There are a few reasons that I don't expect Bill Smith to make any major moves in the coming weeks. One is that the team is fairly well-set as it is. The rotation has been solid, and as cliche as it has become, getting back a healthy and effective Francisco Liriano could easily be the equivalent of a trade to acquire a very good starting pitcher. While the bullpen has been shaky at times, acquiring a difference-making reliever via trade tends to be far too costly. Offensively, the only positions where an argument could be made that the Twins should upgrade are shortstop, where Nick Punto is more than holding his own, and third base, where Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris/Matt Macri can seemingly form an effective platoon over the final months of the season.
The other reason I don't see the Twins making a move is that they really don't have the expendable pieces to bring back a player of value. Many fans seem to be trapped in the mindset of past years, where the Twins had a glut of young pitching from which to deal. This is simply not the case anymore. The Twins have four young starters who have fortunately proven effective at the major-league level, but none of these players are anywhere close to expendable. One can argue that Smith could trade a player like Nick Blackburn and replace him with Liriano, but then what happens if another starter gets injured or if Livan Hernandez's ineptitude becomes too much to handle? Suddenly, you're looking to unproven, mediocre minor-league players like Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey to join the rotation during a stretch run. Those who argue that Duensing and Mulvey themselves could become trade pieces for the Twins are clearly overrating the value of these prospects.*
* This is hardly unusual, it is very common for fans of a team to overrate the value of their own prospects. I've seen it especially often this year, and I've probably even been guilty of it myself. What people need to come to terms with is that the Twins really lack attractive high-level prospects right now -- in fact, I think that any team looking to send anything significant to Minnesota would start their inquiries with Ben Revere. And I totally stole this asterisk thing from Joe Posnanski.
Anyway, in spite of the fact that I find a trade unlikely, I certainly wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility. The Twins stand just 1.5 games behind the White Sox for first place in the AL Central with 67 games left to play, and some small improvements could seriously boost their chances of overtaking the Sox and capturing a division championship.
The name that has been mentioned most frequently in relation to the Twins is Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre. He's in the second-to-last year of his contract in Seattle, and the fledgling Mariners are reportedly open to the idea of moving him. Beltre has never come close to approaching the numbers he posted during his final season with the Dodgers, but he is a good-hitting third baseman who plays excellent defense and, with his ability to mash left-handed pitching, he could be an asset to the Twins. And as much as the deal he signed in Seattle looked like a mega-bust early on, in today's market the $12 million that he's owed this year and next looks pretty darn reasonable. Certainly, the Twins have the payroll flexibility in 2008 and 2009 to absorb that if they wanted to.
With all that being said, I find the idea of the Twins bringing in Beltre to be the stuff of pipe dreams. As I mentioned above, the Twins lack attractive trade pieces that are actually expendable, and the idea that the Mariners will let go of Beltre for a couple marginal prospects simply to have another team pick up his salary is just silly. The Mariners, who rank ninth in Major League Baseball in 2008 salary, are not a cash-strapped organization that is in dire need of shedding payroll, and there are no prospects coming up to push Beltre. I don't doubt that the Mariners would be willing to part with Beltre if the right deal came along, but it seems like many Twins fans are conveniently downplaying his value in order to convince themselves that the Mariners will deal the third baseman for peanuts. While Beltre never developed into the elite slugger that the Mariners hoped they were acquiring when they signed him, third basemen who play defense like him and hit for the type of power he does are not easy to find, and he's still only 29 years old. It's going to take a significant package to reel in Beltre, and I'm just not sure that such an endeavor would be worthwhile for the Twins considering the salary they'd have to take on and considering that they already have some reasonable options at the position as is.
Here's another third base option that might be a little more realistic and is worth keeping an eye on: Casey Blake. He was an unexceptional member of the Twins organization back around the turn of the millenium, but has since turned himself into a pretty nice player in Cleveland. Blake plays a decent third base, bats from the right side and shows solid power against left-handers. He is eligible for free agency following this season, so he'd probably be a rental, but he'd be a nice addition and could help the Twins offense down the stretch. It's not often that you see inter-divisional trades, but the Indians are pretty much out of the race and the Twins could offer them some decent young pitching -- maybe a Jeff Manship, or a couple lesser prospects.
All in all though, I suspect this will be a pretty quiet trade deadline for the Twins, and that's fine by me. They are well-positioned as is, and have a very good chance of sticking with the White Sox for the rest of the season if they continue to get solid innings from their young pitchers and quality at-bats from their young lineup. Ultimately, Liriano may end up being the most important addition the team makes around the deadline.
Finally, since we're on the subject, I'll part with this inane trade rumor from everyone's favorite bull-"Shooter":
It will be interesting whether the Twins try to package Michael Cuddyer and Livan Hernandez in a trade for a slugging third baseman before the July 31 deadline, saving $20 million in guaranteed money to Cuddyer and $2.5 million to Hernandez. Denard Span ($390,000) would replace Cuddyer in right field, and Francisco Liriano ($400,000) would replace Hernandez in the starting rotation.
Yes, I'm sure plenty of teams will be willing to part with their "slugging third baseman" in return for an underperforming, injured right fielder and the league's most hittable pitcher, both of whom are severely overpaid. As I've often said, I wish Mr. Walters would heed the advice offered by his column title... "Don't Print That."