One month into the 2012 season, it appears the Twins are destined for another losing season. When the team is 12 games under .500 in the first week of May, that is a pretty reliable sign that they should start to look to the future, rather than go all-in for the present.
One time-tested way of building for the future is to trade away the aging, overpriced veterans to contending teams and get some young players or prospects in return. The Twins owe their 1991 championship team in part to the Frank Viola trade two years previously, when the 1989 season was starting to look like a loss. That trade brought future star pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera from the Mets. Later in that decade, another bottom-feeding Twins team swapped Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for shortstop Christian Guzman, pitcher Eric Milton, and two others. Milton and Guzman were key components of the team’s return to relevance in 2001 and 2002.
This year’s Twins do not have a superstar like Viola or Knoblauch who is likely to yield a Tapani or Milton in return, but they do have a large number of players that look like decent trade bait. With some intelligent negotiating, Terry Ryan could get the groundwork started for that 2014 World Championship team we’re all hoping to see.
Span is the most interesting name we might hear in trade rumors this summer. He is a great defender and a very good hitter who is off to a positive start at the plate (.308/.357/.383). What team wouldn’t want a speedy, versatile outfielder who can bat leadoff? Span is also signed to a relatively low-salary contract through 2014, with an option for 2015, so a team wouldn’t have to feel guilty about parting with some high-ceiling prospects for a short-term rental. But that team-friendly contract is exactly the reason the Twins might not want to trade Span away. The Twins may be planning to build around Span, and if they rise off the AL Central floor in 2013 or 2014, they may want to have Span’s bat and veteran leadership to help with the playoff chase. Last season, the Nationals made a push to acquire Span; if Washington keeps leading the NL East and starting outfielder Xavier Nady hitting .123, the Nats might inquire after him again this year.
Every year we hear of several teams that could use a veteran arm to replace their #4 or #5 starters. As a 14 year MLB veteran who has a World Series ring and significant postseason experience, Pavano could be a sought after commodity this summer. His velocity is down, but Pavano is a remarkably consistent innings-eater. The Twins acquired Pavano after the deadline in 2009 for AA pitcher Yohan Pino. If they trade him before the deadline this year, they might get a slightly better return.
Marquis was traded at the deadline last year, from Washington to Arizona for decent-hitting shortstop Zachary Walter. Walter was a 10th round pick just a year earlier. As was the case last season, Marquis’s contract expires at the end of the year, so if the Twins got another Walteresque offer, they should definitely pull the string. Added bonus for any team interested in Marquis: he is a playoff good luck charm whose teams have made the playoffs in 11 of his 12 MLB seasons.
He was a strong offseason acquisition, given the assumption that the Twins were trying to compete this year and needed a right-handed veteran hitter. But he is already 33 years old, and if the Twins are going to require a couple years of rebuilding, Willingham is guaranteed to be past his prime when that plan comes to fruition. So why not look at trading him? His hot start (five homers and a batting average over .300) can only increase his value on the trade market.
Does anyone need a relief pitcher? The Twins cannot be the only team that buys the “proven closer” story, so as long as Capps puts up some good numbers early in the season, there should be some teams interested. He has converted all five of his save chances so far. One potential suitor: the Yankees. No, seriously. Mariano Rivera is out for the season, and while the Yankees are not reckless enough to install Capps as their replacement closer, they are shifting uber-talented setup man David Robertson into that role. Another veteran reliever could help fill the gap left by Robertson.
At first glance, Valencia does not appear to be an attractive trade candidate. He has scuffled at the plate and the field ever since his succesful rookie season in 2010. But a couple of teams – the Giants and the Rays – have suffered injuries at the third base position, and they may want to look at Valencia as a replacement. Valencia is under team control through 2016, but he probably does not fit into the Twins’ long term plans at third base, since Miguel Sano is widely expected to be the franchise’s savior.
The Twins only have Doumit through the end of the year, so there is not much point in keeping him if they are not going to win now. National League teams may want him as a switch-hitting pinch hitter. American League teams may want him as a DH and backup catcher. The Twins probably wouldn’t get much for him, but it’s worth seeing what offers are out there.
This one is a longshot, but worth mentioning. Assuming Morneau’s wrist heals soon without further incident, and assuming that he starts to hit the way he did briefly in the season’s second week, Morneau could garner some interest on the trade front. It’s doubtful that any team would want to pick up his entire $14 million salary this year (with an equal amount next year), but if the Twins wanted to trade him, they could agree to pay part of that. Adding the former MVP would be a boost for any team that needs a powerful lefty bat.