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Testing the Trade Waters: the Royals and Twins

It’s trade deadline season and the Mariners look like buyers, so let’s examine who might be sellers

Minnesota Twins v Milwaukee Brewers
we promise to be nicer to you than this, Eduardo
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Somehow, July is already a third over and the All-Star Break is upon us, which means the trade deadline is sneaking up as well. That lends a little extra edge to tweets like these:

Obviously, normal scouting duties, due diligence, etc. etc. etc. But since this is a piece of information we have, why not pull it apart and examine the contents like it’s an owl pellet in 7th grade science class? So many tiny bones! Hello there, Whit Merrifield!

The Royals weren’t expected to do much this season, despite retaining the services of Mike Moustakas as the gravy to pour over the dried-out carcass of their 2018. Barring some form of Kansas City Devil Magic, with a poor farm system, the Royals were always positioned to sell. The Twins, on the other hand, have been one of the bigger disappointments in baseball. Once considered the winners of the off-season (or at least, runners-up for that title) for a series of cost-savvy moves that mostly gave baseball writers something to write about during a dull off-season, the Twins now sit at eight games under .500, well back of the division lead and with a chance of making the postseason of less than 2%. The Twins are in better shape than the Royals, both in terms of what’s on their MLB roster and the position of their farm system, and won’t be selling as aggressively. However, both teams have names that would be of interest to the Mariners.

The Twins will focus on reloading for another run next year against the suddenly-fallible-looking Cleveland club. That means premium, low-cost talent like Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios are almost certainly off the table, and most likely Kyle Gibson—who has another year left before free agency—as well. Jake Odorizzi has been a disappointment, but also has another year of arbitration left before he’s a free agent, and the Twins are already most likely going to trade one of their starting pitchers in Lance Lynn, so might want to hang on and hope for better days from the 28-year-old.

Lynn is on a one-year prove-it deal and so far has proven a disappointment. He hasn’t made it out of the seventh inning in one of his starts yet this season, and has gone five innings or less on nine other occasions. Lynn has been better lately than at the beginning of the season, when he gave up 22 ER over his first five games, but questions about his effectiveness and consistency persist. However, a starting pitcher is always attractive on the trade market, and the Twins should be able to wring some solid prospect capital out of him. It’s hard to see the Mariners sacrificing much, however, for a player who’s been only marginally more valuable than Wade LeBlanc. It’s worth noting Lynn wasn’t starting the game at which the Mariners had scouts.

As for the pen, it’s hard to see a fit here. 35-year-old lefty Zach Duke is having a solid year and will be available as a rental, but the Mariners are lefty-heavy in their rotation and have both Pazos and Elias in the pen. Addison Reed has been a disappointment as the setup man after signing a two-year, $17MM contract this off-season; the Twins are probably stuck with him and will have to hope reliever volatility volatiles Reed back into usefulness. Speaking of reliever volatility, everyone take a minute to appreciate Edwin Diaz, whose performance this year means we don’t have to entertain the idea of a Fernando Rodney reunion.

The most interesting possibility for the Mariners in Minnesota might be 3B/SS Eduardo Escobar. In his last year before free agency and making about five million, Escobar is quietly having a two-WAR season, good for second-best on the Twins. Escobar is a super-utility player who can play anywhere on the diamond, including emergency catcher, so he’s basically Andrew Romine but able to hit. His cost would be steep but if the Mariners are serious about adding a premium offensive upgrade, Escobar is one of the most appealing names on the market. With Canó missing the postseason, should the Mariners make it, and the pitching more resilient than anticipated, it’s worth making a serious run at Escobar, regardless of the cost.

Available, but the Mariners most likely have no interest: Brian Dozier (we can’t find places for all our second basemen already, plus the Dodgers are interested), Joe Mauer (mostly because of his full no-trade clause), Logan Morrison (as much as Dipoto loves reunions with former players).

In turning to the Royals, things open up a little more. The Royals, with one of the worst-ranked farm systems and on pace for a potentially historic 100+-loss season, should be open to dealing almost anyone. Craig Edwards makes the case that the Royals should deal Whit Merrifield, who is by far their most valuable player, but Merrifield, due to getting a late start to the majors, still has a full year of team control remaining before he even enters arbitration. His price will be too high for the super-utility role Seattle could use him in. Lucas Duda is available and the cost would be low, but it’s hard to see that as any kind of upgrade from what the Mariners have in-house. Duda’s value is as a lefty bench bat, and the Mariners have the Spamel platoon for that.

As for the outfielders, it’s a question as to whether any of them represent actual upgrades over Seattle’s flock: Jorge Bonifacio, just off suspension, doesn’t have much of a track record in the majors; Alex Gordon’s contract is elephantine, and Jon Jay is...whoops, gone already. Jorge Soler is having a strong year, but he’s not a rental, with two additional years remaining on his contract after this, and he hasn’t played since late June after fouling a ball off his toe.

That leaves the pitching as the most appealing smoke-damaged pile for the Mariners to sort through. The Royals’ bullpen is worst in baseball, so it’s hard to see a lot of appealing candidates there, but there are some intriguing names. Rookie Tim Hill has an ERA of six-plus that belies his FIP in the mid-3s and gets lots of ground balls, but can waver a little, as he did when he blew the save for the game Mariners scouts attended. Oops. Below him, it’s another question of: does any of this actually make the Mariners better? Wily Peralta has been fine, but things get very murky after that as the Royals continue to run through relievers to see who can right the ship.

However, there are a few interesting options in starting pitching. The Royals will cling to breakout bright spot Brad Keller and fellow youngster Scott Barlow, but virtually any other pitcher on the roster should be up for grabs. Jason Hammel has essentially pitched himself out of any trade value, as the Royals recently sent him to the bullpen. Ian Kennedy continues to own one of the worst pitcher contracts in baseball and the Royals would probably be delighted to send him away. Kennedy’s BB rate isn’t as bad as it was last year, when he walked over 9% of batters he faced, but it’s still pretty lousy, especially for a pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts. Kennedy might be an intriguing rehabilitation candidate for Brian DeLunas and co. to work some magic on, but it’s tough to see him helping out this club in a significant way this year.

It says a lot about the Royals’ rotation that even with that said, Kennedy still checks in as the Royals’ fourth-most valuable pitcher by fWAR. Former ace of the rotation Danny Duffy is having a terrible year, posting an FIP that’s a full run higher than his career average, and almost two runs higher than last year. The big problem for Duffy has been twofold: a career-high 13.2% HR/FB rate, and a walk rate almost double what he posted last year. It’s easy to see how those two things could impact each other: Duffy falls behind in counts, then serves up a meatball; or, Duffy gives up the HR, and then starts nibbling and walking guys. Looking at his career numbers, it’s easy to see this year as an outlier, especially if Duffy—who has professed his love for Kansas City and desire to remain a Royal for life—is struggling with some off-field issues. He’s still owed about 50 million over the next three years and change, so if the Royals do trade him, the prospect cost should be relatively low unless the Royals pick up some salary relief, putting him within the Mariners’ price range. However, the Royals might also choose to hold Duffy for the remainder of this year and allow him to re-establish some value. It’s worth noting that Duffy started the game the Mariners had scouts in attendance for, going six innings of six-hit, nine-strikeout ball against the Twins.