It’s almost humorous to read that the Twins players are worried that the front office will break the team up as the trade deadline approaches, looking for future prospects at the expense of fielding a winning team this year. The necessary implication of this concern is that there is somebody on the current Twins roster whom a contending team would be interested in! Maybe Josh Willingham, a below-average outfielder who is hitting .212? How about the many players who have been cut, or traded away, by better teams in the not-too-distant past: Sam Fuld, Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, even Phil Hughes? Or a third baseman hitting .240 who has had three years to improve, in vain? Kurt Suzuki would be a useful addition to a number of teams, but as the team’s best hitter and everyday catcher he is more valuable in Minnesota than he would be anywhere else. Glen Perkins is a valuable chip, but he has so identified with Minnesota that a trade would be a major betrayal, which the Twins can’t afford. No, the only player I see as possible trade bait is 8th-inning setup man Casey Fien. But what would the Twins realistically get in return? Given the Twins’ traditional reticence to make trades, I’m not holding my breath.
Amid a third consecutive floundering season by the Minnesota Twins I can sum up the main cause of my disappointment in two words: Joe Mauer. The rest is pretty much as expected: a free-agent flop at the top of the rotation – this year it’s Ricky Nolasco instead of Mike Pelfrey or Vance Worley. Then there are the various journeymen who show flashes of competence, even excitement, but eventually revert to norm: Chris Parmelee, Sam Fuld, Eduardo Escobar. Brian Dozier is being hailed as the answer at second base, and while he leads the AL in runs scored and adds dimension in base-stealing and defense, he is hitting only .234. Trevor Plouffe has also taken a step forward at third. Conversely, Oswaldo Arcia has regressed from the immense potential he briefly displayed last fall. The bullpen is above average, despite their excessive usage; even though Burton and Perkins aren’t quite the lockdown they were in 2013, Fien and Thielbar have shown they are more than flukes. Swarzak, Duensing and Guerrier can be very good or not, but every team will have weaknesses in relievers 5-7. Phil Hughes is the most professional of the starters, maybe because he was a Yankee for so long, and Kyle Gibson gives indications of being only one year away from the next Brad Radke. There are rumored arms down on the farm, and I should include the unseen Yohan Pino in this group, who should make Correia, Deduno and Nolasco expendable. And speaking of the farm, everyone is still counting on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, even though both have been hurt all year. So, as I said, it’s pretty much business as usual – beat up on the White Sox, fall flat before the Yankees – with one glaring exception. We all assumed another season of hitting .330 from Mauer – or perhaps more, and with fewer injuries because of his move to first base. Instead, despite a recent surge, he’s been hitting 60 points below his average most of the year, with a troubling jump in strikeouts. He’s never been known as a clutch hitter or a power hitter, and those numbers are also at all-time lows. When he comes up with two men on base and grounds meekly to second it’s dispiriting to us fans, and I wonder if it doesn’t have some effect on his teammates, as well. Adding insult to injury (which Mauer currently has), Justin Morneau, whom Mauer replaced at first, is having an All-Star caliber season for the Rockies.
The Twins will have plenty of time to experiment the rest of this year. Among the questions to be answered: Is Danny Santana the shortstop the Twins have been looking for since Greg Gagne? Is Eduardo Nunez more than the journeyman he’s been for other teams, or is that enough? Can Arcia be taught better defense and will he grow as a hitter? Can Deduno be more consistent, and in what role, or does he have trade value? And where do they get help for Kurt Suzuki, both in the batting order and behind the plate? There is almost enough to care about going forward, but not quite enough to avoid saying, Wait for Next Year.
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