The Twins Won the Trade That Had To Happen

Pablo Lopez
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Trades aren’t inevitable. We hear rumors of some player being on the block all the time. Sometimes, that ends in an actual trade. Frequently, though, it ends in nothing: some team shops a mystery player around, no one bites, and then everyone goes about their business as if the initial trade rumor never happened. But sometimes the rumors are just so strong that they’re bound to come true eventually. To pick a name at random (note: not random), the Marlins have reportedly been looking to trade Pablo López for eons. They can’t hit, they have plenty of starting pitchers, and López seems like the best trade option when considering the combination of potential return and expendability.

Likewise, Luis Arraez has intermittently been the subject of trade speculation. He’s a good hitter and versatile defender, but the Twins have enough infielders that they’ve been reduced to playing the 5-foot-10 (generously) Arraez at first base. When Carlos Correa returned to the fold, it looked like another year of Arraez at first base, so it didn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise that the Twins might look to move an infielder. They needed pitching. The Marlins needed hitting and crave contact ability. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an exceedingly movable object? The trade that had to happen, of course.

As Jeff Passan reported, Luis Arraez is now a Marlin after the Twins traded him for López and two prospects: Jose Salas and Byron Chourio. Both Arraez and López are the kind of player that smart front offices love to build around. They have multiple years of team control remaining at below-market rates thanks to the arbitration process. They’re both borderline All-Stars, and both have utility on more or less any team — Arraez because of his versatility and López because everyone needs pitching. Players like these two form the backbone of every sustainable winner, so it’s no surprise that each team demanded such a player when trading one away.

My macro-level overview of the trade: I like Minnesota’s side of the deal much more and think that the Marlins will regret this one. I’ll get into the exact details of why I think that at the end of the article, after I talk about the players involved, but if you came here thinking, “Ben Clemens, tell me what to think,” there’s my one-line summary. Now, let’s start out by talking about Miami’s side of the deal.

This one is pretty straightforward: the Marlins came into the offseason prioritizing contact hitters. Arraez is perhaps the best contact hitter in the game. He won the AL batting title last year, and both ZiPS and Steamer project him to bat above .300 this year, the only player to clear that line in both projection systems (Masataka Yoshida came close, though). The Marlins also have a ton of positions to fill, and they seem to be constructing their lineup around versatility. With Arraez, Jean Segura, and Joey Wendle, they have a lot of multi-positional infielders, which will serve them well if they need to mix and match due to injuries this year.

Now, why do the Marlins want contact hitters so badly? I’m not entirely sure. Their reported reasons are the large dimensions of their home stadium and the forthcoming ban on infield overshifts. I’m not sure that either of those is an exactly perfect fit with Arraez, though. Starting with the dimensions of the park, loanDepot park (sic) and Target Field have similar park factors for batting average on contact and doubles, using a variety of sources for park data. Doubles are Arraez’s bread and butter; he’s the best line drive hitter in baseball for my money, and line drives are the best way to hit doubles. He’s also impossible to shift against; he sprays his grounders, and teams deployed a shift on only 41 of the 2,413 pitches he saw in 2022. I think Arraez will be a phenomenal contact hitter in 2023, but I don’t think that will be because of either his new home stadium or the new defensive regulations.

That doesn’t mean Arraez isn’t a valuable bat. He sports a career 120 wRC+, and both of our projection systems, as well as THE BAT, think he’ll put up comparable numbers this year. He strikes out so infrequently and hits so many line drives that he’s seemingly always on base; his career .374 mark is tied for 13th in all of baseball starting in his 2019 debut season. He might not hit for a ton of power, but he still advances plenty of runners thanks to his singles and doubles. He was good enough offensively last year that despite hitting only eight home runs and bleeding defensive value by playing at first, he was worth 3.2 WAR for the Twins.

