When I left town on Thursday, the Twins were riding a four-game winning streak and were involved in numerous trade rumors. There was a prevailing sense of optimism amongst fans; the Twins were closing the gap in the division and it seemed that with a wise move or two, Bill Smith might be able to give them the boost they'd need to overcome the Tigers and White Sox.
Four days later, things are very different indeed. The Twins' sole deadline acquisition came in the form of Orlando Cabrera, and the team responded to the trade by being absolutely thumped in a three-game home sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels.
I'll address the Cabrera trade first. If you've read my post from last October about the possibility of signing Cabrera as a free agent or last Thursday's post that addressed the notion of trading for him at the deadline, you can probably guess that I'm not overly enthused about this trade. Cabrera isn't much of a hitter and it seems clear that his once-strong defensive skills have deteriorated as he's aged into his mid-30s. While Cabrera is a competent offensive player who is certainly capable of providing better production than Nick Punto, his playing time is likely to come more at the expense of Brendan Harris, who is a pretty similar hitter. All in all, Cabrera is likely to provide a marginal upgrade at best.
With that being said, I don't mind the move. My opposition to signing Cabrera during the offseason stemmed from the notion that he'd be able to land an expensive multi-year deal (which he didn't). My opposition to trading for him this past week stemmed from the notion that he'd command a valuable return -- after all, there were rumors that the A's were seeking Danny Valencia in return for their shortstop. Ultimately, Cabrera cost the Twins Tyler Ladendorf, a shortstop acquired in the second round of last year's draft. And while Ladendorf is an intriguing prospect whose absence cripples the organization's already thin minor-league middle-infield depth, he's a long ways away from contributing at the major-league level, and has enough flaws that there's a pretty good chance he never will.
Also, while Cabrera might be essentially equal to Harris from both an offensive and defensive standpoint at this juncture, Ron Gardenhire will actually play Cabrera. So he is an upgrade, even if the Twins have an in-house option who could seemingly make the same impact. Cabrera's arrival likely signals the end of the disastrous Punto/Casilla middle-infield combination that had been written into the starting lineup far too often as of late, and also slides Punto over to a position where I feel he is much stronger defensively. So, while I don't feel that Cabrera is a particularly good player at this stage, the domino effect from his acquisition should make the Twins a better club. But, as I said, only marginally so.
And unfortunately, the areas that Cabrera is impacting aren't the ones that were likely to prevent the Twins from being able to make the playoffs. As I suggested in Thursday's post, pitching is the area that has become a cardinal issue for the Twins, and that was made abundantly clear during this weekend's series in which the Twins allowed 35 runs over three games in a trio of blowout losses. At this point, it seems that no one other than Scott Baker can be remotely relied upon for a Quality Start. The bullpen continues to struggle with only three trustworthy late-inning arms, and Smith's inability to add an extra reliever with eighth-inning ability will likely force Gardenhire to once again lean too heavily on Matt Guerrier, with potentially terrible consequences.
I'm fine with Smith's addition of Cabrera, given the low cost and the fairly good chance that the move appeased some unrest within the clubhouse over this front office's lack of action. Yet, Cabrera's addition isn't likely to have a particularly large impact; certainly not as large as the additions made by the Twins' two competitors in this division. For better or for worse, the Twins will probably go forward with the pitching options that they currently have in their organization, and right now that's looking like a pretty glum path to tread.
If Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins can all get back on track to some degree while Jesse Crain emerges as a legitimate consistent late-innings option and at least one other reliever -- either on the current roster or in the minors -- can step in and make some key outs, the Twins might have a chance at taking this division and making a splash in the postseason. Short of all those things occurring, I really don't think they have much of a chance. I'm certainly not the type to declare a season over with two months remaining, but it's tough to be optimistic about the Twins' chances right now. Even with Orlando Cabrera.