Did the Twins miss the boat by not trading for ex-Marlins reliever David Phelps?

The Twins are 48-46, currently a half-game out of a wild card spot in the American League. That’s one game ahead of the Seattle Mariners (48-48), as of this writing. The Twins bullpen has some bad numbers this year. The Twins bullpen has two guys who’ve been reliable all season and have very good numbers to show for it. The Twins bullpen could use another late-inning, high-leverage reliever.

All of these statements are true. Another true statement: The Marlins just traded reliever David Phelps to the Mariners for a handful of prospects from the low minors.

Did the Twins miss a good opportunity to upgrade their bullpen?

Let’s establish a few things first, before we attempt to answer the central question of this piece.

1. The Twins are in contention. They entered Thursday’s day off with a 48-46 record, which is second in the A.L. Central, a half-game worse than the Cleveland Indians (and 1.5 games better than the Kansas City Royals, the division’s other contender). They’re also just one half-game behind the Yankees in pursuit of a Wild Card spot. So, yeah, despite their flaws they’re legitimate contenders on July 20.

2. They’re probably buyers. The guys who make the important decisions for the Twins have told other teams that they’ll be ‘measured buyers,’ according to an ESPN report.  We’d have to speculate what that means. It probably means that they’ll add something to help make the 2017 team better. It also probably means they aren’t giving up all of their top prospects to make that happen. I think we can interpret that to mean that the Twins aren’t interested in getting a lot better for the next two months. But they’re going to try to get better.

Report: Twins have told teams they’ll be ‘measured buyers’ at the trade deadline

3. They want player who will be around after this winter. Sure, they’d like to improve their current club. But based on the most recent public comments, it does appear that improving their 2018 team (and beyond) is a higher priority.

Twins ‘not enamored’ with trade market for rental players, will target value for 2018 and beyond

4. David Phelps is good. 

OK, now to the point of the piece. The Twins reportedly had interest in Phelps, a good reliever on a team looking to sell. Did the Twins make a mistake by not grabbing Phelps, or miss their chance to upgrade their bullpen on the trade market?

Well, there are still other good relievers out there. A.J. Ramos, Brad Brach, Brad Hand, Kirby Yates, George Kontos, Jerry Blevins, and maybe others. Those are all relievers on bad teams that should be looking to sell at this year’s deadline. I don’t know that all of them will get traded. I would guess that some of them will.

We should also say that Phelps isn’t the first reliever dealt. The Yankees snagged David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. The Nationals landed Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in a swap with the A’s. Phelps just feels like the kind of guy that could have headed to Minnesota if the pieces fit.

I don’t study prospects nearly as closely as I used to. In part I think I got frustrated by the idea that memorizing the 250 or so best prospects in the minor leagues didn’t always translate very well when it came to knowing who would provide teams the most value over the next 5-10 years. Maybe I just didn’t have the adequate space in my brain. But in any case, I don’t know hardly enough about the prospects going back to the Marlins in the Phelps trade to fairly assess what I think of the haul. So I’ll rely on Baseball America to give the overview.

The prospects going to Miami:

Brayan Hernandez, 19, signed in the 2014 international signing period. Baseball America writes that “it’s been a slow climb for the toolsy-but-raw centerfielder.”
Brandon Miller, 22, a former 6th-round pick and Division II pitcher, whom BA considers one of the top pitching prospects from the Mariners’ system. BA also says he has an “elite spin rate” on his fastball, and could be a “back-end starter as long as his changeup continues to develop.”
Pablo Lopez, 21, a right-handed pitcher that BA thinks could climb through the minors by getting ground balls and not walking many hitters, despite the fact that he “doesn’t miss many bats.”
Lucas Schiraldi, 23, a right-handed pitcher with “size and stuff, but poor command.”

None of the four players made Baseball America’s Top-100 prospects list that published a few weeks ago. That’s the haul the Mariners gave up to get Phelps.

People who study prospects much more closely than me seem to think it’s not very much to give up for 1+ year of Phelps. But it’s hard to say that from my corner with any real sense of conviction. The real haul this week, in my opinion, was for the Yankees. They got a nice package from the White Sox that include very good relievers Robertson and Kahnle, and also had third baseman Todd Frazier. It’s hard to compare that deal straight-up to the Phelps trade. In part, again, because I don’t have a deep working knowledge of the minor leagues involved. In the Yankees-White Sox trade, I also think salaries, team control, and the package element affected the price paid by New York. So while it’s easy for me to sit here and say that if I’m the Twins, I would have loved to add Robertson or Kahnle or both, I recognize that it’s not that simple. Nor is it as simple as saying the Twins should have jumped in the water to acquire Phelps.

One thing we can say: The cost to acquire relievers — even non-rental relievers — is starting to be established. The Twins should be paying close attention.

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