The Minnesota Twins are limping into the All-Star break in a familiar position. Which is frustrating, considering the expectations of a fanbase that was more pumped up than I'd ever seen coming into the season. From exploding out of the gate, the wins have slowed to a trickle over the last few weeks. Compound that with hot streaks from both the White Sox and the Tigers, and "running away with the division" doesn't look like it's in the cards anymore.
In spite of tailing off, the Twins are still going to be buyers at the trade deadline. They missed out on Cliff Lee (and, really, a lot of teams are saying that right now), which is disappointing, but with how a majority of the rotation has pitched in recent weeks it's no secret that the front office is looking for an upgrade. Moving on from Lee, Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren top lists for guys who are ace-quality arms, while names like Ted Lilly are on the radar as well.
There's also the perennial hole at third base, which hasn't been adequately filled since the departure of Corey Koskie in 2004. 25-year old prospect Danny Valencia has filled in nicely, although the organization will likely return him to AAA Rochester once Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla are healthy enough to return. The fallout here is that Nick Punto will get most of the starts at third base, or Michael Cuddyer is moved over from right field to ensure every talented bat is in the lineup...defensive prowess be damned.
Not many names have surfaced in the third base rumor mill, with the exception of the injured (and near retirement?) Mike Lowell. In fact, not many third basemen have been listed in trade rumors period, with the exceptions of Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada. Wigginton's numbers are boosted by a strong start (he's hit .205/.289/.265 since June 1), and Tejada isn't necessarily an improvement over Nick Punto for on-base skills. While the Marlins continually seem to be open to trades, Jorge Cantu has been in a funk as well. For a team like Minnesota that's looking for an actual upgrade at the position, be it defensively or offensively, the market isn't booming with options.
On the farm, the Twins' strength is still in its pitching. Brian Duensing is being sent to Rochester to stretch his arm out for the struggling rotation, and there was talk of him being included in a deal for Cliff Lee. Anthony Slama and Kyle Waldrop are knocking on the door of the bullpen, as each continues their quest to drop their ERAs below 1.00. Additional AAA arms with talent, but arms that have struggled this season, include Glen Perkins, Pat Neshek, Rob Delaney and Anthony Swarzak. Names like Carlos Gutierrez, Tyler Robertson and Adrian Salcedo will also draw interest from scouts as well, but may be more difficult to pry away.
For the first time in recent memory, the Minnesota system also has depth at a position that doesn't rhyme with "itcher". The outfield has numberous talents, most famously Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks. But there are other strong athletes there, some with impressive numbers: Joe Benson, Angel Morales and the injured Rene Tosoni are all names that could flesh out a Major League roster some day.
As I said at the start, the Twins find themselves in a familiar position at the break. They're contending, under-performing early in the summer and yet still a favorite for the postseason. The difference this season is still in the talent on this roster, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If the Twins can grab a third baseman, one starter and see bounce-backs from solid peripheral performers like Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey, we could see Minnesota run away with this one yet.
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