We are less than two months from the waiver-free trade deadline and the Twins are close enough to first place to still be considered in the race. But it is not too early to speculate on what moves they will make if they drop out of the race, a scenario more likely than moving closer to the top. Detroit has the superior pitching and that makes them the odds-on favorite to win the division and no one is playing well enough – winning enough games – to be serious contenders for a wild card slot, so for the Twins it’s win the division or go home. Therefore, my prediction is the Twins will be in a position to be sellers rather than buyers in the month of July.
With that in mind, let’s consider which Twins might be candidates for the trading block. The most talked about player in this category so far is Justin Morneau. His past record – power hitter, former MVP – and the fact that he is in the final year of his contract make him an easy choice on the surface. Unfortunately for the Twins, Morneau has not been himself yet this year. He is hitting for a decent average and driving in runs, but he is not hitting for power. He has only two home runs as of this writing and that projects to less than 10 for the season even if he stays healthy and in the lineup regularly. Sometimes overlooked with him is his very good defense at first base, which might make him a bit more attractive to a contender that needs a first baseman.
At this point, I see two problems with Morneau’s being on the fast track to another team. First, his performance so far does not make him all that desirable for a pennant run. That means for the Twins, not much in return. Second, the number of contenders that do not have a solid first baseman at least as good if not better than Morneau is quite low. As a result, I expect Morneau to play out his contract with the Twins. In the coming off-season, I expect the Twins to make the minimum offer to him so as to secure a draft pick if another team signs him. I’m guessing no other team will match or exceed that offer, so he will be back next year on a one-year contract.
So, if Morneau is not a likely candidate for the fire sale, who is? The two next most logical are Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit because they would produce the best return as well as open up lineup spots for younger players. Both had their contracts extended last year, but both are quite affordable for teams in the hunt. Doumit’s versatility and recent production at the plate make him the more likely to be sought after by multiple contenders. Willingham has not had a great year so far, and his defense is a detriment, but his power is still going to make him an interesting option for some teams.
Some long-shot possibilities include Jamey Carroll, a true professional utility infielder who would contribute to a team in need of solidifying their infield for the stretch run, and Jared Burton, a now proven set-up man, who could even serve as a temporary closer for a team needing that kind of help in the last couple of months of the season. With the emergence of some younger pitchers in the bullpen, Burton and possibly even Brian Duensing (serviceable lefty) could be expendable. None of this group would produce much in return, so it would only be because the Twins do not see them in the picture for 2014 that any of them would be available.
Now the question becomes will the Twins make any moves at all. It is more common for them to not make deadline moves and save their changing of the roster decisions until the end of the season. Maybe this time the value of some of these players will be perceived to be substantially higher at the trade deadline than during to off-season. But that is a very subjective judgment. Ultimately, I would not be at all surprised if no big moves are made.