The Twins are tough to read. Beginning June 10, Minnesota enjoyed a three-game winning streak followed by a five-game skid succeeded by four straight victories with five straight losses immediately thereafter. They clearly aren't a great team, but there's enough talent to hang around.
The Cubs have to hope that Twins General Manager Terry Ryan finds himself engaged in bidding for one of the Chicago starting pitchers expected to be dealt in July as the Minnesota farm system is the class of baseball. While Jason Hammel appears an unlikely fit in Minneapolis, Jeff Samardzija would be an excellent addition for their medium-term goals.
With that, let's take a look at what the Twins might offer the Cubs in exchange for our ace.
Any conversation that beings with outfielder Byron Buxton likely ends shortly thereafter. He's simply too good and too valuable for Minnesota to move for either of the Cubs' starters.
But after Buxton, every member of the Minnesota farm could be in play. While it would be a massive surprise to see the Twins trade Dominican third baseman Miguel Sano, he may not be an untouchable prospect. Sano checks in at 6-3, 195 pounds with arguably the best power in the minor leagues and a massive arm, yet none of his other tools project better than average. Of particular concern, Sano's hit tool is generally underwhelming and his strikeout rate has been routinely in the mid-20% range as a professional. The power is exceptional and he likely profiles as a solid defender in an outfield corner, making him exceptionally difficult to deal. But Tommy John surgery in March and the contact concerns could render him available in the right deal. To be clear: this is a really, really long shot. But whereas Buxton is untouchable, Sano is pryable in my eyes (yes, I made up that word).
After Buxton and Sano, every player in the system is on the table, and the most intriguing option is behemoth 6-9, 220-pound righty Alex Meyer. Meyer uses his frame to generate consistent mid-90s heat with strong tailing action. His complements his fastball with a power slider and a usable changeup. The three-pitch mix is there. Command has regularly been an issue while the strikeouts have been there at every level including this year at Triple-A. Meyer's primary concern is the same one facing all 6-9 athletes: coordination. He appears to repeat a somewhat violent delivery rather well, but he could use improvement in that regard. If he ends up in the bullpen, Meyer will be pitching high-leverage situations.
Not to be outdone, last year's top pick righty Kohl Stewart would be the top arm in most systems around the league...and he is arguably better than Meyer despite his youth. Stewart is a prototype, a mature 6-3, 195-pound Texan who features four pitches that project to be above-average. His low-to-mid-90s heather with tailing action is the calling card with his mid-80s power slider right behind. His mechanics are solid, allowing easy heat to come out of his big frame and permitting strong projection on his curveball and changeup. Stewart has been unspectacular in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old, but he is one of the few arms in the minors with the ability to become a true ace at the top level. There is risk given his age. Like Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Stewart is a Type-1 diabetic.
The next prospect of note hails, like Javier Baez, from Bayamon, Puerto Rico: slender righty Jose Berrios. Berrios was a compensation round pick in 2012, and he has rewarded the Twins with electric stuff this far as a professional. Despite being just 6-0, 187 pounds, Berrios generates low-to-mid-90s gas with a tailing fastball. His curveball looks to be his out pitch while his changeup shows enough to challenge for the role of second offering. The Cubs may be concerned that Berrios generates very little groundball contact as deep fly outs at Target Field are often home runs at Wrigley Field. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old arm is enticing and the results at High-A have been marvelous.
Continuing with the hurlers, Australian lefty Lewis Thorpe packs a lot of punch from his 18-year-old 6-1, 160-pound frame. He has been blasted in his short stint in the Midwest League, but his short-season numbers from 2013 are mind-blowing: in 44 innings, he allowed just 32 hits and six walks while striking out 64 batters. His delivery is fantastically clean, and while he works in the high-80s with some tail, he has dialed his fastball up into the mid-90s on occasion. As a teenager, Thorpe has a ton of growth to do, but his fastball-curveball-changeup mix has the chance to be special with advanced command driving the projection. Thorpe is a real name to watch.
Next we come to Brady Aiken's former high school teammate, Stephen Gonsalves. Another southpaw, Gonsalves has a lanky 6-5, 190-pound frame. Despite being just shy of his 20th birthday, Gonsalves is still very raw, yet to pitch above the rookie leagues. He employs an old-school delivery that likely contributes to his command woes, although he uses a much more traditional delivery out of the stretch. Gonsalves is a project, but one with a sweeping curveball, solid changeup, and usable high-80s fastball. The 2013 fourth-round-pick was suspended in high school for supposedly covering up a teammate's drug offense, but Gonsalves himself does not appear to be a character risk.
In case the Cubs decide to look for back-end rotation options, Trevor May should come to the front of the list. May needed 41 starts to get out of High-A and 55 more to escape Double-A; nonetheless, he has been excellent in his first taste of Triple-A. At 6-5, 215-pounds, May has the body to hold up as a starter. 25 this September, the time is now. May entered 2012 as the top prospect in the Phillies organization with a low-90s tailing fastball, a 12-6 curveball, and a solid changeup earning the grade. His command has regularly been his undoing and may prevent him from having a career at the top level; still, he's worth a look.
The final prospect worthy of consideration, Dominican third baseman Amaurys Minier was Minnesota's prized international acquisition in 2012 when he signed for $1.4 million. Minier has already been moved from shortstop, and there is concern that he may move to first base in the future, significantly limiting any value to the Cubs. At 6-2, 190-pounds, the switch-hitter has a pretty swing from both sides of the plate with plus power projection from both sides as well. Minier is still just 18 and playing in rookie ball.
It's not that I forgot the position players after Sano; it's just that Jorge Polanco, the most interesting name after Sano, made the jump from High-A to Minnesota.
Before making the actual proposals, I have to reiterate that Hammel appears exceptionally unlikely to end up in Minneapolis. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the series:
Proposal #1: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Minnesota for starting pitcher Alex Meyer, starting pitcher Lewis Thorpe, and starting pitcher Trevor May
Proposal #2: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Minnesota for starting pitcher Kohl Stewart, starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves, and third baseman Amaurys Minier
Proposal #3: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to Minnesota for starting pitcher Alex Meyer
Proposal #4: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to Minnesota for starting pitcher Jose Berrios and starting pitcher Lewis Thorpe
Proposal #5 (another bonus!): Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and first baseman Dan Vogelbach to Minnesota for starting pitcher Kohl Stewart, starting pitcher Lewis Thorpe, starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves, third baseman Amaurys Minier, and starting pitcher Trevor May
Unlike Seattle, Minnesota does have a pair of premier power-hitting prospects in Buxton and Sano. Like Seattle, the Twins could desperately use Vogelbach's bat. Minnesota's team ISO of .128 ranks 12th in the American League and their 60 home runs rank 13th in the junior circuit. With Josmil Pinto likely to take over everyday catching duties from Kurt Suzuki in the near future and Kendrys Morales not long for Minneapolis, Vogelbach should have an everyday job waiting for him if he develops (given his last month, such development appears likely).
What do you think? Do these deals make sense for the Cubs? Here's hoping the Twins go on a nice winning streak to push themselves into "buyer" territory.