Things are probably going to look different on this team in a week's time. There are seven days (and a handful of hours) left before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and we know that names like Francisco Liriano and Denard Span have been discussed to the high heavens as trade candidates. Liriano did his best last night to make up for his lack of a no-trade clause by getting shelled for seven runs and allowing a homer to Alex Rios that may or may not have landed yet. As Jesse pointed out the other day, the Twins are asking "a ton" in return for Denard Span (and rightfully so), and they're still not big on the thought of trading Josh Willingham. Should they be?
I'll preface any arguments by stating that I'm a big Willingham fan, and I recognize that this would be a tremendously unpopular move amongst the fan-base. However, coming off an evening in which I had to blankly stare at a tweet informing me that the Mariners had traded Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees (I honestly was trying to figure out if it was a joke for a few seconds), I'm not sure any team can top Jack Zduriencik in terms of a difficult and potentially wildly unpopular move this year.
If Willingham's lack of an All-Star selection is any indication of how beloved he's become among Twins fans, though, then it's safe to say there would be quite a bit of fan backlash for dealing him. But should Terry Ryan and his staff be open to it? Absolutely. My thinking:
- Willingham's value will probably never, ever be higher. He's 33 years old, and he's outperforming nearly every single one of his career rates by leaps and bounds. He's hitting .271/.384/.551 despite the fact that he entered the season as a career .262/.361/.475 hitter. His 12.9% walk rate is the second-best of his career, and his .280 ISO (slugging minus batting average) is far and away his highest ever, despite playing at Target Field. The "we can always trade him next summer" mentality shouldn't necessarily apply to the Hammer, because we may very well be in the midst of the best 3-4 month stretch of his career.
- With the Padres signing Carlos Quentin to a three-year extension, Willingham arguably becomes the premier right-handed bat on the trade market. There wasn't much out there in the first place, but as many writers have pointed out, if you're a GM who was looking at Quentin, Willingham suddenly looks a lot more enticing. Yes, there's Justin Upton, whom the Diamondbacks have soured on and are open to moving, but there are some red flags with him. He'd likely cost more in terms of prospects than Willingham due to his youth and track record, he's not hitting particularly well, and he's owed $38.5M from 2013-2015. Willingham will make $14M from 2013-2014.
- There's been a lot of speculation on how the new CBA will impact trades. Teams who acquire "rental" players are no longer eligible to receive compensatory draft picks at season's end; that perk is tied only to players who have been with a club for the entirety of a season. Willingham's friendly contract allows an acquiring team to receive more than two months of their acquisition, which should be enticing.
- Looking at the Tigers' trade for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez yesterday, and the potential trade of Ryan Dempster to the Braves, the Marlins and Cubs received quite a bit of talent in return. All three acquired players are rentals, and yet the Marlins received a package of three prospects highlighted by Jacob Turner. The Cubs are expected to acquire Randall Delgado for the 35-year-old Dempster if the trade goes through (Dempster has 10-and-5 rights and has to approve the deal). Other teams are willing to deal highly regarded starting pitching prospects if the price is right. I don't think Liriano can command that level of prospect, so Willingham might be the team's best crack at it.
- The Twins' other trade chips have dwindled. Carl Pavano and Matt Capps are on the DL and can't pitch until August. Liriano's been great overall since May 30, but if he'd come out of the gates strong he'd be far more desirable. Justin Morneau's bat hasn't really taken off. Jamey Carroll got hot for about six weeks but has cooled way off. Scott Baker didn't throw a pitch this season. Etc. etc. etc. In March, many would have thought the Twins would have plenty of trade chips. That's not necessarily the case now.
If the Twins are open to the idea, they're going about it the right way. Repeatedly stating and leaking that they're not interested in trading Josh Willingham is the right thing for Terry Ryan to be doing. The calls are going to come in on Willingham whether or not they say he's available, but creating the media impression that he'll be difficult to acquire is probably a smarter move than saying, "We'll move him if you've got pitching."
If he's traded, I won't be particularly happy to see Willingham go (only getting two months of mileage out of my jersey would be unfortunate, after all). However, if his departure nets some desperately needed arms with legitimate Major League futures, the Twins have to consider pulling the trigger. This team needs some pitching talent that's near MLB-ready, and that's hard to come by in today's game. Closing out with a poll...