It’s easy to get caught up in the 9-2 run that the Twins are on, and I’ll admit that I’ve got visions of yet another miraculous run floating around in the back of my mind. It’s not something I’m banking on, but it’s also something that’s no longer out of the question. The Twins have 51 games left within the Central division. They’ve got interleague matchups against baseball’s two worst offenses in the next week (San Diego and San Francisco). Tsuyoshi Nishioka could be back tonight (if they play) and Joe Mauer looks to be close behind. Jim Thome and Jason Kubel are also on the mend, and Justin Morneau may finally get a chance to heal and get back to something resembling his old self with this current DL stint (though maybe I’m putting too much of a positive spin on that).
There’s plenty to be hopeful for, despite being 9.5 games out of first, but I’m also trying to remember that there’s a long way for this team to go before it’s a contender. Personally, I like seeing fans making bold predictions that the Twins are going to come back and do it, but my biggest fear is that the front office may end up with similar visions, come the trade deadline, even if they’re misplaced at that point. More after the jump.
To be clear, if the trade deadline rolls around and the Twins are something manageable like 2-3 games back, I’m all in favor of foregoing the selling process. However, too many times in the past, teams who don’t have a realistic shot will refuse to sell, or worse yet, will play the role of buyer, only to hurt their long-term outlook as a franchise.
Last year the Dodgers traded away Blake DeWitt and six prospects at the deadline to acquire Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel, and Scott Podsednik. It was just over a month later that they shipped Dotel off to the Rockies just to dump the remainder of his salary. Los Angeles shipped James McDonald, Andrew Lambo, Brett Wallach, Kyle Smit, Lucas May, and Elisaul Pimentel away for that group of players. At the time of the trades, LA was four games above .500, while the Giants and Padres were 15 and 18 games over .500, respectively.
This offseason, they signed Jon Garland for $5M plus another $3M in incentives. To date, Garland has been worth +0.1 WAR and pitched to a 4.33 ERA (4.59 FIP and 4.64 xFIP) while McDonald, now in Pittsburgh, has been worth +0.2 WAR in the Pirates’ rotation, totaling a 4.80 ERA (4.66 FIP and 4.45 xFIP) over 15 more innings than Garland. The Dodgers entered the season with a left-field platoon of Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames as their go-to plan. The team clearly prioritized pitching this offseason, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, extending Ted Lilly, and adding Garland, but $6M on the free agent market (Garland’s $5M and the $1M allotted to Thames) could’ve seen them add a considerably better left fielder to boost an offense that right now ranks 18th in the Majors in runs scored.
Of course, maybe that was part of their game plan; they may have foreseen bigger things from Gibbons/Thames and thought they could allocate funds elsewhere as a result. There’s no real way of knowing, but it’s hard to argue that they did themselves any favors last July.
The Dodgers are just one example. In 2008, the Astros added Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins at the deadline, rather than bolstering their own farm system, and finished 11 games out of first place in the NL Central.
Defenders might say that there aren't any elite prospects in the aforementioned trades, but they’d also have to acknowledge that the teams missed chances to bolster their farm systems by misguidedly trading away prospects who could eventually be useful.
If the Twins have found a way to claw back to within a few games of .500 by the trade deadline, but still find themselves facing a large deficit because of strong play by the Tigers, I’d hope that Bill Smith and his regime aren’t under the impression that they need to go into buy mode. The winning streak and improved play have been nice, but the Tigers are a good team who are only going to better themselves through trades in July. I’d hate to see the Twins deplete their farm system rather than add to it in order to make a run at the division from a deficit of 8-9 games.
I don’t by any means want to see the Twins as sellers. Over the past decade we’ve been fortunate to see contention on an almost yearly basis, and I’m hoping the magic for 2011 isn’t done yet. I’m also hoping, however, that Smith and Co. will make the right call on whether or not to add pieces, subtract them, or merely stand pat.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and contributes at 612Sports.NET. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve