Twins’ front office tight-lipped about possible trades

Before a game at Target Field last week, a member of the Minnesota Twins’ front office was asked whether he believed his team would be buyers or sellers when the July 31 trade deadline rolled around.

His answer?

“Don’t know yet,” said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony.

By this time last year — and in 2011 — it was clear that the Twins would be sellers at the deadline. Minnesota was already buried in the American League Central cellar, trailing by 10 ½ games at this point a season ago.

Following Tuesday’s loss at Miami, though, the Twins are currently five games under .500 and 8 ½ games behind first-place Detroit — a team that many thought would run away with the division but has yet to create that separation. There is still plenty of baseball to be played, and the Twins don’t consider themselves out of the race just yet.

That makes it trickier to determine whether they’ll be buyers or sellers at the end of July.

“I think that’s what a lot of teams are trying to figure out themselves,” Antony said. “We’ll let the next month probably dictate that. You really don’t have a good idea when you’re (five) under .500 right now.”

Last year, Minnesota dealt left-hander Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox at the deadline in exchange for lefty Pedro Hernandez and infielder Eduardo Escobar. The Twins were out of contention by the time they traded Liriano in late July, but the White Sox were still vying for a playoff spot. The trade made sense for both teams, especially considering Liriano was set to hit the free-agent market after the season.

The Twins had other potential trade chips, including left fielder Josh Willingham, who was in the midst of a career year. If Minnesota unloaded Willingham during the first year of his two-year deal, though, the Twins would then have to find someone to replace his right-handed power bat.

Instead, Minnesota hung onto Willingham, who has failed to replicate last year’s numbers but has still been a fixture in the Twins’ lineup this year.

“What entered into it, especially for us, was where are we going to find a power-hitting corner outfielder for $7 million a year who has fit in well, hits well in this ballpark and is living up to everything we hoped and thought he could be?” Antony said. “That probably factored into it as much as anything.”

If the Twins do become sellers between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, who might be on the move? First baseman Justin Morneau’s name is one that pops up frequently. Morneau, 32, is in the last year of his contract and is set to become a free agent next year. The former MVP and four-time All-Star is having a productive season, batting .282 with 42 RBI, but the power has been absent from Morneau’s game. He hit a career-high 34 homers in 2006 and belted 19 last year. Through Tuesday, though, he has just three. Still, he’s a guy that could help a contender down the stretch if the Twins start selling.

Closer Glen Perkins’ name was also floated around recently by MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, who said that the Twins would not part with Perkins “without a big haul.”

“We’ve had calls on Perk,” Antony said. “We haven’t fielded any offers or basically talked about him, to be honest with you.”

It can be expected that a few teams looking to make a playoff push will be interested in acquiring starting pitching at the deadline. Minnesota doesn’t have a ton to offer in that department, but the Twins’ most consistent starter — right-hander Kevin Correia — is a name to watch. While most of Minnesota’s rotation has struggled this year, Correia has been solid. After pitching against the Marlins on Tuesday, he is now 6-5 with a 3.82 ERA.

Signed to a two-year, $10 million deal, Correia is still under contract next season for $5.5 million in 2014. Minnesota lacks pitching depth, but if it can get something in return for Correia, he’s a name that could be on the move.

“He’s been our best starting pitcher,” Antony said of Correia. “I think other teams, if you’re looking for a starting pitcher and you look at the Twins, who would you want? The guy who’s done consistently the best. But he is signed to a two-year deal at a pretty reasonable number, especially in the free-agent market and what you can go out and get. …

“If you trade a Kevin Correia, you have to think about next year. You’re going to be back out looking for that same guy. Unless something that came along that was very worthwhile for us, I’m not sure that we would.”

It appears at this point of the season like there’s a better chance the fourth-place Twins will be sellers rather than buyers, but Antony preaches patience. Crazy things have happened in this game, and with extra wild card teams, there’s even more chances for clubs to be contenders come August and September.

“I think the last few years, there have been teams that have been back and have come back and made the playoffs,” Antony said. “There are other teams that have come back and had a good second half. You’re really hard-pressed to give up on the season. … Our goal coming into the season was we wanted to play meaningful games in September, and that hasn’t changed.”

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