Trade takes Taylor to Twins
Who doesn't love an alliterative headline? Michael A. Taylor is on his way to Minneapolis. The Royals continue to stockpile minor league arms. Let's get transactional!
Six percent of Minnesota is covered by water. Now it looks like Michael A. Taylor is responsible for the remaining 94 percent.
The Royals and Twins matched up for the rare intra-divisional trade on Monday night. The Royals shipped their starting center fielder to Minnesota in exchange for minor league relievers Evan Sisk and Steven Cruz.
The trade marks the end of the Taylor era in center field for the Royals. In 984 plate appearances for the Royals, Taylor hit an underwhelming .249/.304/.357, good for an 83 OPS+, meaning he was 17 percent worse than the league-average hitter over that span. The value, as you know, was always in the glove. A premium defender at a premium position, Taylor is one of the top defensive center fielders in the game.
According to Statcast, Taylor was tied with Trent Grisham and Myles Straw with 20 runs prevented since 2021. In that time, Taylor was worth 22 Outs Above Average, just behind both Grisham and Straw who checked in with 23 OAA. He’s clearly an elite defender.
So despite the offensive limitations, Taylor’s glove made him worthy of a roster spot. In two seasons with the Royals, he was worth 3.5 fWAR. If you want to get into the whole dollars for fWAR thing, Taylor was worth $28 million to the Royals. I know, it seems insane given his lack of production at the plate. The fact is, a top defensive center fielder brings a ton of value.
And a ton of fun…
I’ve long argued that the plus defense means Taylor would be a perfect fourth outfielder on a contending team. That’s where he lands with the Twins. Minnesota has the oft-injured Byron Buxton as their regular center fielder with Max Kepler and Trevor Larnach penciled in at the corners. And somehow I forgot that Joey Gallo signed in Minnesota. He’s decent with the glove as well.
What this really does is gives the Twins some flexibility with Buxton. They can use him in center and give him half days off at designated hitter while Taylor fills in from time to time. It’s a savvy move for a team that hopes to contend.
Now, about the prospects the Royals received. The reports were the initial ask was Josh Winder who was the Twins’ number six prospect last year according to Baseball America. Not able to get Minnesota to bite, the Royals pivoted to a pair of relievers. It’s quite a comedown.
Both Sisk and Cruz were left unprotected in last month’s Rule 5 draft. Sisk is a lefty with a deceptive crossfire delivery.
He has a low-90s sinker with a curveball and slider as his secondary. The deception allows him to miss lefty bats and induce weak contact. He posted an 11.2 SO/9 in Triple-A last year and didn’t allow a home run in 34.2 innings. In Double-A, where he opened the year, he had an unheard-of 99 percent strand rate (the league average is roughly 75 percent) en route to a 0.92 ERA in 28.1 innings.
Reports are that he’s had difficulty repeating his delivery, leading to command issues. He posted a 3.5 BB/9 in Double-A and a 4.6 BB/9 in Triple-A. And while that delivery can confound hitters from the same side, right-handed bats don’t have the same issues spotting the baseball. He profiles as a situational lefty…As LOOGY as one can be in this day and age.
Cruz is a bit more of a heralded player. Baseball America had him as the 28th-ranked prospect in the Twins organization this winter.
“Sometimes watching Cruz, it’s hard to explain why he isn’t more effective. His plus fastball is hard enough to force every hitter to respect it. He sits between 96-99 mph and has touched 101. It has the potential to be a plus-plus pitch if he locates it better. His plus slider is even harder to hit. It’s an 89-91 mph power pitch the has just enough movement to miss bats.”
Sounds reliever sexy. With reliever pitfalls.
The return feels a little light, but right. The mechanics of a trade can be murky, but if reports are to be believe that the Royals opened by asking for a starting pitcher with plenty of team control and a strong prospect pedigree, then moving to a pair of bullpen lottery tickets…I suppose we’d have to say the Royals were motivated to move Taylor. The initial ask was probably a bit ambitious given Taylor’s true fourth outfielder role. Using last summer’s trades of Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield as a yardstick, the return for Taylor could maybe be a bit better…but just a bit.
Trade trivia interlude!
This is just the fifth trade between the Royals and Twins. It’s the first deal between the clubs since the Royals shipped Jason Adam north for Josh Willingham.
Willingham, you will recall, pinch hit for Mike Moustakas in the ninth inning of the Wild Card game and blooped a single down the right field line. He was then lifted for pinch runner Jarrod Dyson who scored on a Nori Aoki sacrifice fly to tie the game and send the game to extras.
It was Willingham’s last hit as a professional.
Neither player the Royals acquired is going on the 40-man roster initially. Cruz has been assigned to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Sisk is going to Triple-A Omaha. Of course, all that can change coming out of spring training.
There wasn’t a note in the Royals’ release about either reliever getting a non-roster invite. Roster Resource at Fangraphs does note that both players will open the spring in the big league camp.
With the subtraction of Taylor, the Royals 40-man roster currently has 39 players. You know what that means, right? The club is now free to make the Aroldis Chapman signing official.
It’s notable the Royals received two relievers for Taylor. Neither projects to move to the front of the bullpen pecking order, but both can be serviceable arms out of the bullpen. That’s a lesson that teams seem to lose track of from time to time: There’s a smarter way to construct a bullpen than throwing money at proven veterans. Sure, there’s no guarantee that either Sisk or Cruz will develop into any kind of major league reliever. There’s no guarantee that Chapman can rediscover his past successes either. Based on how his time in New York ended, there’s also no guarantee that Chapman will have the motivation to rediscover those successes.
For the payroll…By swiping out the Taylor contract for Chapman the Royals net a few dollars in savings. Their 2023 payroll currently projects to be around $85 million according to Cot’s Contracts. That’s $10 million less than last year and $5 million less than in 2021. That’s not really how this is supposed to work.
The upside of this trade is that it clears one more veteran off the roster and creates a full-time opening that Drew Waters can fill. How great would that be if Waters, acquired last July from Atlanta, could stick in center? I really liked what I saw from him in his limited time in Kansas City. In 109 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Waters hit .240/.324/.479, good for a 124 OPS+.
There are a ton of players I’d like to see succeed on this club. Waters’ success would be fantastic, not only for the player but what it would say about the talent evaluation of the front office and scouting department and the ability of the hitting coaches to unlock that talent. A potential complete organization success story. I can’t think of many things that would be better.
It’s entirely possible that the oldest player in the Royals’ regular lineup in 2023 (non-Salvador Perez division, naturally) would be Nicky Lopez.
Let’s get crazy.