Twins get Byron Buxton insurance and righty outfield bat with Manuel Margot trade

FORT MYERS, Fla. — After spending months pursuing various free-agent outfielders, from Michael A. Taylor and Kiké Hernández to Adam Duvall and Tommy Pham, the Minnesota Twins ultimately pivoted to the trade market on Monday to find the right-handed bat they’ve been seeking.

In a move set in motion by Hernández re-signing with Los Angeles, the Twins acquired veteran outfielder Manuel Margot from the Dodgers, along with low-minors infield prospect Rayne Doncon and cash, in exchange for shortstop prospect Noah Miller.

Margot, who moved from the Rays to the Dodgers in December as part of the Tyler Glasnow trade, is owed $10 million for this season and has a $12 million mutual option or $2 million buyout for 2025. Per league sources, the Twins will receive $6 million to cover Margot’s 2024 salary and won’t be responsible for the buyout, essentially making it a one-year, $4 million deal.

And just to put a bow on this weird game of right-handed outfield bat musical chairs: Hernández’s deal to return to the Dodgers is for one year and $4 million.

Basically, the Twins swapped Miller for Doncon to add Margot to their outfield mix for $4 million, a logical pickup that checks two important boxes with one roster spot: Byron Buxton insurance in center field and a veteran right-handed bat capable of platooning with left-handed hitters Matt Wallner, Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach in the outfield corners.

“We think he has center field capability,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “But also there’s no secret about our roster, that we have some left-handed corner outfield bats. We think that fit for us, the combination of center-field ability, the plus in the corners, with the ability to hit left-handed pitching, was kind of the best combination of all things.”

Simply re-signing the 33-year-old Taylor would have made plenty of sense for the Twins after he hit a career-high 21 homers and played Gold Glove-caliber defense last season, but they weren’t willing to meet his contract demands and had reservations about his age. Margot is nearly four years younger and fills the same role in a similarly effective way, but they’re much different stylistically.

Taylor has elite speed and 20-homer pop, but his 33.5 percent strikeout rate last year was seventh-highest in MLB and he batted just .220 with an ugly .278 on-base percentage and 130-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Margot has merely good speed and limited power, but he struck out half as often last year (16.4 percent) while besting Taylor by 44 points of batting average and 32 points of OBP.

“We had been in contact with a number of free agents in this space, different outfielders that fit,” Falvey said. “There are still a lot of guys who are on the board that we had talked to pretty early in the offseason. We’ve talked different trade angles and we’ve talked different free agents. We felt like we finally had a path to acquiring one that would really fit us well.”

Margot hit .263/.316/.378 for a 97 OPS+ the past three seasons and he posted an OPS+ above 90 each of the last four years. By comparison, Taylor had a 94 OPS+ for the Twins last year, his first time with an OPS+ above 90 since 2017. Within that middling overall production, Margot hit .290/.348/.410 off lefties during those three years, making him a solid, much-needed platoon option.

Margot’s defensive metrics have slipped from great to very good in his late 20s, but he remains a quality center fielder and an excellent corner outfielder. Given their age difference, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to project Margot and Taylor as roughly equals defensively.

“He can play all three outfield spots and fits us really well,” Falvey said. “There were other guys on the market we felt were maybe more center-field oriented, but not really the corners or maybe not the left-right split we were looking for. He added a bunch of dynamics to the lineup in a way we think fits this roster.”

Miller was a supplemental first-round pick in 2021 and his glove may carry him to the majors, but his bat hasn’t developed as hoped. He draws walks and makes plenty of contact, positive signs for the Wisconsin high school draftee who played last season at High A as a 20-year-old, but Miller has hit just .220 with a .318 slugging percentage in 250 pro games.

And yet it wouldn’t take much improvement offensively for the switch hitter to profile as a big leaguer. Miller is a legit defensive shortstop with standout range, arm strength and instincts, winning the Gold Glove Award for all of the minor leagues despite his relatively low prospect profile. I ranked Miller as the No. 26 prospect in the Twins’ farm system last month.

Doncon ranked similarly within the Dodgers’ farm system, and the 20-year-old is closer to a lottery ticket than a toss-in. Signed internationally for $500,000 as a 16-year-old, he’s shown some offensive upside but struggled last season as one of the youngest Low-A hitters. Given their lack of difference in prospect value, it’s clear the Dodgers made this trade mostly to clear room for Hernández.

Margot’s arrival increases the Twins’ payroll from $123 million to $127 million, which is around $30 million below last season and ranks 19th out of 30 teams. While there are certainly still areas that could be upgraded, a right-handed bat capable of covering all three outfield spots fills the last gaping hole on the roster and Falvey hinted more big-league additions are unlikely before Opening Day.

“Realistically, with where our team is, with how the roster now is built out, with the way it looks, obviously we’ll keep monitoring where our roster is, the health of it,” Falvey said. “But this was the primary focus for us over the last little bit. I would say that’s by and large the big-picture items, but we’ll keep an open mind about different opportunities that present along the way.”

(Photo of Manuel Margot celebrating a win with the Rays last season: Scott Taetsch / USA Today)

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