It's the middle of July and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching. Teams looking to upgrade for the final stretch of the summer are no doubt plugged in, and for the first time in a while the Twins can count themselves in that grouping. There's no question Minnesota has a few problem areas, but there's really only one that they should be focusing on.
Paul Molitor has done an exceptional job of taking a Twins team not expected to contend, and putting them in the thick of the playoff race. Chasing the Royals in the AL Central, and leading the Wild Card race, the first year manager has impressed in 2015. Lineup construction has been something Molitor has gotten creative with, and having issues at both shortstop and catcher, he's been forced to.
Minnesota has watched as Kurt Suzuki has looked like a backup at best. The regression was no doubt going to come for a guy that had no business playing in the All-Star Game a season ago. The fall has been hard however, and being backed up by even less, the Twins have become incredibly thin behind the dish.
At short, Danny Santana has taken massive steps backward as well. Although Santana was also a prime regression candidate, the Twins haven't watched anyone significantly step up. Right now, the Twins seem best positioned to allow Eduardo Escobar free reign at short for the foreseeable future. While he too leaves plenty to be desired at the plate, there's no denying his upgrade over the scuffling Santana.
Both catcher and short present problems for the Twins going forward. Minnesota has no organizational answers at backstop, and while they may at short, none are a sure thing. Jorge Polanco has been an errors machine and may not stick at the big league level, while Nick Gordon is years away. Both positions need fixing, but the splash doesn't need to be made now.
That brings us to the biggest issue, the Twins bullpen. While a reliever doesn't represent the glorious upgrade that a name like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gomez, or Matt Wieters may, for Minnesota, it's probably the missing link. Following the break, Glen Perkins went on to blow his first save of the season. While he's been the gold standard for both the Twins and the big leagues in 2015, getting to him has been more than an issue.
Brian Duensing has been lights out of late, but went through bad stretches early. Blaine Boyer continues to dance around danger, and J.R. Graham has been exposed at times this season. Trevor May is still figuring out his new role, and Casey Fien has been anything but a sure thing this season. What's more unfortunate than the current situation of the Twins pen, is that upcoming options also are less than enthusing.
At Triple-A Rochester, Minnesota could go to retreads like Michael Tonkin or Logan Darnell. They could call up A.J. Achter, who was a minor league all star this year. They could also turn to Tyler Duffey or Taylor Rogers, both starters that have been solid thus far. Where Minnesota was hoping for relief help though isn't going to happen.
Kicking off the year, it was the Double-A Chattanooga bullpen that employed the Twins flamethrowers. Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and Zack Jones were all viewed as potential second half options for the Twins. Burdi and Jones have since been demoted to High-A Fort Myers, while Reed has struggled after a strong start. In regards to other options, J.T. Chargois has hit a rough patch, and 2015 1st round draft pick and considered fast mover Tyler Jay has stumbled out of the gates.
It's safe to say at this point the Twins relief help isn't coming from within.
This leads us to the ripple that Minnesota is positioned to make. Rather than the big flashy offensive splash, the Twins need to add help protecting the leads they already have. A rental type isn't who they should be after either. Both Will Smith and Steve Cishek are real options, with team control, that can help the Twins now and in the future. They are back end types with experience and performance to their credit, and Minnesota's late inning ability would be all the better for it.
Acquiring someone like Smith or Cishek may have the Twins giving up a little bit more than a Tyler Clippard type, who's a free agent at year's end. However, no reliever should fleece the organization like that of a catching or shortstop upgrade. With Minnesota looking to compete for the next several years, having this be another season of evaluation for top prospects before making a move could prove vital.
With their current positioning, the Twins should no doubt be eyeing the playoffs. Making sure to get relief help is going to be a must if they want to get there. Allow the big splashes to come at a later date if they need to be made, but for now, go get your bridge arms and ride off into the summer.
Paul Molitor has the Twins within striking distance, now it's time to enjoy the outcome.