We’ve all heard the saying… “It’s a long season, anything can happen.” If any season has demonstrated the truth in that cliche to Twins fans, it’s this one.
The Twins started the season as at least one of the favorites to win the AL Central Division title. It took them less than a month to fall flat on their faces. They spent the next month digging themselves deeper in to a hole, to the point that, on June 1, they may not have been dead, but they were certainly on life support. While I resisted the urge here, there were already plenty of other places you could read about which pieces of the Twins were likely to be made available at the trade deadline. There was certainly little doubt that the Twins would be “sellers” for the first time in quite a while.
Then things turned around again. I’m not sure how you manage addition by subtraction, but just at the time Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Denard Span were added to the list of the Twins’ walking wounded, they started winning games. Lots of games. To the point where, now, even the national media isn’t so sure that the Twins will be selling players at the deadline.
That deadline (July 31), by the way, is 40 days from now. That’s the non-waiver trade deadline.
So the Twins have those 40 days to decide who they are this year. The players will play the greatest role in that decision. If they keep closing ground on the teams ahead of them, they’ll keep making the case that they’re contenders and GM Bill Smith should be looking to see if there are pieces he could add to the roster that would help this season. If they start giving up the ground they’ve gained, they’re likely going to be saying good-bye to some team mates over the next 40 days.
Yet, I’m not so sure this is an “either-or” situation for Smith.
If Ben Revere doesn’t start to tank, the Twins could find themselves in a very unique position… that is, they could have a veteran corner outfielder to trade for good prospects and/or players that can improve their chances yet this season (but let’s not do the “closer” thing again, OK Bill?) and not be viewed as giving up on 2011.
When you look at the standings, it’s tough to identify many teams that will clearly be looking to trade away talent. It’s shaping up as a seller’s market and the Twins might be wise to take advantage of the situation.
If Span, Kubel and Thome all come back, I’d love to have Span and Revere manning two OF spots (as would, I’m pretty certain, the Twins pitching staff). That would leave the Twins with Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome with really no more than three roster spots available for them. Smith could certainly afford to trade one of them and arguably two, and not be seen as “giving up” on the season. With the way the market is forming, even Jason Repko might have some trade value.
The same could be the case with starting pitchers. Every one of the Twins current starters is looking good right now. They also have Anthony Swarzak apparently ready to step in to a rotation spot, they have Kyle Gibson pitching well in Rochester, and if Kevin Slowey comes back healthy, that makes EIGHT starting pitchers who could/should be holding down Major League rotation spots somewhere.
Might someone make an interesting offer for Carl Pavano? If the Twins are willing to eat some of his two-year contract, they might. Or maybe there would be interest in Nick Blackburn? Will Slowey have some value on the market? I’d be relunctant to trade a lefty because I think they want two of them in the rotation, so I’d probably hang on to Liriano and Duensing, but if the offer is right, there are arms apparently ready to step in without killing all chances of continuing to close the gap on the leaders.
The Twins obviously don’t have a lot of infield talent to spare, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a team might look at the way Trevor Plouffe hits the ball and decide they’re a bit more willing to overlook his defensive shortcomings than the Twins have been. If the Twins don’t see him playing a role with the big club any time soon, now may be the time to get something for him.
The Baseball Prospectus site that calculates each team’s chances of making the playoffs still lists the Twins as only having a 5.9% shot. That’s not good. Then again, I think I read that it was .1% (yes, that’s one-tenth of one percent) back at the beginning of the month, so progress is being made. In fact, it’s up 1.1% since yesterday… and the Twins didn’t even have to play a game on Monday to make that move! With the way their AL Central rivals are playing, maybe the best idea would be for the Twins to just stop playing baseball and wait for everyone else to drop below them!
The Twins are 7.5 games out of the AL Central lead. As tough as it is for us to get our heads around it, given all that’s gone on and how full their Disabled List still is, the Twins ARE contenders. But that doesn’t mean Bill Smith should sit on his butt for the next 40 days. There are deals to be made that can help the team in the future AND leave them in position to continue to contend this season. All it takes is a front office with a penchant for identifying talent, the ethic to work night and day to negotiate good deals, and the guts to pull the trigger on those trades.
The next 40 days and 40 nights will tell us if the Twins have that kind of front office.