We're fully aware, now that the All-Star break is over, that the non-waiver trade deadline is looming (I hate the "looming" cliche -- it makes me think of a big shadow of a ghost looming with the players rumored to be traded cowering against the wall a la Scooby-Doo).
Last season, the Twins did very little at the trade deadline. This year should be different; the Twins will most likely move a guy or two before the end of the month. What's different about this year:
- There's a new (old) boss in town. Terry Ryan isn't historically known for making a ton of moves mid-season, but it seems like he's way more likely to let some guys go for a profit than Bill Smith was. I always got the sense that Smith made decisions with his emotions rather than his logic.
- There are new playoff rules. Now that there are two wild card teams in each league, there are more "on the bubble" teams vying for playoff spots. Many of those teams are just a good player or two away from making a nice September run. So there may be more interest than there was previously.
- There are new free agency rules. With the new collective bargaining agreement, the only way teams can receive a draft pick for losing a player in free agency is to offer him a one-year contract worth at least the average of the top 125 salaries in the MLB (which figures to be about $12 million this year). So the Twins may be more willing to trade pending free agents so that they can get something out of letting him go.
- 2011 happened. Last season at the end of July, the Twins were enjoying a nice little hot streak. Because they were only one year away from a playoff appearance, everyone was a little deluded into believing that they could turn things around. Well, we're all lucid now; we understand how bad things really are and that this team needs young help all up an down the organization. They can't afford to think about improving for 2012; they need to think about improving for 2013 and beyond.
So, yeah, it really looks like we'll say goodbye to some of our guys in the next few weeks. It could be anybody, too -- Joe Mauer, who has a no-trade clause, and Ryan Doumit, who just signed an extension, are probably the only exceptions. It's important to realize that trading away anybody isn't likely to render huge immediate improvements; this would be all for strengthening the organization for the future.
Let's hit a few of the top names:
- Fransisco Liriano (pending free agent). It seems bizarre that a team that so desperately needs quality starting pitching is willing to part with a guy who looks like he's found his mojo, but trading him actually makes sense if the situation is right. Offering him a $12 million contract (that he would have to decline) just so the Twins can get a draft pick might be a bit steep for their budget (because he just might accept it), so he's likely a goner anyway. The Twins may be able to net a nice prospect or two for him. Of course, this risk is that once he's gone, he'll turn into Cy Young.
- Matt Capps (pending free agent). Capps has been better than his reputation with Twins fans would suggest. He's freshly back from a minor shoulder injury, so he has a couple of weeks to shake off the rust and impress some scouts. Actually, he's back on the DL with shoulder soreness, and he's not due get off the DL until after the deadline, so never mind.
- Carl Pavano (pending free agent). Yeah, his shoulder injury must be pretty bad because after six weeks on the DL he has yet to throw off a mound. It really doesn't seem like he'll be back with the team before the deadline (although he could still be traded after July 31, but he would have to pass through waivers first). Considering his age, his injury history, and the extent of this most recent injury, it's unlikely that there will be any team interested.
- Denard Span (signed through 2014, team option in 2015) or Ben Revere (under team control through 2017). If there any teams out there looking for left-handed lead-off outfielders, the Twins have two. Span has the benefit of experience and has a little more power, and Revere has the benefit of youth and speed. Both also have the benefit of being contractually inexpensive, which would interest potential trade partners. However, the Twins have the upper hand in that there is no harm in keeping them the rest of the season to perhaps trade in the off-season, so they can ask for a lot in return. Of the two, it makes more sense to trade Span as he's 28 and has likely at or near his career peak; Revere is still valuable for the future.
- Justin Morneau (signed through 2013). About two weeks ago, it didn't seem like Morneau was a trade target at all with his inability to hit left-handed pitching and everything, but he's recently turned things around and is looking good. Teams may shy away from him due to his injury history and high salary. Again, there's no particular hurry to trade him yet this season, so the Twins will likely keep him.
- Josh Willingham (signed through 2014). Willingham has been one of the few bright spots in the Twins batting order this season, which would make him quite attractive to a number of teams. However, Terry Ryan has intimated in interviews that he's not particularly interested in trading Willingham. Of course, if someone calls and offers a huge haul of prospects for him, Ryan should listen. But it would have to be a haul to be worth it.
- There could be others, too. Ryan says they'll entertain offers for everyone.
All this should make an interesting trade deadline. I just hope it's not a terribly sad one.