When things went south a few games after the All-Star break, it was obvious that the Minnesota Twins would be sellers at the trade deadline.
After losing three games to Tampa Bay out of the break, the Twins fell even further out of contention and inched closer to a fourth straight losing season. The comments from general manager Terry Ryan seemed to back up the notion that Minnesota would be unloading players — rather than acquiring talent — by the July 31 deadline.
"We’re a long way from .500, frankly," Ryan said during that Rays series. "I’ve got a fair idea what we’re doing and where we’re at, who’s ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of clubs to jump."
With one day to go before the non-waiver trade deadline, Minnesota sits at 48-57 and in last place in the American League Central, 10 games back of first-place Detroit. The Twins are also 8 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot in the AL with 57 games remaining.
Minnesota already made one move this month, sending first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to Seattle in exchange for minor-league pitcher Stephen Pryor. Within the next 24 hours, more Twins could be on the move.
That includes left fielder Josh Willingham, who has grown used to hearing his name thrown around at the trade deadline. That was the case last year, but Willingham stayed put. Though he hasn’t put up numbers anywhere close to the career year he had with Minnesota in 2012 (35 home runs, 110 RBI), the 35-year-old Willingham could still provide some power from the right side of the plate for a playoff contender. He has 10 homers and 30 RBI in 58 games with the Twins this year.
FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reported Tuesday that the Seattle Mariners — who Minnesota just recently made a deal with — were in discussion with the Twins about Willingham. A few other teams, including the New York Yankees, have reportedly expressed interest in the left fielder. Regardless of what kind of return the Twins could get for Willingham, it makes sense to deal him now. At 35, he doesn’t figure to be a part of the team’s future plans. He’s also in the final year of his contract and likely wouldn’t be back in Minnesota next season anyway.
There have been several other names of Twins players churning in the trade rumor mill over the last few weeks. Among them are right-hander Kevin Correia and catcher Kurt Suzuki, both of whom are set to become free agents after the 2014 season. Correia’s last few starts haven’t done much to improve his trade value, but he could bring a veteran presence to a contending club in need of starting pitching depth.
Suzuki, meanwhile, is in the midst of a career year offensively. In 88 games, Suzuki is batting .307 — a career high by nearly 30 points — with 41 RBI and 19 doubles and earned his first All-Star appearance. The Twins signed him to a one-year deal this past winter to help ease the transition of Joe Mauer from catcher to first base, and few people expected Suzuki to put up the offensive numbers he has. While signing him to a contract extension remains a possibility, so does trading him to a contending team in need of a catcher. Given how productive he’s been at the plate this season, Suzuki’s value may never be higher.
The Twins hoped they wouldn’t find themselves in the position of sellers, a spot that has become all too familiar after losing 96-plus games in each of the past three seasons. The last two years saw a struggling Minnesota team deal a player (or players) to contenders in order to acquire something in return.
Last year, Minnesota sent catcher Drew Butera to the Dodgers on the July 31 deadline for a player to be named later, which turned out to be pitcher Miguel Sulbaran. After that deadline but before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, the Twins dealt Jamey Carroll to Kansas City for cash, giving the veteran infielder a chance to play for a contender. And on Aug. 31 of last year, longtime first baseman and fan favorite Justin Morneau was traded to Pittsburgh for outfielder Alex Presley and pitcher Duke Welker. While fans were sad to see Morneau go, the trade made sense for both teams. Morneau was about to enter free agency and likely was going to sign elsewhere (he inked a deal with the Rockies this past winter), and it allowed the Twins to let Morneau play in the postseason.
None of those trades yielded a huge return. Sulbaran, the only part of the Butera trade, is now a member of the Yankees organization after the Twins traded him to acquire Eduardo Nunez. Nunez has been a solid utility player for Minnesota this year, although his acquisition was not a direct result of the Butera trade. Meanwhile, Presley was claimed off waivers by Houston before the 2014 season began, and Welker was traded back to Pittsburgh for pitcher Kris Johnson.
Minnesota made a few more deadline deals in 2012. That included sending left-hander Francisco Liriano to the White Sox for infielder Eduardo Escobar and pitcher Pedro Hernandez. Escobar has played shortstop for most of 2014 while bouncing around the infield for the Twins, while Hernandez made a few starts in 2013 but was signed by the Rockies this past winter. And in 2011, Delmon Young was traded after the July 31 deadline to Detroit for pitchers Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros.
Whatever deals the Twins may make between now and the end of August, fans shouldn’t necessarily expect a sizeable return. Teams that acquire these players at the deadline are usually renting them for a month or two, hoping their addition can help boost their club to the playoffs. The playoffs aren’t in the picture for Minnesota this year, and the Twins will continue to build toward 2015 and beyond. Any return for these soon-to-be free agents should be viewed as a good thing.