6:00 PM: Left-handed Evan Sisk rightly so Steve Cruz are going back to Kansas City, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link).
5:58 PM: The Twins acquire midfielder Michael A Taylor in a trade with the Royals, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel. He will add a high-end defensive option behind Byron Buxton as the fourth outfielder in Minnesota.
Taylor has spent the past two years in Kansas City. Initially signed to a $1.75 million annual warranty through the 2020-21 off-season, Taylor impressed the Army of Royals with his outstanding outfield defense. The slender midfielder turned out to fit perfectly in the spacious Kauffman Stadium and an organization that considers defense of paramount importance. He secured his first career Gold Glove in 2021 and earned a $9 million extension for the 2022-23 campaigns late in that season.
During the first season of that new two-year deal, Taylor continued his typically excellent defensive play. He recorded just over 1000 innings of midfield work, with Defensive Runs Saved being 19 runs better than an average defender in the most demanding position of the outfield. It was the second straight year in which DRS rated him +19 runs, making him by far the game’s most valuable defensive outfielder by that measure. Since the start of 2021, no other midfielder has achieved more than 21 DRS in total – with a second-place finish Myles straw well behind Taylor’s cumulative +38 mark.
Statcast wasn’t too thrilled with Taylor’s work last season, though it also rated him as an above-average midfielder. The Outs Above Average stat put Taylor at +5 runs last year after rating him 14 runs above average last season. Straw narrowly cuts him out over the two-year stretch with that mate, but Taylor still checks in second at the position dating back to the start of the ’21 season.
Of course, Buxton is one of the few outfielders in the game who is as good or better than Taylor defensively. However, he doesn’t have the same chance to jump to the top of the league in cumulative defensive stats as injuries have kept him off the field quite a bit over the past few seasons. Buxton has played 955 innings in midfield over the past two years, fewer than Taylor has reached in any single season. He has suffered from strains in his right hip for the last few seasons and missed a few months in the second half of 2021 after breaking his left hand on a hit-by-pitch. Buxton also played through a right knee injury last season, an injury that required surgical repair at the end of the season when the Twins fell out of the playoffs.
The All-Star outfielder shows MVP caliber on its head when healthy and will clearly remain Minnesota’s starting midfielder. However, he’s only won 100 games in a season once, so it’s understandable that the Twins would want to bolster their outfield depth behind him. Gilberto Celestino was the best reserve option last year, but he only hit .238/.313/.302 with a pair of home runs in 347 trips to the plate. Celestino is a good defender, but not on Taylor’s level. With one minor league option year left, the 23-year-old could open the season in Triple-A St. Paul as he jumped the depth chart.
Right fielder Max Kepler is athletic enough to handle midfield if needed, though there’s no guarantee he’ll even be on the roster on opening day. Minnesota has a number of left-handed outfielders on its roster, making them more likely to deal from that group to tackle other areas, such as first base or the bullpen. Kepler, as the oldest player in the group and the one with the least remaining club control, would be the most likely candidate for such a move.
Despite that apparent surplus, the Twins traded for an outfielder, though Taylor’s right-handed bat will help balance things out. He has posted below-average overall offensive numbers throughout his career, posting a .241/.296/.381 line over parts of nine big league seasons. Aside from a solid .271/.320/.486 showing at the Nationals in 2017, he’s been an underpowered hitter in every year of his career. That’s been the case regardless of the pitcher’s handedness, though predictably he’s been a little better at keeping the pack advantage. Taylor has a .257/.310/.412 career line against left-handed pitching, compared to a .235/.290/.369 against right-handers.
Strikeouts were the main problem for the 31-year-old. He fell out in 29.4% of his career trips to the plate while walking at a measly 6.9%. To his credit, Taylor took a small step forward in that department last season. His 23.9% pass rate last year was a personal low, only a few percentage points higher than the league mark. He appeared to sacrifice some impact for that, with last season’s hard contact percentage of 32.3% representing the lowest mark of his career.
Clearly, Taylor won’t be counted on to deliver a major offensive shock. He brings some balance to the lineup and joins Celestino as the lone right-swinging outfielders on the 40-man roster. More importantly, he will provide manager Rocco Baldelli with a good defensive option, either from the bench or if needed in case Buxton misses time.
It’s an affordable addition for the Twins, who will take on the $4.5 million Taylor owes over the upcoming season before going free at the end of the year. That brings Minnesota’s projected payroll to $155 million, as calculated by Roster Resource. That will be a franchise record, with the club opening in the $134 million range last year. The Twins were pretty quiet this off-season until the calendar flipped to 2023, but they’ve re-signed Carlos Correaturned around Luis Arraez for paul lopez and prospects and now brought Taylor in within a few weeks. Minnesota thinks it will continue to scour the market for upgrades, at least around margins, as they battle the Guardians and White Sox in the AL Central.
Meanwhile, the Royals are sending off a veteran for future help after a 65-win season. Taylor looked like one of the better trade candidates on the roster as a menacing free agent. Kansas City initially asked a pretty big question, reportedly aimed at right-handers Josh Winder in initial conversations with the Twins. Minnesota declined and the sides eventually turned to a pair of minor leaguers.
More to come.