The MLB trade deadline is now less than a month away, and it’s time for the Twins to do some soul searching. The question is whether they’re buyers or sellers, and while we all have our opinions, it’s what the front office thinks that counts.
It was about this time last season when the Twins went on a prolonged slide that ultimately eliminated them from playoff contention. On this exact date one year ago, their record was 36-43. They were at the beginning of a truly awe-inspiring stretch of futility, going 3-12 just before the All-Star break. That fifteen game time frame included a 1-12 stretch and two six-game losing streaks. We all pretty much know what happened. The Twins put up their third consecutive 90+ loss season, and the front office said, very solemnly, “Never again.”
Today, on July 1, 2014, the Twins are 37-44. They are in last place, nine games behind the division leading Detroit Tigers. They have also lost six of their last seven ballgames. Past performance does not predict future results, but as a simple fan who does not understand the ways of this chaotic and seemingly arbitrary universe, the parallels are discomforting.
So what can the Twins do?
The can sell. Several players have been circled by trade rumors since they came to the Twins. Josh Willingham, for instance, is in the final year of a three year,$ 21 million contract. His first year in Minnesota was easily his best (.260/.366/.524, 3.6 fWAR), although he has flashed that kind of skill when he’s been healthy this season (.246/.395/.475, 0.9 fWAR). His defense has never been very good, and it’s been even worse this year. Willingham makes about the most sense out of anybody to be traded. The Twins need improve their outfield defense, and they also need to get younger. Willingham’s bat could make him appealing to teams on the cusp of playoff contention. An AL team would make the most sense, as I think Willingham is, at this stage, best suited to DH.
Kurt Suzuki and Kendrys Morales are also players that could be out of Minnesota by the end of the month. A few pundits have wondered whether the Twins should actually extend Suzuki, given the career numbers he’s put up so far (.299/.354/.389, .9 fWAR), but I’m skeptical. First, he’s on a one year deal that would make him very attractive to a team (the Orioles, let’s say) that’s still in playoff hunt but needs immediate, short term help at backstop. He’ll also be 31 by the end of the year, which is about the time one would expect a catcher to really start the decline phase of his career. We’ve also seen what Josmil Pinto can do if he’s given regular at bats.
Instead, I think the Twins should extend Morales. He’s obviously more expensive than Suzuki, but he’s an historically better hitter, and the fact that he’s a DH means that his decline is probably not as imminent. His position also limits his trade value (compare to Willingham, who can play outfield in a pinch). As well, Morales is a young enough DH that he could conceivably be part of a rebuild.
Perhaps the most interesting trade piece the Twins have, however, is Kevin Correia. There isn’t any point of the season in which he’s been brilliant, but he has recently been very steady. Correia has pitched at least six innings in seven out of his last eight starts. Five of those have been quality starts. For the team who would get him, Correia would offer stability to the back end of the rotation and a decent assurance of keeping his team in the ballgame. For the Twins, the vacated roster spot would open up a ton of interesting possibilities. Namely, it would create space for Trevor May, who, yes, is currently on the disabled list, but it’s the seven day disabled list, and it’s retroactive to the 26th of June. By all indications, he’ll be ready to pitch in the Futures Game at Target Field. This could create a domino effect, wherein somebody from New Britain gets the call to Rochester (Virgil Vasquez or Lester Oliveros seem like candidates, although the latter is a reliever), and Jose Berrios finally gets promoted to New Britain. Trading Correia wouldn’t simply mean acquiring more prospects, it would fit into a larger rebuilding strategy that has so far been malformed at best. Really, the Twins need to figure out exactly what kind of team they are. Are they one that could contend this year, and so must see it through with their veterans? Seems unlikely. The more prudent option is to shed some of the veterans and let the younger guys play.