Amusingly, though, he didn’t have an obvious defensive home in Miami either. With Jazz Chisholm Jr. locking down second base, Wendle at short, and Segura playing third, there was no reasonable configuration of middle infielders that would put Arraez at second. To solve that problem, the Marlins are moving Chisholm to center field, which comes with some question marks of its own. Chisholm has played the middle infield exclusively as a professional, though you can see what the Marlins are thinking there. He’s quite fast and wasn’t a premium infield defender, so center might fit his skillset better in the long run, even if it takes a few months for him to get used to a new position.

That defensive shuffling is probably worth it; Arraez will immediately be one of the Marlins’ best hitters. Regardless of whether he lines up at second base all year or whether the team ends up moving Chisholm back to the infield, Miami’s offense is comfortably better now than it was before this trade, and likely quite a lot better than its 2022 iteration. This will be a slightly better team overall, too, in my opinion: Trevor Rogers can slide up to fifth starter now, and he was overqualified as a depth piece. If you made me pick an over/under on the win total, I’d be about half a win higher today than I was before this trade.

For the Twins, Arraez was a man without a home. Their biggest team construction problem, at least on the offensive side of the ball, was that they had too many solid-bat corner types, a category that Arraez got lumped into thanks to Correa and Jorge Polanco holding down the middle infield. Maybe Arraez was the best of the bunch, but between Max Kepler, Jose Miranda, Joey Gallo, Alex Kirilloff, Kyle Garlick (back in the fold after clearing waivers), Trevor Larnach, and Nick Gordon, there were a lot of mouths to feed and not a ton of positions to use. Maybe that group is light on first base experience, and maybe Miranda will end up as a full-time third baseman, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to find league-average hitting at first base to replace Arraez, even if it means signing a veteran to platoon with Kirilloff or something. The loss of Arraez hurts, but I don’t think they’ll lose three wins worth of offensive production, even if he has a 3 WAR season.

On the other hand, the Twins desperately needed pitching, and López is just what the doctor ordered there. Fresh off of a healthy season with a 3.75 ERA and matching peripherals, he’s probably the second-best Twins starter behind Sonny Gray. I thought they were two pitchers short before this trade; they had roughly four proven starters and plenty of question marks. They still don’t have a ton of depth, but their rotation looks a lot better with Bailey Ober and Josh Winder as the sixth and seventh options than as the fifth and sixth.

There’s some dispute about López’s true talent level, but I’m bought in on what the projection systems think: he’s squarely above average and a borderline All-Star if he throws a full season. That’s the pitching version of Arraez, and given that the Twins are replacing Arraez with some solid bats in their own right but are upgrading from poor pitching to López, that one-for-one switch would already make their major league team better in 2023 in my estimation.

That’s not the end of the deal, though. Both players are under team control after 2023, and there were two other prospects in the deal. Arraez won’t be a free agent until after the 2025 season, and López will hit free agency after 2024. That extra year of team control led me to rank Arraez 42nd in my top 50 trade value list last year; López finished just outside the top 50. Team control is the currency of the realm these days; a straight-up trade of Arraez for López would have slightly favored the Marlins in my opinion.

To even things out, the Marlins kicked in Salas, who we consider their second-best prospect, as well as Chourio. Salas is a big, projectable shortstop whose 6-foot-2 frame gives him a solid power floor. He looked tired in his Arizona Fall League appearance at the end of last year but looked good in A ball and acceptable in Hi-A during the season, so it’s hardly surprising that he wasn’t 100% by year’s end. He’s a switch-hitter, but per Eric Longenhagen, he looks more complete so far from the left side, though he sometimes struggles with back-foot breaking balls. Though he didn’t hit much in the AFL, Eric thought he looked the part defensively, which removes one of the riskiest parts of his projection; if he sticks at shortstop, his bat will look much better. Eric sees him as a low-variance 50 FV prospect as a shortstop whose bat is above average for the position. Any upside from there would come from Salas growing into more power, which is hardly out of the question; he’s still only 19, after all.

