yankees among players on the Twins roster who figure to actually be available, though acquiring him would mean someone would have to play out of position in right field. It would either be him or Brett Gardner. That’s not ideal. His right-handed power would be a huge help for the offense though. Plouffe is an expensive utility man who can hit the ball out of the part and, as always, the Twins really don’t have many interesting pitchers. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot with that “okay stuff, no strikeouts, pitch-to-contact” profile. I’d be all for a Willingham trade if I only knew how they’d get him into the lineup defensively.

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7/3-7/6 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The homestand from hell is finally over and the Yankees are heading to a place that has been very kind to them over the years. The Bombers are 73-24 against the Twins during the Ron Gardenhire era, including 13-3 all-time at Target Field, where they will play their next four games. The Twins did take two of three in Yankee Stadium about a month ago.

What Have They Done Lately?
Manager Ron Gardenhire’s team just lost two of three to the Royals and they’ve dropped seven of their last nine and 23 of their last 38 games overall. At 38-45 with a -30 run differential, they’ve settled into last place in the AL Central.

Offense
The Twins average 4.17 runs per game despite a team 94 wRC+, so they’re below-average at the plate but about average in scoring runs. Timing is everything, I guess. The Yankees will not see 1B Joe Mauer (94 wRC+) this weekend — he was placed on the disabled list with an oblique strain yesterday. He’s having a disappointing year anyway. UTIL Danny Santana (129 wRC+) is out with a knee injury and isn’t expected to return this series.

No Mauer this weekend. (Presswire)
No Mauer this weekend. (Presswire)

With Mauer hurt, Gardenhire’s lineup revolves around 2B Brian Dozier (116 wRC+), OF Josh Willingham (137 wRC+), and 1B/DH Kendrys Morales (55 wRC+ in limited time). Morales, like Stephen Drew, has not yet gotten it going at the plate after sitting out the first two and a half months of the season. 3B Trevor Plouffe (100 wRC+) has been fine and C Kurt Suzuki (113 wRC+) has been good overall but not as good since taking over as the everyday catcher when C Josmil Pinto was sent down.

UTIL Eduardo Nunez (124 wRC+ in limited time) has been leading off lately. Get ready for a lot of “shoulda kept him!” talk, because we all know everyone felt the Yankees should have kept him and given him another chance back in Spring Training. OF Oswaldo Arcia (83 wRC+) put on an outfield arm clinic in Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago. 1B/OF Chris Colabello (82 wRC+), IF Eduardo Escobar (99 wRC+), OF Sam Fuld (69 wRC+), 1B/OF Chris Parmelee (111 wRC+ in limited time), and former Yankees farmhand C Eric Fryer (-9 wRC+ in very limited time) round out the active roster.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
Hughes, 28, is going to be an All-Star in two weeks and not as the token Twin. He deserves to be there. Hughes has a 3.58 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 16 starts and 103 innings, mostly because he’s cut his homer rate all the way down to 0.61 HR/9 (5.5 HR/FB%). It’s not just the ballpark either — Hughes has actually allowed more dingers in Target Field (0.76 HR/9 and 6.3 HR/FB%) than on the road (0.49 HR/9 and 4.6 HR/FB%) this year. His strikeout (7.69 K/9 and 21.0 K%) and ground ball (36.9%) rates are a bit below-average, but he doesn’t walk anyone (0.87 BB/9 and 2.4 BB%). Hughes always threw a lot of strikes, but now he’s taken it to the extreme. Righties (.347 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.245 wOBA) for whatever reason in 2014. Hughes brought back his upper-80s cutter this year, replacing that awful low-80s slider. He’ll throw a few mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs per start, but for the most part it’s straight heat, low-90s fastballs in the zone. Phil held the Yankees to two runs in eight inning at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago.

Is that legal? (Tom Pennington/Getty)
Is that legal? (Tom Pennington/Getty)

Friday: RHP Chase Whitley (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (vs. NYY)
I can’t believe it’s been five years since the 26-year-old Gibson was drafted (22nd overall). I remember absolutely loving him at the time of the 2009 draft and hoping he’d fall to the Yankees, but alas. Gibson has a 3.77 ERA (3.77 FIP!) in 93 innings across 16 starts this season, though his strikeout rate (4.84 K/9 and 13.0 K%) is terrible. He does it by limiting walks (2.61 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%), getting grounders (55.5%), and keeping the ball in the park (0.58 HR/9 and 7.0 HR/FB%). Classic Twins pitcher, really. Lefties (.303 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.264 wOBA) and he’s been much better at home in Target Field (.240 wOBA) than on the road (.320 wOBA). Gibson works in the low-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs and in the mid-80s with his slider and changeup. He’ll throw one or two upper-70s curveballs per start. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. The Yankees did not face Gibson in New York earlier this season.

