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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Twins Hold Firm at Deadline

The trade deadline came and passed at 4pm EST yesterday, with the Twins making no major moves despite being in the midst of a poor season for the second straight year. While other struggling teams such as the Phillies, Astros and Cubs cleaned house, the Twins chose to stand pat and while this has drawn the ire of many Twins fans, it points to the quality of GM Terry Ryan and his rebuilding plan.

The Francisco Liriano trade has already drawn a considerable amount of criticism from Twins fans; ultimately the Twins had very little choice. In what turned out to be Liriano’s last start in a Twins uniform, he was shellacked by the White Sox for 7 ER in 2.2 IP. Oh yeah, and 25 major league scouts were there watching. Twins fans disappointed by the return gained for their mercurial ace were buying into a perceived value for Liriano which never really existed. Despite his excellence in his previous 10 starts Liriano reminded the league at a crucial time how heart-breaking he can be. Perhaps the rest of the league had also bought into this perceived value too but purely by the numbers in his MLB career to date Liriano has pitched 789.1 innings to an ERA of 4.32 and a WHIP if 1.34 and despite an excellent 9.1 SO/9 was simply promise unfulfilled for the Twins. White Sox GM Kenny Williams deserves credit for acquiring a pitcher who has the potential to help his club down the stretch and giving up very little in return from a farm system which, while much maligned has produced Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, two key South-Side difference makers this season.

In the build up to the trade deadline Ryan had discussions with teams regarding Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Glen Perkins and Jared Burton, yet not a deal was done. The difficulty the Twins found themselves in was that all of these players are under team control through at least next season and all (with the exception of Morneau) are inexpensive relative to their production. Span is having an excellent year hitting .297/.361/.402 through Tuesday and making a little over $12 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. Willingham is signed on for an uber bargain at 3 years and $21 million. Perkins signed a 3 year $10.5 million extension this offseason and Burton is having an excellent year, making a mere $750,000 and is arbitration eligible at the end of the current season. Despite these players excellent seasons (again with the exception of Morneau – who has shown signs of life hitting .333 with 2 HR and 7 RBI in his last 10 games) none of them could bring in the kind of high ceiling pitching talent the Twins are looking for simply because other clubs are not interested in moving it. Remember that the Dodgers ultimately baulked on Ryan Dempster because they were not willing to give up their top pitching prospect, Allen Webster, in return. The only club to give up such a high caliber pitching prospect before the deadline was Detroit, who potentially over dealt, sending Jacob Turner to the Marlins for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez.

Terry Ryan was wise not to trade any Twins players with solid production and team friendly contracts for an uncertain return.
While the argument could certainly be made that Ryan might have targeted high ceiling guys from the lower levels of the minor leagues the Twins GM has begun to try and address the organizations need for pitching in this years draft. Let us remind ourselves with some of the Twins early draft choices this year and how they are progressing thus far. Number 32 pick out of Puerto Rico Jose Berrios has been lighting it up in rookie ball with a 0.64 ERA through 14 IP, striking out 21 in the process and holding opponents to a 0.85 average. Second round RP out of Rice JT Chargois has given up merely a hit in 7IP with Elizabethtown to date, striking out 6. While number 42 pick Luke Bard struggled initially with his control for the GCL Twins, he pitched his first scoreless inning for Elizabethtown last night (Tuesday). Finally 2009 1st round pick Kyle Gibson pitched 3 innings of no hit ball for the GCL Twins on Tuesday, walking 1 and striking out 7 in the process, in his bid to return from Tommy John surgery. While these players are clearly a long way away from major league ready my point is simply that the Twins draft focus shifted sharply this year to focus on high caliber arms, a trend that will likely continue with good draft position in 2013.

With the Twins out of the AL Central race the probability of both Matt Capps and Carl Pavano being traded in August if they clear waivers and can return to health is high. Without Capps, Pavano and Liriano next year the Twins will have a little financial wiggle room to go out and seek free agent pitching to aid a rotation seriously in need of some veteran leadership. Indeed, names like Morneau and Span may well surface again in the off-season, at which point Terry Ryan may receive an offer he can’t refuse. In the mean time Ryan haters stand down, the Twins wily GM is building from the ground up and the old adage will always ring true, ‘no trade is better than a bad trade’.

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