Pittsburgh Pirates: Proposing a Trade With the Minnesota Twins

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 15: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 15, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 15: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 15, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Rumors have surrounded Joe Musgrove since August. With the Pittsburgh Pirates now having the pitching market almost cornered, the Twins could be suitors.

A few weeks ago, we pointed out the Minnesota Twins as one of the best fits in a Joe Musgrove trade. Musgrove is easily one of, if not the best pitcher available on the trade market once you factor in his contract and his availability. With the Twins still active in looking for starting pitching and having a solid farm system, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Twins could be potential trade partners for each other in a transaction involving Joe Musgrove.

Since being acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Musgrove has pitched to the tune of a 4.23 ERA, 3.69 FIP and 1.21 WHIP across 325.1 innings of work. Though Musgrove’s ERA isn’t the best, his underlying numbers represent a very good pitcher.

Musgrove has a HR/9 of just 1.05 since 2018, which ranks 21st in baseball. He’s also posted a very good DRA, or deserved run average in this three season span. Last year was his highest DRA mark at 3.64, which was still about 25% better than the league average. He’s also put up an xFIP and SIERA below 4.00 in two of his three seasons with the Bucs. Musgrove throws six pitches including a fastball, curveball, slider, sinker, change up and cutter.

Musgrove changed up his pitch usage in 2020 as he used his curve much more than in previous seasons, likely due to guidance from new pitching coach Oscar Marin. This helped Musgrove’s strikeout rate go from just 21.3% between 2018-2019 to 33.1% this past season. It did come at the cost of his control though with a 9.6% walk rate compared to just 5.1% in the two years prior.

However, it should be mentioned that Musgrove’s control improved as the year went on. He walked just five batters in his final 25 innings of work and had a 5.1%, identical to his 2018-2019 rate.

He ranked among the best in exit velocity (top 93rd percentile) and hard hit rate (top 79th percentile). All told, his 3.04 fWAR/150 innings pitched since 2018 is similar to Jack Flaherty (2.94), Luis Castillo (2.96), Kyle Hendricks (3.15), Zack Greinke (3.23) and even Clayton Kershaw (3.02).

The Twins could definitely use a pitcher like this. American League Cy Young Award finalist Kenta Maeda leads off the Twins’ rotation, he is followed by two-time all-star Jose Berrios and veteran Michael Pineda. The rest of the Twins’ rotation is up for grabs.

Currently, South Park, Pennsylvania, native Randy Dobnak likely has the upper hand on one of the last two spots. The right-hander got off to a great start to 2020 allowing just six earned runs in his first 30.1 innings of the season, but then went on to surrender 15 in his last 16.1 innings of the year. He was even optioned at one point during the season.

The last spot in the rotation is left up to Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer. Not necessarily the options you’d want to round out the rotation if you’re trying to win a division and go deep into the playoffs. Plus, the Twins could lose a handful of starters in free agency. Matt Wisler already signed with the San Francisco Giants. Homer Bailey, Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill all are also free agents.

Obviously, it should take a lot to pry Musgrove away from the Pittsburgh Pirates if he can be a 3+ fWAR pitcher per season. Combined with him projected to make less than $5 million in arbitration and the fact the current market is heavily favoring the Bucs.

The Pittsburgh Pirates could reel in a top 60 prospect or even better. Among all the Twins’ top prospects, the headliner the Pirates could focus on if the Twins do show interest in Musgrove is 2018 first-round pick Trevor Larnach.

Larnach was selected by the Twins with the 20th pick in the draft. He’s been an excellent hitter throughout his minor league career. In 719 plate appearances between Rookie-Ball, Low-A, High-A and Double-A, Larnach has a .308/.385/.468 line, 18 home runs and 43 doubles. All told, his .373 wOBA would be comparable to the 2019 seasons of D.J. LeMahieu (.375), Trey Mancini, and 3rd place American League MVP finisher Marcus Semien (both at .373).