Saturday: RHP David Phelps (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Yohan Pino (No vs. NYY)
Pino is a 30-year-old rookie who will be making his fourth career start this weekend. He has allowed eleven runs on 19 hits and three walks in 15.2 innings in his first three games, striking out a dozen with a 26.9% ground ball rate. That all works out to a 6.32 ERA and a 2.97 FIP. Hooray for small sample sizes. Lefties (.399 wOBA) have clobbered him in his very limited time as a big leaguer (.293 wOBA by righties). Pino has exactly the kind of repertoire you’d expect from a 30-year-old rookie: upper-80s fastball, mid-80s changeup, low-80s slider, mid-70s curveball. He knows how to pitch, he served his time in the minors, he’s been waiting his entire life for this this, blah blah blah, cliche cliche cliche. Obviously Pino has never faced the Yankees before.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (vs. NYY)
A few weeks ago the 31-year-old Nolasco came into Yankee Stadium with the second highest ERA in baseball and held the Yankees to one run in six innings. His 5.49 ERA (4.40 FIP) is currently the highest in baseball among qualified pitchers, so he’ll probably throw a no-hitter this weekend. Nolasco’s strikeout (6.37 K/9 and 16.1 K%), walk (2.39 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%), and ground ball (42.0%) numbers aren’t all that different from the last few seasons, but he has become incredibly homer prone (1.33 HR/9 and 12.0 HR/FB%). Both lefties (.400 wOBA) and righties (.367 wOBA) have hit him hard, but lefties slightly harder. Nolasco has also been much better at Target Field (.321 wOBA) than on the road (.430 wOBA). He’s a kitchen sink guy, throwing upper-80s/low-90s two and four-seam fastballs, an upper-80s cutter, low-80s changeups and sliders, an upper-70s splitter, and a mid-70s curveball. Seven different pitches and he uses five of them regularly (the cutter and changeup are show-me pitches).

Perkins. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Perkins. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Gardenhire’s bullpen is relatively fresh coming into the series. No one has pitched in back-to-back days or three out of four, anything like that. Closer LHP Glen Perkins (1.88 FIP) is one of the five or six best relievers in baseball regardless of handedness. RHP Casey Fien (3.62 FIP) and LHP Caleb Thielbar (3.44 FIP) handle most of the setup work. Thielbar was pitching in an independent league not too long ago.

The rest of the Minnesota bullpen includes RHP Matt Guerrier (3.29 FIP), RHP Jared Burton (4.87 FIP), RHP Anthony Swarzak (3.59 FIP), and long man RHP Samuel Deduno (4.30 FIP). Not exactly the most intimidating group but they are generally effective. Check out the status of the Yankees bullpen with our Bullpen Workload page, then check out Twinkie Town for everything you need to know about the Bombers’ opponent through the end of the weekend.

Heyman: Twins agree to sign Kendrys Morales

The Twins have agreed to a contract with free agent first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, according to Jon Heyman. That came out of nowhere. The Yankees were said to have interest in Morales but not until they took some more time to evaluate Carlos Beltran (elbow) and Mark Teixeira (wrist), so now they’ll have to find lineup help elsewhere. Right field and second or third base seem like obvious spots to upgrade.

5/30-6/1 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Even as the Yankees struggled last season, their dominance over the Twins remained. They took five of seven from Minnesota and have won 72 of 94 games against the Twins during the Ron Gardenhire era, including the postseason. Four of those 22 losses came against peak Johan Santana. Gardenhire’s team is in the Bronx for a three-game weekend set.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Twinkies lost a close game to the Rangers yesterday afternoon and have dropped two in a row. They’ve also lost six of their last seven games. Minnesota is 24-27 with a -27 run differential overall, which has them sitting right smack in the middle of the AL Central.

Offense
Despite one of the highest walk rates in baseball (10.1%), the Twins are a slightly below-average club offensively, with a team 95 wRC+ and an average of 4.24 runs per game. They are currently without OF Sam Fuld (87 wRC+) long-term due to a serious concussion, but otherwise Minnesota is perfectly healthy on the position player side.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

As always, Gardenhire’s lineup is built around 1B Joe Mauer (96 wRC+), who had the tools of ignorance taken away this offseason in an effort to keep him healthy. 2B Brian Dozier (122 wRC+) has been very good (11 homers and 12 steals) and the catching platoon of C Yosmil Pinto (120 wRC+) and C Kurt Suzuki (114 wRC+) has been excellent. 3B Trevor Plouffe (108 wRC+) has had his moments and OF Josh Willingham (147 wRC+ in limited time) is just returning from a wrist injury. SS Eduardo Escobar (134 wRC+) has been awesome since taking over as the starter a few weeks ago.

OF Aaron Hicks (74 wRC+) stopped switch-hitting like four days ago and is still going through the adjustment of facing right-handed pitchers as a right-handed batter. OF Jason Kubel (83 wRC+) got off to a crazy start but has really cooled off of late. OF Chris Parmelee (62 wRC+), OF Oswaldo Arcia (108 wRC+), and IF Danny Santana (151 wRC+ in limited time) are also on the roster. Oh, and they’re carrying UTIL Eduardo Nunez (82 wRC+) too. He’s on outfielder now. Yep, playing left field. How about that?

