Forgive me if my hopeful and optimistic nature has deserted me over the course of the past month. Since I wrote that there was hope around the corner and Twins fans needn't fear the rust on the home team's gears, they've responded by going 6-17, including dropping their last nine consecutive contests. Joe Mauer is still on the disabled list, Justin Morneau still isn't sure what ZIP code he's in at any given point, Delmon Young is doing his part to protest violence against baseballs by whiffing in 9 of his last 12 at-bats, and the pitching staff scarcely looks any better.
As Aaron Gleeman recently pointed out, it's looking more and more every day like the Twins are going to be sellers as this year's trade deadline approaches. We know that names like Jason Kubel, Matt Capps, Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, Jim Thome, Young, and others may very well be available, but what sort of returns can be expected? More after the jump.
Let's kick things off with the outfielders. Kubel is the most prototypical offensive trade candidate the Twins have. He's hitting .329/.384/.483 while making just $5.25M in his walk year. Teams will have to either stash him at DH or live with shaky defense, but that's typically not the primary concern for deadline buyers. Kubel's no Matt Holliday, but come July, his line could end up looking similar to Holliday's in Oakland (.286/.378/.454) when they dealt him to St. Louis for the Cards' top prospect at the time, Brett Wallace. That price may be a tougher sell since Kubel lacks the MVP-caliber track record, but solid prospects should be attainable due to his production and cheap salary.
Cuddyer needs to start hitting to have value, but if he does he's the type of player who can fetch a decent return. Yesterday, on Twitter, Darren Wolfson from Channel 5 and 1500 ESPN used Casey Blake as a comparable for Cuddy. Blake was hitting .289/.365/.465 when he was traded, and making $4M less, but if Cuddyer starts hitting and the Twins eat $2M or so, the situations could line up. Another example would be 2009's Mark DeRosa trade. DeRosa was hitting .270/.342/.457 and making $5M less than Cuddy when the Indians traded him. Like Blake and DeRosa, Cuddyer can play all over (with shaky defense) and offers a veteran right-handed bat. Again, if he starts hitting and the Twins eat $2-3M, these types of players bring in talent. Cleveland received Carlos Santana (and Jon Meloan) from the Dodgers for Blake, while they acquired Chris Perez and Jess Todd from St. Louis for DeRosa.
Young's case is tougher, as he's the most offensively lost of the trio but also has an extra year of control as an arbitration-eligible player. That arb year will be expensive, likely in excess of $7.5M, which makes him a non-tender candidate if he doesn't hit this year. I've long thought a team in need of offense at the deadline (Atlanta or Oakland perhaps) would be able to live with his defense, but right now his bat is making him look unmovable. If he really turns it on, there's some hope for a decent return, though they may be better suited to hope for a big second half and re-assess in the offseason.
We don't even need to go back one year's time to see what a player like Capps can fetch on the market (sorry for the Wilson Ramos reference). The only problem is that Capps' salary is doubled this time around, and Bill Smith is on the wrong end of the phone. It's troubling to hear Ken Rosenthal say that some in the Twins organization want Capps signed long-term, because if the Twins eat $1-2M, he can bring back a quality return. Last year the Dodgers surrendered James McDonald and Andrew Lambo (who have both struggled, though McDonald still owns a 4.06 career FIP and a K/9 of nearly 8.0) in exchange for the likes of Octavio Dotel. Kansas City received pint-sized punchout specialist Tim Collins in their return for Kyle Farnsworth; teams will always overpay for bullpen help. Hopefully the Twins aren't so attached to Capps that they lose sight of this.
Nathan is a different story, as his $11.25M salary and $2M buyout on his option all but eliminate the hope of a decent return. If the deadline comes around and someone shows interest, the Twins should be happy to merely move his salary in exchange for a warm body. That may seem harsh for a player who's meant so much to this team since 2004, but it's the reality of the Twins overpaying him in the first place.
Liriano's 2011 isn't going so well, but it could end up looking awfully similar to the 2010 of Edwin Jackson: troubled, inconsistent pitcher with ace potential and a shaky no-hitter on his resume. Jackson had a 5.16 ERA, 7.0 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9 with the Diamondbacks when the White Sox ponied up and dished out Daniel Hudson and 2009 second-rounder David Holmberg for him.
Slowey's situation is difficult to find a comparison for, because typically teams don't sell players like this. He's just 27 years old, has 2.5 years of control remaining, is still inexpensive ($2.7M in 2011), and owns a career 4.40 ERA and 4.6 K/BB ratio. Still, it's no secret that the organization has had its issues with him, and teams will be interested in his services. Slowey's injury history is a strike against his value, but I wouldn't be surprised to see teams willing to part with multiple prospects to acquire someone of his caliber.
Thome might present the most interesting case of all, given the sentiment around his chase for 600 home runs. His presence and the cult-like gathering he immediately accumulated last year have won him a spot in the hearts of Minnesota fans forever. His chase for 600 will be a big draw this summer in a time when fans need something to cheer for. Trading Thome is a scary concept for the Twins brass because it would be so largely unpopular with fans (especially prior to #600), but would be a logical business decision. Not only that, but they may feel they owe it to Thome to send him somewhere he'd have a chance to get a World Series ring. If Thome comes back healthy and productive, he'll have suitors. He's making just $3M, and as it stands right now, Oakland, Tampa, and New York all have received an OPS of .716 or lower from their designated hitters. There haven't been many DH trades at the deadline in recent years, though Ken Griffey Jr. netted the Reds Nick Masset, who's totaled 193.2 innings of 3.02 ERA ball in their bullpen since. A productive Thome should yield far more than that; he's much cheaper than Griffey was and figures to be hitting better as well.
Names like Scott Baker and Carl Pavano could be mentioned too, but Baker's been reliable and Pavano's value is low (plus the organization loves his veteran presence). I'd be shocked to see someone like Denard Span, who has so much cheap team control left, sent to another club.
It's odd to portray the Twins as sellers, but at 12-27 without any signs of immediate turnaround, that seems to be where they're headed. Bill Smith and Co. need to prioritize middle infield help, catching depth, and competent bullpen arms to get the organization back on its feet. Smith's regime hasn't dazzled with its trading resume to this point, but a strong summer showing could rejuvenate this farm system and bullpen, putting the Twins right back into contention in 2012. Whether or not we should trust them to do so is a whole different story.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and contributes at 612Sports.net. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve