With Brian Dozier’s 40th home run last night, he joined Harmon Killebrew as the only Twins to slug that many, and Ryne Sandberg, Rogers Hornsby, and Davey Johnson as the only second basemen to hit that many. It’s an incredible feat, especially considering virtually all of Dozier’s production (and 35 of those homers) has come since June 1. Since then, in 93 games, he’s hit .311/.374/.686 and is averaging a homer every 12 plate appearances.
Because of a strange, but welcome, contract extension Terry Ryan worked out prior to 2015, the Twins have Dozier under contract for the next two seasons for a total of $15 million, setting him up to be one of the most underpaid five- and six-year players in the league. And this, in addition to his crazy production over the 104 days, makes him a very valuable commodity.
The Twins, of course, need that valuable commodity on the field more than most clubs. At 53-91, they have been utterly awful, and are on pace to finish with their worst record since the club moved to Minnesota in 1961. It would be the franchise’s worst finish since 1955. Dozier has been one of very few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season that’s seen top prospects Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton struggle mightily, Miguel Sano in turns out of position, apathetic, and injured, a pitching staff that’s poised to allow at least 130 runs more than any other team in the American League, despite playing in a pitcher’s park. Without Dozier, the Twins would be entirely lost, as opposed to mostly lost.
But the Twins could also use him this offseason, as they look to rebuild yet again from a fifth 90+ loss finish in six seasons. No player on the Twins is more valuable right now than Brian Dozier, and no one will garner the same interest in trade talks. So you have to wonder, what could whoever the Twins’ new showrunner get for a defensively proficient middle infielder who can hit more than 40 bombs in a season? And would it be worth the trade off?
As you can guess, these kinds of players don’t change hands very often. In the last five offseasons, I’ve found only nine deals involving established starting infielders who primarily play second base, third base, or shortstop. A couple of these are not comparable. When the Marlins traded Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays before 2013, it was part of a massive salary dump that included Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck. Two of the deals involve Martin Prado. In the first, he was part of the return the Diamondbacks received from the Braves for Justin Upton. We’ll talk about the second in a bit.
Here are the other six deals in my highly subjective order of the return received:
December 2015: Reds trade Todd Frazier in a three-team deal for Brandon Dizon, Jose Peraza, and Scott Schebler.
This deal looked bad for Cincinnati from the moment it went down, and it hasn’t improved much over time. Frazier was and is a low OBP slugger with 30 homer power. Peraza and Schebler both held their own in major league stints, but neither looks like a star. Dixon was exceptionally mediocre as a 24 year old at Double-A.
December 2014: Yankees trade Martin Prado and David Phelps to the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and Domingo German.
Prado has been a very good second and third baseman for basically forever. Eovaldi was a struggling, but promising, fireballer who continued to struggle. Jones was a replacement level first baseman. German missed all of 2015, and didn’t make it out of A-ball this year as a 23 year old.
November 2015: Braves trade Andrelton Simmons and Jose Briceno to the Angels for Sean Newcomb, Erick Aybar, and Chris Ellis.
Simmons might be the best defender of all time (although I’d still probably make the case for Ozzie Smith and Willie Mays) and a passable offensive player for a shortstop. Newcomb was (and still is) a top 100 pitching prospect with control issues, but massive strikeout numbers, who should debut sometime next year. Ellis projected as a back end of the rotation guy, and Aybar was a washed up shortstop.
November 2013: Rangers trade Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for Prince Fielder.
Kinsler was a 20-25 homer guy with a fantastic defensive reputation, but the Rangers were planning to move forward with Jurickson Profar at the time. The deal didn’t look fantastic, given the money involved, but Prince was a massive star at the time and the Rangers got a bit of a subsidy on his contract. Nobody could foresee how it would ultimately turn out for Prince.
January 2015: Rays trade Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the A’s for Boog Powell, Daniel Robertson, and John Jaso.
Zobrist’s slugging percentage had fallen for the second straight year, but was in line with the offensive downturn in the game. He was a high-OBP middle infielder and outfielder. Escobar looked like a shortstop who couldn’t play the position anymore, but who quickly rebounded to become a quality third baseman. Robertson was a highly regarded infield prospect, and Powell was a high OBP outfielder, and Jaso was coming off a down year behind the plate and concussion issues that forced him to DH.
November 2014: A’s trade Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Franklin Barreto, and Sean Nolin.
Donaldson had emerged as the best third baseman in baseball with the A’s, who were worried about losing him to free agency. They sent him to the Blue Jays, where he won the AL MVP and hit 41 homers. In return, they got a replacement in Lawrie, a league average second and third baseman, a decent prospect in Graveman who has been a league average starter for the last two years, a failed prospect in Nolin who has since been released, and Barretto, one of the top prospects in the minors, who should debut at shortstop some time next year.
As hard as it is to find players like Dozier, getting the right return for that kind of player is harder still. The best comps for Dozier are probably Kinsler and Donaldson, although you might be able to make a case for Simmons. Kinsler was dealt for a veteran, and I have a hard time seeing the Twins making that kind of move. And any one-for-one trade of Dozier for a young starter like Steven Matz would be incredibly risky. And the Simmons deal, despite Newcomb’s presence in it, provides too little return for a guy who’s had a borderline MVP campaign.
But the return for Donaldson? A starting pitcher, a starting position player and a dynamic prospect? That’s more like it. I could definitely see a bold new GM pulling the trigger on that.
However, since trading Donaldson the A’s have lost even more games than the Twins, set adrift on memoried bliss about better times, while slowly trying to right their ship. Frankly, I don’t know if Twins fans have the patience to wait another two or three years for any deal involving Dozier to pay dividends. They’ve waited long enough, and I think the risk of losing that deal is too high for a GM who is trying to establish himself in a new job.