Pitching Matchups (Pitcher GIFs is still down for whatever reason)

Friday: LHP Vidal Nuno (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (vs. NYY)
The Twins spent a lot of money this winter to improve their rotation, and most of that money went to the 31-year-old Nolasco. He signed a four-year deal worth $49M. The early returns: a 6.12 ERA (4.67 FIP) in ten starts and 60.1 innings. Ouch. Nolasco has a very good walk rate (2.39 BB/9 and 6.0 BB%), but he isn’t missing bats (5.97 K/9 and 15.0 K%), getting ground balls (41.7%), or keeping the ball in the park (1.49 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB). Lefties (.431 wOBA) are hitting him hard and righties (.358 wOBA) aren’t being so kind either. Nolasco is basically a kitchen sink guy these days. He throws upper-80s/low-90s two and four-seam fastballs, an upper-80s cutter, low-80s changeups and sliders, an upper-70s splitter, and a mid-70s curveball. Seven pitches. The cutter and changeup are show-me pitches more than anything, but he uses the other five regularly.

Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (vs. NYY)
Correia, 33, is the prototypical Twins pitcher in that he doesn’t strike anyone out (5.04 K/9 and 12.6 K%). It’s amazing a pitcher can have a strikeout rate that low. Then again, Correia has a 6.34 ERA (3.86 FIP) in ten starts and 55.1 innings, so it’s not like it’s working either. His walks are low (2.11 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) and he hasn’t had any homer problems (0.81 HR/9 and 6.0% HR/FB) despite a low ground ball rate (42.2%). He actually has a reverse split so far this season: righties have a .373 wOBA while lefties are at .340. Correia is another kitchen sink guy, and believe it or not, he uses his upper-80s two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter fewer than 40% of the time combined. A hard upper-80s slider is his top pitch, and he’ll also throw mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs. I get the sense PitchFX might be misclassifying some of his cutters as sliders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sunday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
After years of watching Hughes give up dingers and struggle to put hitters away, we’ll finally get to see how the other half lives. Hughes, 27, has actually been very good this year, with a 3.23 ERA (2.61 FIP) in ten starts and 61.1 innings. His strikeout (7.34 K/9 and 19.8 K%) and ground ball (32.6%) rates are right in line with his career norms, but he isn’t giving up as many homers (0.59 HR/9 and 4.7% HR/FB). Spacious Target Field certainly has something to do with that (1.9% HR/FB at home, 8.9% on the road). The biggest improvement in Hughes’ game is his walk rate. He always limited walks, but now he’s taken it to the extreme: 0.88 BB/9 and 2.4 BB%. Phil hasn’t walked a batter in his last 44.2 innings (!), a span of 125 batters. His streak of six straight walk-less starts is the longest in baseball since Stephen Strasburg also went six straight back in 2011. Go figure. Righties (.353 wOBA) have hit him much harder than lefties (.232 wOBA) so far. Hughes has always been a tinkerer and he again changed his repertoire this year, bringing back his upper-80s cutter and shelving his low-80s slider. He’ll throw a few mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs per start, but for the most part it’s straight heat, low-90s fastballs in the zone. What do you think, two runs in seven innings or seven runs in two innings? I feel like there’s no middle ground. Hughes will either dominant on Sunday or get hammered.

Bullpen Status
Gardenhire quietly has a strong back end of the bullpen, led by closer LHP Glen Perkins (1.33 FIP). He might be the second best lefty reliever in baseball behind Aroldis Chapman. Top five for sure. RHP Casey Fien (2.41 FIP) has been very good in a setup role and LHP Caleb Thielbar (3.63 FIP) gets the call to face the toughest left-handed batters.

RHP Jared Burton (5.62 FIP) is having a terrible year after being very effective the last few seasons. RHP Anthony Swarzak (3.17 FIP) is the long man while perpetual Twins RHP Matt Guerrier (2.93 FIP) and LHP Brian Duensing (4.62 FIP) round out the rest of the bullpen. Duensing, Swarzak, Fien, and Guerrier all pitched yesterday and Guerrier has pitched in each of the last two days. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees bullpen, then check out Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman’s Blog for everything you need to know about the Twins.

Neal: Twins agree to deal with Phil Hughes

Via LaVelle E. Neal: The Twins have agreed to sign Phil Hughes to a three-year contract worth $24M. I thought he would take a one-year deal, hope to rebuild value in 2014, then try to land a big contract next winter, when he would still only be 28. Hughes appears to have gone for the biggest payday instead, which is never a bad idea. Target Field should help his homerun problem, at least somewhat. The Yankees will not receive a compensation draft pick because they didn’t make Hughes a qualifying offer.