The Twins had high expectations for 2021, placed among the favorites to win the American League Central for the third straight season. The team has not been able to overcome a slow start, however, and is currently 14.5 games back in their division and 13 games back in the Wild Card. The Twins will certainly be sellers in July heading towards the trade deadline, but their ability to match up with the Yankees might come down to how many pieces they are willing to deal.
The Yankees center field and left field play this season has been among the worst in baseball — they rank last in the American League for WAR at both positions. Aaron Hicks struggled early before his wrist injury was diagnosed and the resulting surgery ended his 2021 season. Brett Gardner has been unable to lock down the position and the Yankees are clearly seeking an answer at the position as they traded for Tim Locastro recently.
Much like Hicks during his time in Minnesota, Byron Buxton is playing out to be a former top prospect that battles injuries a bit too much. Unlike Hicks, however, Buxton finally looked like he was capitalizing on his massive potential early this season, clubbing 10 home runs and producing 2.9 WAR in just 27 games. After a fast start Buxton hit the injured list and only returned for a few days before he was hit on the hand and was again out of action. He is expected to be able to return to the lineup by late July.
Buxton is currently making $5.13 million this year and has one more season of arbitration before becoming a free agent ahead of the 2023 season. The question is how much will he cost in terms or prospects and can the team acquiring him trust that he will remain on the field? Buxton has only played more than 92 games in a season one time since his major league debut in 2015. He certainly fits a need and his offensive improvement this season did not come out of the blue — his wRC+ has risen in each of the last two seasons, to 116 and 126 respectively.
If the Twins organization is heading into a deeper rebuild, the Yankees could engage them for multiple pitchers that would certainly be desired at varying levels across baseball.
Jose Berrios is the 27 year-old head of the Twins pitching staff. Next season will be his last year of team control, and if the Twins are looking to cash in big on their path to a rebuild or even just a restructure he is their best trade piece. Berrios accumulated 6.6 WAR across the 2018 and 2019 seasons and is exactly on pace to reach 3.0 WAR again this year. He is not an ace, but a solid number two or three starter that could provide a boost to the Yankees rotation and relieve the pressure on the Yankees bullpen.
The Twins bullpen may also have an intriguing option for the Yankees to pursue in left-handed reliever Taylor Rogers. The 6-foot-3 lefty has been a steady presence in the Twins bullpen for several years now, and like Buxton and Berrios he has one year of arbitration left before he hits free agency. He has struck out 23 of the 49 left handed hitters he has faced this season, but in the age of the three batter minimum he is also far from helpless against right handed hitters.
There are other players on the Twins that the Yankees could look at, but I’m not sure if they are the answer to what the Yankees need. Andrelton Simmons is another player on a one year deal with the Twins and could be an option for the Yankees if they are looking to reshuffle the infield or suffer an injury between now and the trade deadline. Simmons is not much of a bat, but he is currently showing to still be an elite defender registering in the 100th percentile of players in outs above average. For context, Gleyber Torres is currently in the sixth percentile for this stat.
The Yankees would also be a good fit for Jorge Polanco as the middle infielder is an above league average hitter who can play several positions. However, Polanco has a team friendly deal that has him under team control potentially through 2025 with vesting options, so he is likely not the first player the Twins will be looking to move.
In addition to Simmons the Yankees could be tempted by Josh Donaldson, but after passing on repeated opportunities to sign him in free agency over the last several years it is unlikely that the team will be looking to add him now through trade, especially after he targeted Gerrit Cole with comments regarding sticky substances on the baseball earlier this season. Kenta Maeda is a well known name but he has not performed well for the Twins this season, registering a 5.56 ERA that the underlying statistics don’t think is any kind of fluke.
A name who feels like he is almost certain to move in the coming weeks is the ageless wonder Nelson Cruz. Right now he is a terrible fit for a Yankees lineup that has Giancarlo Stanton locking down the designated hitter position. The Yankees may want to keep their eye on Cruz anyway in case the injury bug calls. He is currently on a one year deal that pays him $13 million and is hitting .310/.382/.584 with 18 home runs on the season.
The Yankees and Twins are both underperforming their expectations this season. The Twins are much farther out of the playoff race and are a prime candidate to move some of their talented players. Over the next few weeks we will see if the Yankees see potential help for 2021 and possibly beyond coming from the Minnesota roster.