Buy, Hold or Sell? Twins have choices on Byron Buxton and José Berríos (unlocked)

I’m fascinated by the different paths this club could take before the deadline, and in this weeks’ full 5 Thoughts column I explored the 3 main roads they could take.

If we’re being honest, the weekend series with the Tigers didn’t contain much joy if you’re a Twins fan. Marie Kondo would have you discard it without a second thought. So that’s kind of what I’ve done here, opting instead to focus on the bigger-picture with the trade deadline looming.

Countdown: 11 days.

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3) There are basically 3 paths that the Twins can take with Byron Buxton & José Berríos

So much can change in 11 days. I’m not certain it will change. I’m still fascinated by the different paths this club could take before the deadline, and in this weeks’ full 5 Thoughts column I explored the 3 main roads they could take.

The Twins are trying to extend Buxton, according to a report this week from Ken Rosenthal. If they’ve made a similar push for Berríos this summer, it’s not clear based on this good piece in the Star Tribune by Phil Miller. He talked to Berríos about the looming decision on his and the Twins’ agenda: free agency.

As I’ve reported in the past, the Twins have been interested for a long time in making something work with Berríos, but it would have to make easy sense for them. And based on the starter’s word, relayed by Miller in his piece, there doesn’t appear to be any interest in taking some kind of a discounted offer, just because he’s not eligible for free agency for another 15 months.

Among several noteworthy lines from the Twins’ righthander, the one that gave the most critical insight into his camp’s thinking was this one: "[I will have been] waiting six years, almost seven, to get where every player wants to be — a free agent, able to maximize our value," Berríos said. "So it's different now. We are in a good position, and we'll see what the best deal is going to be."

The 3 basic options are simple

a) You could keep both and extend them
b) You could trade them both
c) You could keep one, trade the other

Given Minnesota’s stated intention to not simply stand pat at this deadline, I wouldn’t discount any of the three options. And given the club’s stated intention of contending in 2022, we have to give different weights to each possible path. Even without knowing the hypothetical trade returns by learning all 29 other team’s intentions, we can discuss in broad strokes what the options look like.

Each has its own set of variations, but these are the core of the 3 positions that they can choose in the next 11 days.

Twins President of Baseball Ops Derek Falvey re-iterated recently in an interview with MLB Network what they’ve said all along in the baseball ops department: they expect to contend again in 2022.

“My job is to always take phone calls and … listen to everything that’s discussed from team to team,” Falvey told MLB Network. “But for us it’s a really high bar to [trade away] guys that we think are going to be a big part for competing again for another American League Central Division Championship.”

That would suggest the Twins would much rather not trade either one. And to retain them would be relatively expensive.

Between the pair they’re making just less than $11.25 million this year. Bump that up to the needed $50+ million next year – factoring in that you’d want to extend them before they’re free agents – and you’re already over $100 million committed on the field without paying arbitration raises or adding free agents.

Their estimated player payroll to begin each of the past 2 years was about $130 million, which, combined with Pohlad’s comments about a willingness to keep both players, suggests a willingness to spend even in the current environment where we probably shouldn’t take that as given.

If you’re going to keep one and trade the other, which would you pick?

One reader on my Facebook page said that Buxton is the more replaceable player, but I think the truth is that we’ve seen this year that neither is imminently “replaceable.”

We know Buxton’s story in great detail. The risk, the upside, the whole bit. Trading him wouldn’t exactly square with their stated desire to win in 2022, but if they take that path perhaps the injury-excellence rollercoaster simply took one too many dips for their stomachs.

In the case of Berríos, I think the ability to replace him depends more on factors not involving him. For starters, he ranks 16th in the Majors in Wins Above Replacement among starting pitchers since the start of 2018. He’s made more starts than all but 5 pitchers, highlighting his under-appreciated durability. And while is 3.73 ERA in that span ranks just 34th among pitchers who qualify for the leaderboard, it’s better than stars like Kevin Gausman, Patrick Corbin, Luis Castillo, James Paxton, Germán Márquez, and teammate Kenta Maeda.

Raise the innings requirement to 500 frames since 2018, and you’re left with only 18 pitchers total. Berríos makes that cut, where he ranks 12th, between Corbin and Lance Lynn, who recently got $38 million to stay two more years in Chicago.

Berríos is a certified Good Pitcher and on a team where that’s notably absent, he sometimes gets criticized for not being Max Scherzer. Trading him would rely on faith that Falvey could recreate what he helped accomplish in Cleveland: aid a handful of pitchers in becoming stars, obviating the need to always keep the best one in the group. So far they’ve drawn accolade for finding unused players and turning them into useful pieces on a pitching staff. Outside of Maeda’s great 2020 season (for which I believe they deserve credit), these Twins haven’t really taken an already good pitcher and made him great. I suppose Tyler Duffey comes to mind even though he’s not one of the best relievers in baseball this season.

That good-to-great transformation would be necessary, say, if the Twins choose to keep Buxton, trade Berríos and bet big on the next wave of pitching talent: Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Josh Winder, Bailey Ober, Matt Canterino, Cole Sands and others.

With that said, nothing cratered the Twins’ chances in 2021 quite like their less than impressive pitching staff. It is kind of crazy how much the depth got rocked and the prospects were negatively impacted this year, washing out any hope of Plan B or Plan C working in the Twins’ favor. But it’s worth noting that their Plan A blew up to lead to this mess. Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ have been bad additions, and Álexander Colomé did more than any single player to swing would-be wins to Twins losses early this year.

So you’d think that Mission 1A would be to quickly rebuild the pitching staff with an eye to contending next spring. And you’d think that has to start with a cornerstone like Berríos. He and Kenta Maeda (if he’s indeed back to his best self) would comprise 40% of a competitive rotation. If you take José from the equation, you’re betting on Maeda’s continued recovery, prospects, and bidding against other teams to pay for free agents to round out the rotation.

There could still be plenty of trade activity even if the Twins do intend to retain their pending free agents of 2022 in Buxton, Berríos and Taylor Rogers. They could plan to contend next year and still wind up trading Nelson Cruz,Andrelton Simmons, Michael Pineda, Hansel Robles, Caleb Thielbar, Tyler Duffey and others.

If you had to replace Buxton this winter in free agency, how many 3-win centerfielders would be available to sign? Maybe one? Starling Marte (Marlins, for now) would be a free agent, and beyond that the depth of the class looks thin to me. I also tend to prefer Max Kepler in right field because I think he’s better than average there, whereas I don’t think he’s as strong in center relative to the rest of the league.

If you had to replace Berríos, meanwhile, the options are more plentiful. It’s hard to say with certainty what the industry will do this winter in terms of spending. What if there’s not a ton of money being thrown around in the winter? If the Twins are willing to spend, they’d be at a competitive advantage for adding a free-agent pitcher, along the lines of Kevin Gausman, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Eduardo Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, Charlie Morton, Carlos Rodon, Danny Duffy, or injury bounceback bets on guys like Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber or James Paxton.

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