As a team on the verge of being .500, that uncomfortable feeling of trule being out of the picture is starting to settle in. With the non-waiver trade deadline just days away, let's glance through some of the Twins' most desireable commodities.
Joe Nathan, Closer
Age: 33 Throws: R
Nathan is having another great year, his third with the Twins, and as one of baseball's premier closers could be the final stamp of legitimacy in any contender's bullpen. His contract with the Twins runs through 2008.
While Pat Neshek's name has been bantered about willy-nilly in regards to being Nathan's successor, Nathan isn't the most likely player on this list to go. The Twins wanted to extend his contract as recently as this spring, and there's no doubt that he would still be a great closer next summer. The only questions that bring Joe's name into the conversation are what kind of offers Terry Ryan is receiving in regards to the lanky right-hander, and whether or not the organization feels Neshek is ready if Nathan were to depart.
Contender possibilities: Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers
Juan Rincon, Relief/Set-Up
Age: 28 Throws: R
Rincon's outing on Tuesday afternoon reinforced what most of us know, which is that Juan is struggling. His control is slipping as he has trouble finding the strike zone, looking as though there could be issues with his mechanics and finding release points. Juan is in the last year of a contract with the Twins, and should become a free agent after the season.
There will be contenders out there who see Juan's history and will be brave enough to take a chance on him. He isn't likely to fetch much at this point, but if Ryan is able to sell Rincon's upside it's possible that the Twins could fetch a B-grade prospect in the lower echelons of somebody's farm system. Rincon has good stuff, he just needs to remember how to pitch.
Contender Possibilities: New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs
Torii Hunter, Center Field
Age: 32 Bats/Throws: R/R
Along with Justin Morneau, Hunter is one of the very few players having a season comparable to 2006 when many Twins hitters had their best statistical years to date. He's a hot commodity and should bring a small ransom, even though he'll be a free agent at the end of the campaign.
Hunter's defensive skills, whether that's in center field or one of the corner outfield positions in years to come, are admirable. It's the numbers he's throwing up at the plate that will drive his price up, which will be a small consolation to those of us who love him if/when he leaves. One issue staring the Twins in the face is the lack of a real defensive or offensive replacement for Torii, and could be the primary stumbling block for the Twins in regards to dealing the Gold Glover.
Contender Possibilities: New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks
Luis Castillo, Second Base
Age: 31 Bats/Throws: S/R
Castillo has fended off the middle-infielder's worst nightmare so far: the early-30's dropoff. He isn't the player he was four years ago, but he's still solid in the field and disciplined at the plate. His contract expires at the end of the year.
With Castillo becoming a free agent at the end of 2007 and considering his age, it's a good possibility that even if he's dealt, he'll still reach the open market at season's end. His 67-year old legs on his 31-year old body may cause some trepidation on behalf of interested parties before the deadline, but he'll still be a legitimate pick-up and upgrade for some contender. While he wouldn't bring the same return as Hunter or Nathan could bring, the Twins could probably get something moderately substantial in terms of a quality high-A/AA prospect.
Contender Possibilities: San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Silva, Starter
Age: 28 Throws: R
Carlos has re-established himself as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and even though he routinely gets himself into trouble the results have been far less frustrating than last summer. Silva will reach the open market at season's end.
The Chief has a good profile for any contending team who just needs a reliable starting pitcher; a guy who will eat innings, will turn in some quality starts and isn't going to put his team into a deficit early and often. You generally know what kind of a performance you'll get from Silva, you just have to hope that the hits don't bleed through that that a double play or two gets turned. He definitely wouldn't be a high-impact acquisition, but he'd be a great pick-up for stability.
Contender Possibilities: New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers
I think it's unlikely that the Twins would end up trading with either Cleveland or Detroit, but crazier things have happened. One thing you'll know for certain if we do trade with a division rival: if anyone else was even bidding on the outgoing player, they weren't bidding crap.
Personally, I believe Castillo and Silva would be the most likely to be traded before the deadline, with Hunter's future being up in the air. Whether or not Torii goes will probably depend more on what Ryan and the organization see for the team's future than what kind of offers are streaming in. But still, anyone could be swayed with a tempting enough offer.
These next seven days could be very, very interesting.