Chourio made his professional debut in the DSL last summer and hit a ton, though without much authority, batting .344 and walking nearly as much as he struck out but only slugging .410. Per Eric, though, that might not last: Chourio is extremely projectable physically, which is an excellent fit with his plus contact skills. There’s some chance he moves off of shortstop as he matures, but he also has the frame that makes Eric think he might stick in the Goldilocks Zone, with strength and power but enough athleticism to remain at short. It’s extremely early to say much more than that, given that he’s a 17-year-old who just started playing professional baseball. But as an extra name in a deal I already liked, he seems like an excellent pickup for the Twins. Most players who splash onto the scene in the DSL don’t turn into world beaters, but some do, and I’d give Chourio better odds than your average DSL prospect of making the majors one day.

That’s a meaningful minor league talent infusion for the Minnesota system. Per The Board, Salas is now the Twins’ third-best prospect, and while Chourio isn’t on there yet, he’s one hot-hitting summer away from vaulting up prospect boards. I also think Minnesota got better for 2023. Miami needs Arraez to be much better than López to come out even on this deal, and quite frankly, I don’t think that’s likely.

In my opinion, Miami made what I like to call a second-level trade mistake. The first level of trade valuations is simply to add everyone up. You know what I’m talking about; who among us hasn’t dreamed up a fantasy trade of fifteen marginal prospects for one star? Hey, you might say, the total value looks roughly equivalent. These trades don’t happen in real life for obvious reasons.

The second level of trade valuations is to only care about who gets the best player in the trade. I think that’s Miami here, particularly when you take into account the extra year of team control. If you’re wary of making a first-level mistake, you might end up doing this kind of trade: giving up multiple talented players to get an even better one. The odds that either Salas or Chourio eclipse Arraez as players are somewhere between slim and none; prospects mostly don’t pan out. That’s all well and good, but Arraez isn’t better than López by very much at all.

There’s a classic admonition that explains second-level thinking well: never trade a quarter for two dimes. That’s not what happened here, though; I think the Twins traded a quarter for a heretofore-unseen 20-cent coin, a dime, and a nickel. That’s 35 cents for the cost of 25, if you’re following my strained analogy. Sure, the Marlins have a shiny quarter (though potentially an out-of-position one), but they emptied out their change purse to get him, and used some valuable coins at that.

Even stranger, in my opinion: it’s not like the Marlins are one piece away from contending. In their position, I’d be operating completely differently than they are. They seem to be trying to tweak the strengths of their roster, swapping pitching for hitting and power for contact. But let’s be honest: they’re not a tweak away from the playoffs. They won 69 games in 2022 and didn’t get particularly unlucky to do so. Dan Szymborski called them a .500 club in his ZiPS writeup, but I’m less optimistic, and that’s still a long way short of the playoffs.

In that position, I think it makes sense to be trying to accumulate good players however you can, even if it means creating positional logjams or acquiring prospects that don’t fit your optimal contention timeline. Marlins ownership chooses to spend only sparingly on the team; given that constraint and their current mix of players, I don’t think they’re an Arraez away from being great. Tossing in some interesting prospects to get a player who suits your preferred style of play is the exact opposite of how I’d be running things.

I’m not a major league GM; I’ve never worked for a major league team. I haven’t even talked to any team sources about this deal, because I wanted to get my own thoughts down first. I’m pretty sure that those evaluators would agree with me on this one, though. Remove Chourio from the trade, and I’d still like it for the Twins, though it’d be closer. That’s the sign of a bad trade, to me: when I can remove a meaningful part of the return and still think a deal is balanced, something must be off about the full deal. With no mitigating circumstances to excuse it — there’s no huge boost to a playoff push, no last piece a great team needs to go from pretender to contender, nothing like that — this just feels like a case of the Marlins deciding they were going to go out and acquire batting average, and the Twins making them pay through the nose for the player in the majors who most exemplifies it.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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1 year ago

Wow. What an awful trade for the Marlins.

Baseball Analyzed
1 year ago
Reply to  airforce21one

Pablo has a career 3.94 ERA he’s a mid rotation starter who had a 3.0 WAR in 2022. Arraez has 1 more year of control and had a 4.4 WAR. You also forgot that Trevor pitched like an ace after his back healed and was never going to be dropped from the rotation.