The 2022 season is in the past, and with it, a lot of the Minnesota Twins biggest struggles have gone as well. Struggling players like Gary Sanchez, Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Miguel Sano have been wiped from the team’s books.
With their names off the 40-man, the team has ample money to spend in free agency to fix some of their biggest needs, including catcher, shortstop, bullpen, and outfield. While it’s undoubtedly likely that the Twins will spend at least a moderate amount, the team can also acquire players via trade.
There are multiple high-level catchers available, and with the Twins having a glut of talented players either on the 40-Man (they have a full forty) or just left off of it, the team has a need to swing a trade to clear some players out of the way. One popular name floated in trade rumors? Outfielder Max Kepler.
We break down the trade value of Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler.
Kepler, who is one of the longest-tenured member of the Twins’ big league roster (not named Jorge Polanco) had another down season in 2022, making his career year in 2019 look even more like a fluke, rather than the norm. With the value of his bat sagging, why would any team give up valuable assets for him?
Well, we can start with his defense. Kepler is a stellar defender. The Fielding Bible suggests Kepler finished eleventh among all outfielders in baseball with nine defensive runs saved, and Baseball Savant placed him in the 97th percentile in Outs Above Average. Any team adding him would be getting a truly elite glove.
As for the bat, there’s still a lot of underlying numbers that suggest Kepler is a lot better than his performance over the last two years. He ranked in the 74th percentile in xwOBA, 80th percentile in xBA, 88th percentile in K%, 84th percentile in BB%, and 78th percentile in Whiff %. His xSLG rate even suggests he should have hit for more power too. So what’s the issue?
Well, the shift is big one for him. The Analyst suggests that Max Kepler has lost 47 hits to the shift since 2020, the second most in baseball over that time period.
With a very reasonable $8.5 million owed next year and a $10 million team option ($1 million buyout) the year after that, he has a decent contract for what he could offer a team. Whoever employs Kepler in 2023 can likely expect a great defender who gets on base and boasts an improved bat with the shift out of the way. This creates a new question. Why should the Minnesota Twins trade him?
The answer is complicated. He’s going to be a plus player in 2023. I really believe that. Even if he’s propped up primarily by defense and OBP, he can be a great fourth outfielder and play when someone inevitably gets injured. The problem is that the team just has too many versions of a similar player.
Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Mark Contreras, Matt Wallner, and Nick Gordon are five of the other outfielders on the 40-Man roster, and all offer a left-handed bat. Only Byron Buxton, Gilberto Celestino, and Kyle Garlick are righties. With Buxton and Celestino both profiling in center field only, that means six of the seven remaining outfielders are lefties.
With Larnach and Kirilloff likely set to be the Opening Day starters in the corners and Nick Gordon set to reprise his role as a utilityman, the team probably wants to find a way to get Wallner playing time, and with Kyle Garlick as the only right-handed corner outfielder, that means Kepler could be the odd man out. Trading him to a team in need of a lefty outfielder makes sense.
All that said however, the Minnesota Twins’ biggest issue in the outfield last season was that the group couldn’t stay healthy. Buxton’s injuries are well documented. Kirilloff and Larnach haven’t stayed healthy since reaching the majors. Wallner is still unproven. You can’t trot out an outfield of Garlick (who also was injured a lot), Celestino, and Gordon and expect to win games.
Max Kepler’s trade value is actually pretty high heading into 2023. The removal of the shift will be big for him, and some contender would love to have him (the Padres still need outfield help). He could fetch a decent prospect or be the MLB player in a bigger deal for a star. Now the Twins have to decide: Is trading him now the best move?