The New York Yankees‘ offseason has been riddled with trade rumors and free agent speculation, but they could look to the Minnesota Twins to bolster their offense.
Two players that can help revive the Yankees’ offense
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, despite picking up the club options on infielder Jorge Polanco and outfielder Max Kepler, the Twins are looking to shop either or both players on the trade market.
“He is someone who is available and people around the industry think there is a very strong chance that the Twins will in fact move Jorge Polanco this winter,” Morosi said on MLB Network on Nov. 10.
Polanco has had a wRC+ over 118 for the past three years, and despite a large plate appearance drop from his over 30 home run season in 2021, he would be a large upgrade over former third-baseman Josh Donaldson. Polanco would be a rental at 30 years old, but with the market for third-baseman very sparse and several prospects knocking at the door, Polanco could be a great addition to the Yankee infield.
According to Morosi, Kepler could also be on the market, which would serve as another rental that could send Aaron Judge to center field in place of Yankees’ No. 2 prospect Jasson Domingez, and Kepler to right or left field.
Kepler had a bounceback season in 2023, with a 124 wRC+ slashing .260/.332/.484 with 24 home runs. When looking at MLB’s statcast, his numbers jump out as a left-handed bat that can thrive in Yankee Stadium, with a 12.2% Barrel Rate, in the 89th percentile of exit velocity, and four more expected home runs in Yankee stadium according to statcast. Kepler also had a 169 wRC+ at home against righties and pulled almost half his batted balls.
Where he differs from a left-handed slugger like Joey Gallo, is his ability to limit whiffs, and a slightly above-average plate discipline. Along with all of these offensive benefits, Kepler also has four outs above average and is one of the best outfielders in right in the MLB.
Both of these players played with the Yankees’ new hitting coach James Rowson from 2017 to 2019, as he was previously the Twins’ hitting coach in the year they broke the team record for home runs in a season.
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A Juan Soto deal may be too pricey
The Yankees have reportedly exchanged names for all-star outfielder Juan Soto, the biggest name on the MLB trade market at the moment. With a report from the Athletic stating that the Padres are struggling to pay finances for players, it makes sense for the Yankees to buy Soto with a plethora of prospects and pitching talent they have after losing 2023 NL Cy Young Blake Snell.
But the Yankees have several barriers to completing a Soto trade. The first is the sheer price for Soto that is being demanded by Padres general manager AJ Preller. The NY Post’s John Heyman reported on Dec. 1, “In the early stages, it’s fair to say an enormous gap exists.”
A big piece in the deal that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman refuses to give up is pitcher Michael King, a player considered to have high upside as a future starter. The other problem for the Yankees is the non-guarantee that Soto stays with New York, as he is set to hit free agency after the 2024 season. That would make Soto a very expensive rental, following a year where the Yankees went 82-80.
The Yankees are currently the betting favorites to land Japanese superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto, which would be a massive investment in capital to an already very expensive rotation. Soto will demand a heavy price with agent Scott Boras in the 2024-2025 offseason, something that the Yankees may not be able to afford.
The Yankees aren’t alone in the Soto sweepstakes, with reported competition with the Toronto Blue Jays, who also have prospect and pitching capital, and a more certain position than the Yankees after an 89-win season.
The Twins need pitching
After losing Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda to the Cardinals and Tigers respectively, the Tigers have holes to fill in their rotation. The Twins were ranked fifth in ERA and third in FIP as a staff which won them their first playoff series, led by Gray, who finished second in AL Cy Young voting.
When including the loss of Maeda, the Twins have parted ways with 288 innings of production, something that is not easily replaceable in a market in which the Twins may not be competitive. The Twins do not need an ace with Pablo Lopez perfectly capable of being the first starter, but will need depth to replenish their rotation.
Morosi’s same comments around Polanco and Kepler in November predicted that the Twins would lose Gray in free agency, which was cited as reasons the Twins are likely shopping them both.
“From a rostering standpoint you could move or package [Kepler] and/or Polanco to bring back the innings that you’re missing should Gray sign elsewhere.” Morosi said.
The Yankees have several options that can be offered to the Twins, some already being talked about in a Soto trade. The first is Michael King, who has the potential to be the third starter in the Twins rotation after a spectacular September. King not only offers spectacular upside but is under team control until 2026.
Another option the Yankees have on the block is Clarke Schmidt, coming off his first bulk season where he threw 159 innings and was under team control until 2028. The Yankees could also restock the Twins’ pitching farm, with either Chase Hampton or Drew Thorpe, two top-100 prospects according to the MLB pipeline.
Other options include the Yankees #10 prospect Will Warren, who is expected to be MLB-ready according to the MLB pipeline, Jhony Brito who had a 1.43 ERA as a reliever in his rookie season, and Yankees #14 prospect Randy Vásquez.
The difference between a Soto trade and a trade for Polanco and/or Kepler would be that only one or two of these pieces would need to depart to get the deal done, and would not cost the Yankees much in their quest to get back on track in 2024.