To call the Minnesota Twins sellers, especially at this point in the offseason, would be unfair. It's very apparent, though, that they're looking to move some pieces around. Earlier this week, the Twins sent All-Star infielder Jorge Polanco to join the Houston Astros' division rival in Seattle. The Mariners shipped a pair of prospects -- plus two big-league pitchers -- back to Minnesota in return.
Might the Twins be interested in another trade with an AL West team? The Astros have been rumored to have interest in a left-handed hitting outfielder with speed. Though Max Kepler is not necessarily fleet of foot, he checks a lot of other boxes. Jon Morosi of MLB Network mentioned that Kepler's name came up during previous discussions between the Twins and Mariners before Monday's deal was finalized.
Last season, Kepler posted an OPS of .816 with 24 big flies. The soon-to-be 31-year-old will be a free agent after the upcoming season and is slated to take home $10 million in 2024. With Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman entering the final guaranteed years of their contracts, and Justin Verlander turning 41 before the start of the season, should the Astros investigate the idea of bringing Kepler to Houston?
Could Astros target Twins’ Max Kepler after Minnesota’s deal with Mariners?
Kepler has massive pop in his bat. After struggling in 2022, the Twins' right fielder posted an expected slugging percentage of .499 and had an average exit velocity of 91.8 mph. Both figures ranked among the 88th percentile in Major League Baseball last season according to Baseball Savant.
The Astros are already over the Competitive Balance Tax threshold after agreeing to terms with Josh Hader on a five-year, $95 million contract. According to FanGraphs, the Astros projected payroll is sitting at approximately $239 million. Provided that Houston remains $20 million below the base threshold of $237 million, the surcharge would remain the same. That would allow the Astros to incorporate Kepler's 2024 salary without surpassing the initial threshold.
Without Michael Brantley, the Astros are lacking that additional outfielder, and one that hits from the left side. Adding Kepler would alleviate both of those concerns and allowed new manager Joe Espada to dispatch Kepler, Yordan Álvarez, and Kyle Tucker on a regular basis.
Do the Astros have the assets to trade for Twins' outfielder Max Kepler?
Quite frankly, there's no downside to this transaction with the exception of what Houston would be giving up in return. Obviously, the Astros would want to hold on to their top young pitcher, Hunter Brown, and Houston's farm system is rather depleted at the moment.
But considering that Kepler only has one year remaining, perhaps the Twins would accept of deal of quantity over quality. A pair of mid-tier arms or some high-upside prospects currently in the lower minor leagues might be enough to sway Minnesota's front office into making a deal.
Looking at the current crop of free agent outfielders available, outside of Cody Bellinger, there aren't really any difference-makers remaining on the open market. If Astros GM Dana Brown really wanted to go for it in 2024, he should pick up the phone and give the Twins' front office a call.