The Twins have contacted the Royals this offseason about the possibility of acquiring center fielder Michael A. Taylor, reports Dan Hayes of the Athletic. However, Hayes adds that Minnesota was “discouraged” by Kansas City’s ask for right-hander Josh Winder in return. There’s no indication conversations between the clubs are still ongoing.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported last month that Kansas City was making Taylor available in trade. Minnesota is the first known team to have checked in with Royals GM J.J. Picollo and his staff regarding the defense-first outfielder. Even if talks didn’t advance especially far, Kansas City’s ask for Winder suggests they’re at least opening conversations regarding Taylor with a lofty goal. That might be especially true for an intra-divisional opponent like the Twins.
Winder, 26, is one of the more highly-regarded pitchers in the Minnesota organization. While he entered pro ball with little fanfare as a 7th-round pick out of VMI, he put himself firmly on the radar coming out of the canceled 2020 minor league season. Winder pushed his average fastball velocity up a few ticks into the mid-90s over the lost year and excelled over 10 starts at Double-A Wichita to start the 2021 campaign. He struggled in a four-start look with Triple-A St. Paul to end that season but nevertheless entered 2022 as one of the better prospects in the Twins’ system.
Baseball America slotted the 6’5″ hurler sixth in the Minnesota system heading into last season, calling him a potential mid-rotation starter. Winder broke camp with the MLB club and made his first 15 big league appearances. He made 11 starts and came out of the bullpen four times, working to a 4.70 ERA through 67 innings. His 16.4% strikeout rate and 35% grounder percentage were each markedly below average, though he continued his career-long track record of pounding the strike zone.
While it wasn’t a resoundingly successful debut effort, Winder showed enough promise to believe he could still play a long-term rotation role in the Twin Cities. He mixed four pitches with regularity, led by a 94 MPH fastball and mid-80s slider. Winder has long had above-average or better control and held his own against left-handed batters last season. Even if he never misses enough bats to reach the mid-rotation upside some prospect evaluators had forecasted, he’s an upper-level depth arm who could carve out a back-of-the-rotation spot as soon as this year.
Minnesota optioned Winder on a couple occasions last year. That exhausted his first of three option years but also means he fell shy of accruing a full year of service time. He’s controllable for at least another six seasons and additional assignments back to St. Paul could push his free agent trajectory back further. He won’t qualify for arbitration until after the 2024 season at the earliest.
It’s not surprising the Twins wouldn’t relinquish six-plus years of Winder’s services for Taylor, who is only under contract for the 2023 campaign. Minnesota could see each of Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda depart via free agency next offseason. That’d leave them with Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack and unproven younger arms like Winder, Simeon Woods Richardson and Louie Varland to vie for rotation spots as things stand. The long-term uncertainty has led the Twins to entertain trade possibilities with the Marlins about potentially adding a controllable starter like Pablo López to the mix.
While one season of Taylor’s services isn’t likely to bring back Winder, he should have a decent amount of appeal on the trade market. The veteran outfielder has had a productive two-year run in K.C. after spending the bulk of his career with the Nationals. Taylor has long been a below-average offensive player thanks to swing-and-miss concerns, but he’s one of the sport’s preeminent outfield defenders.
The 31-year-old (32 in March) has played upwards of 1000 innings in center field in each of the last two years. He’s been a stellar fit for spacious Kauffman Stadium, with Defensive Runs Saved estimating he’s been 19 runs better than an average center fielder in both seasons. His cumulative +38 DRS is head and shoulders above the rest of the league at the position, with Myles Straw checking in second at +21 runs. Statcast has been a little more conservative but still pegged Taylor as +19 runs over the past two seasons, tied with Harrison Bader for second behind Straw.
While whether Taylor’s truly the league’s best defensive outfielder or “merely” in the top handful is debatable, it’s clear he’s an elite gloveman. That drives his value, as he carries a modest .249/.304/.357 line in just under 1000 plate appearances as a Royal. To his credit, Taylor has tamped down on the massive strikeout rates of his time in Washington, with last season’s 23.9% strikeout percentage only a couple points worse than the league average. He’s had to sacrifice some hard contact to put the ball in play more frequently, posting the two lowest isolated power marks of his career the last couple seasons.
Even as a bottom-of-the-lineup type, Taylor’s a valuable player. He’s also making just $4.5MM in 2023, meaning he should be able to fit on virtually any club’s payroll ledger. Minnesota eyed him as a fourth outfielder as potential injury insurance behind Byron Buxton and a right-handed bat to integrate into an outfield that skews very left-handed. Yet he could appeal to other clubs as more of an everyday center field option, particularly given the market scarcity at the position. The free agent center field market is barren enough the Red Sox agreed to terms with Adam Duvall — who’s 34 and has been mostly a corner player throughout his career — to play up the middle. Trade possibilities are similarly sparse, particularly since the Pirates have remained firm on their ask for Bryan Reynolds.
That all makes Taylor a potentially interesting trade candidate. The Royals’ discussions with the Twins suggest they’re not prepared to move him without getting a strong return. That seems unlikely to come from Minnesota, though teams like the Marlins, Dodgers, Rangers and Rockies could check in as they continue to seek out help at the position.
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