Larnach only has struck out 21.1% of the time throughout his minor league career and has walked 10.8% of the time, both of which are solid marks. His best tool is his power. The outfielder had a 92 MPH exit velocity in 2019, showing he had good raw power. FanGraphs gave this an elite grade of 65 with his game power coming in at a 60-grade. His hit tool has a future grade of 50 but given his ok strikeout rate, strong walk rate and ability to make contact consistently, it has the potential to be higher.

Fielding wise, Larnach only has a future 45 fielding grade. He’s mainly played right field but a move to left field would definitely help him. He does have a strong arm to remain in the grass though with a 55 current and future throw grade. Speed wise, he has a run grade of just 40 which again, could facilitate a move to left field.

Larnach is a consensus top 100 prospect. Entering 2020, Baseball America ranked him as their 45th best prospect while MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus ranked him in the 80’s. FanGraphs places him at 50. However, it might not be easy to pry him away from the Twins.

Next season, the Twins will see an outfield likely consisting of Max Kepler in right, Byron Buxton in center and Alex Kirilloff in left. While Kirilloff and Kepler are going to be around for a handful of more seasons, Buxton might not be. The outstanding defender is a free agent at the end of 2022. Since Kepler does have an ample amount of experience in center, the Twins might want to keep Larnach around for 2022, put him in left field and then move Kirilloff to right field, the position he’s (Kirilloff) played the most throughout the minors and then move Kep to center.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t able to pry Larnach from the Twins, they should then target one of their top starting pitching prospects. The Twins have two pitchers who would be great as a headliner in a Joe Musgrove trade. The first is Jhoan Duran.

Duran is a hard throwing right-hander who’s considered the Twins’ best pitching prospect by FanGraphs. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 230 pounds with a high-90s fastball that can reach triple-digits with plus breaking and off speed pitches, Duran would fit the mold generla manager Ben Cherington likes. Plus he isn’t wild either as he’s consistently put up a solid walk rate.

The other is Jordan Balazovic. Although he doesn’t throw nearly as hard Duran, he does bring more of a control focused approach to the table. Balazovic still has a strong frame of 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and has a career 26.5% strikeout rate. Of the two, Balazovic has the higher floor while Duran has the higher ceiling. Still, both are seen as top 100 prospects by FanGraphs.

While one of Larnach, Balazovic or Duran as a headliner in a Musgrove package would be great, the Pittsburgh Pirates could definitely get back another piece in this trade. A 40-40+ future value grade player, along with one of the suggested headliners, would be an outstanding, but fair return for Musgrove.

Musgrove has really been hurt by the Pirates’ sub-par defense. Since 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates as a team have -60 DRS, -42.1 range runs above average and -3.5 UZR/150. FanGraphs ranks them as the second worst defensive team during these three seasons. Meanwhile, the Twins have +31 DRS, 22.3 range runs above average and a 0.1 UZR/150 in the same period of time.

Plus, their defense will only get better in 2021. Josh Donaldson will return healthy. They have non-tendered Eddie Rosario, who’s been an average defender at best in his career, in favor of the aforementioned Kirilloff. The Twins may also see the arrival of 2017’s number one overall draft pick Royce Lewis, pushing Jorge Polanco, a well below average defensive shortstop, to second base or a utility position. Catcher Mitch Garver has made leaps and strides since 2018 to become a much better defender behind the plate. Another player who’s gotten better defensively is second baseman Luis Arraez going from well below average in 2019 to above average in 2020.

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Musgrove may cost a decent amount, but he’s worth a decent amount. Whenever he is traded, this should benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would definitely benefit if he were on a team like the Twins. Many fans overlook him simply because he isn’t a flashy pitcher or put up outstanding surface numbers, but the value he brings is tremendous. MLB Trade Rumors projects Musgrove to make anywhere between $3-$5 million which is a bargain for a pitcher who can be a 3+ fWAR starter especially considering that similar pitchers are going for $10+ million on the free agent market. They definitely can get back a prospect like Larnach at the most, but a pitcher like Duran or Balazovic would be a great alternative for a headliner.