July 31, 2011 – As the July 31 trade deadline approached, the Twins seemed to be in the middle of a number of possible trade discussions with players such as Kevin Slowey, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jose Mijares, Delmon Young, and Jim Thome all supposedly in the mix to change uniforms. But the Twins and GM Bill Smith found themselves between a rock and a hard-spot on what to do with a team that seems to have hit a plateau at 6 games out after coming out of the chute like a herd of turtles and found themselves 20 games under .500 on June 1st. According to a recent clip I saw on TV, no team in MLB history that has been 20 games under has ever come back to finish above the .500 mark. But on the other hand, no one in the Central Division seems to want to take the lead and run with it. The Kansas City Royals started the season hot as a pistol but soon tanked and found themselves rebuilding with some young and up and coming stars. The Chicago White Sox can’t seem to get their act together and struggle to hang around the .500 mark. The surprising Cleveland Indians are probably in over their heads but have been putting up a good fight but they have too many injuries to key players and are too young to be taken too seriously. The Detroit Tigers are leading the pack right now and as I see it, will win the division just because they are the best team in a bad division in 2011.
But getting back to Minnesota, what was Smith to do? I can see no way that with the way the Jekyll and Hyde Twins have played this season that ownership would authorize the payroll to increase by any substantial amount. So if Smith wanted to make some additions to say the relief core, he would also have to move some payroll to free up some dollars. On the other hand, the Twins could have become sellers and started a rebuilding process but the fans in Twins Territory would have gone “nuts” if the Twins threw up the white flag while being only six games out on July 31. The Twins sell out almost every home game and giving up just does not seem like the right thing to do even though the chances of this team winning the division are slim and none. So what should be done?
The solution as it turns out was relatively simple, the answer was to be neither a buyer nor a seller and just let things continue the way they are for the time being. All Smith had to do is keep saying no to any deal that was not stacked in favor of the home team and the only deal he would make would be on where the Twins came out smelling like a rose. Like the deal that was much ballyhooed where the Twins would send Span to Washington and hopefully get closer Drew Storen, outfielder Roger Bernadina, and 2B Steve Lombardozzi. But Washington did not want to part with Storen and Smith passed on Troy Clippard. If a miracle happens and the Twins catch fire, just play it out and hope for the best. If the Twins tank, there is always the waiver wire or just let the season come to a merciful end and deal with your potential free agent fallout. Besides, this team can’t be this bad again next year, the team was snake bit with injuries in 2011 and what are the odds of it happening again? But the Twins do have holes and a bit of a tune-up with some new parts just might make this sputtering 4 cylinder engine come to life again as the V-8 that all of us Twins fans expected in 2011.
GM Bill Smith isn’t as dumb as some make him out to be, he went from being in an impossible situation of deciding between buying and selling to finding himself in the position of being right no matter where the Twins finish in the standings. If the Twins don’t win the division and finish third or fourth, he was right not to be a buyer, why waste the money. If the Twins make a serious run but still lose, he can take the position that we did not need to make any moves, we just needed our players to get healthy and start playing the way they are capable of playing and it is a good thing that he wasn’t a seller or the Twins would not have made this great come-back.
But Mr. Smith is not totally off the hook here. Sure the Twins had their run of injuries, but their play in 2011 is not all about injuries. There are questions that need to be asked. Is Nishioka really as bad as he has played in 2011? How do the Twins avoid a repeat of the 2011 bullpen woes? Is the Twins starting staff going to take a step forward or is it time to blow it up? What does he do about Cuddyer and Kubel as they enter free agency?
What would I have done if I had been in Smith’s shoes? I would have done pretty much what Smith did, nothing, but I am working at a disadvantage here, I don’t know what the other teams offered for Kubel or Cuddyer. For sure I would have sent Thome packing; he is just wasting a roster spot as the Twins wait for him to hit home run number 600. I assume they were offered next to nothing for Slowey or he would be gone by now, but now that Blackburn has pitched so poorly of late, maybe it is time to give Slowey a shot at Blackie’s spot?