Rocco Baldelli May Have Talked Twins Front Office Out of Trading Max Kepler

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins
Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Max Kepler, a beloved figure among Minnesota Twins fans, has experienced a rollercoaster of a year. Once considered one of the team’s most reliable hitters, he faced struggles last season, leading to speculation about a potential trade.

His performance even prompted discussions of being designated for assignment by the Twins early in 2023, at the peak of his struggles. But in the second half, Kepler was one of the Twins’ best and most consistent bats in the lineup. When the infield dust settled on the season, it ended up being one of the best of Max’s 9-year career.

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He finished with a .260 batting average, .816 OPS. and 121 OPS+, registering 22 doubles, 24 home runs, 66 RBIs, 72 runs scored and a 124 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) 2.6 fWAR across 130 games. He enters the final year of his five-year, $35 million contract signed prior to 2019.

Still, the Minnesota Twins organization is flush with corner outfield options (or at least that’s what we once thought). So, entering the offseason, the Twins made it public knowledge that they’d be shopping Kepler, along with Jorge Polanco, Kyle Farmer and Christian Vazquez, in hopes to swap in better talent in areas of weakness (SP, RP, CF, DH).

Well, Polanco was dealt two days ago and, in doing so, Minnesota now has one of the scariest bullpens in the AL Central, entering Spring Training, and more competition for the final spot in the starting rotation. Does that mean Kepler is next? Not so fast…

Max Kepler could remain with Minnesota Twins

Clearly, the Mariners wanted both Polanco and Kepler, in what would’ve been a blockbuster-type deal. If the Twins are trying to unload Max, why didn’t they trade both of their birds with one stone? Well, it seems their manager, Rocco Baldelli, may not be willing to let him go.

Minnesota’s manager accepted an invitation to speak to the Golden Dunkers, a rather notorious Gophers basketball booster club, recently. And according to Darren Wolfson (SKOR North, KSTP) on the Mackey and Judd Show Tuesday, Baldelli was gushing so emphatically over his love affair for Max Kepler that those in attendance came away believing there’s absolutely no way the team’s right fielder is dealt.

“On Max Kepler, for what it’s worth, Baldelli last week at Dunkers was gushing so much about Max Kepler. I had a couple of people in the room tell me, ‘Max Kepler is going to be in right field March 28th, opening day in Kansas City. Like, the Twins are not trading Max Kepler’.”

Darren Wolfson – Mackey and Judd Show

Of course, it’s still within the realm of possibility that the Twins end up moving Kepler, should they receive an offer they can’t refuse. But without a doubt, trade chatter surrounding Max has quieted significantly. Even in recent trade reports and rumors, we started to see Polanco’s name mentioned with a higher sense of determination, compared to Kepler, who sometimes wasn’t mentioned at all.

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A recent example came from Dan Hayes (The Athletic) on January 19, in a piece he wrote after interviewing Derek Falvey. In the article, the Twins President of Baseball Ops warned the fanbase that their signature offseason moves may wait until Spring Training, due to the slow market.

Nearly the entire article went by without once mentioning Kepler, who wasn’t in the headline either. Finally, about 3/4 of the way through, Hayes and Falvey suddenly remembered that Kepler was one of the four veterans the team had originally planned to trade.

“With a plethora of talented young infielders developing last season and minimal financial flexibility because of their self-imposed spending limits, the potential for trading veterans Jorge Polanco and Kyle Farmer to shore up their starting rotation or outfield appeared high.”

— Six Paragraphs Later —

“Multiple team sources said the Twins won’t simply dump the salaries of Polanco, who’s set to earn $10.5 million this season with a $12 million club option for 2025, or Farmer, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $6.3 million contract earlier this month. Nor is the team looking to move either player or outfielder Max Kepler, who will make $10 million, for prospects.” 

Dan Hayes – The Athletic (Jan. 19)

Twins offseason remains fluid

It seems very possible, at this point, that the Twins may be content with the return they received for Polanco, leading them to hold onto Kepler. Alternatively, they might have reevaluated Kepler’s trade value and decided he’s not worth moving for their current needs.

Max Kepler : Minnesota Twins at Colorado Rockies
John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Wallner, Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff are far from the sure-hit offensive prospects they were once thought to be. So it’s very possible the Minnesota Twins hang onto Kepler, at least to start Spring Training and, possibly, the regular season.

But in all reality, it probably depends on what kind of offers come their way. They thought they’d have to wait on Polanco, just to trade him a week later. Conversations are fluid and decision-makers around the MLB can change their thinking, due to one conversation, one practice session… even one night of sleep. Hopefully, Eric is right and Falvey is waiting out the Scott Boras free agency market.