I woke up last Friday believing -- as many others did -- that the Twins were front-runners to ultimately land Cliff Lee. After all, the Mariners were thirsty for young hitting help, particularly at the catcher position, and the Twins were reportedly dangling a package headlined by Wilson Ramos.
The Yankees changed the game when they put their own top catching prospect, Jesus Montero, on the table. This almost immediately pushed the Twins out of the running. With past deadline failures in mind, many fans reacted with anger to this development. Just another instance of the pushover Twins failing to do what it takes to outbid the big boys and do what's necessary to improve the roster.
Not the case here. As soon as Montero became available (assuming he actually was available, and this whole thing wasn't a ploy by either the Yankees or Mariners to force a higher offer from another club), the Twins weren't going to be coming up with a more attractive package, nor should they have tried. Montero ranked fifth on Baseball America's recently released Midseason Updated Top 25 Prospects list, four slots above Twins top prospect Aaron Hicks, who I think would have been too much to give up in a package alongside Ramos.
Of course, the Yankees themselves were outbid for Lee when Texas stepped in and offered a package built around young slugger Justin Smoak. Considered one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, Smoak provides the type of immediate power potential that the Mariners sought above all. By the time his name was mentioned, the Twins were distant on-lookers.
If the day's roller coaster of events made one thing clear, it's that the Twins may not have the expendable assets to haul in a premier piece at the deadline. I suggested an offer of Ramos and Ben Revere -- two of the Twins' very best prospects -- for Lee last Wednesday and some felt that it was too much to surrender for a half-season rental. Yet, even that deal couldn't hold a candle to the eventual offers from New York and Texas.
If Ramos and Revere are still on the table, the Twins might have a shot at landing a front-line game-changer like Roy Oswalt or Dan Haren, though financial restrictions will become a serious roadblock in acquiring either hurler. The Twins clearly need help in the rotation, but may need to lower their focus to the next tier of starters.
Our 2010 Trade Deadline Primer (pick up your copy today!) features a handy guide to nearly every player who could be available during this year's deadline season, as submitted by bloggers who closely follow their respective teams. Since these Trade Targets are divided up by position, we can use this list to easily identify starting pitchers beyond Haren and Oswalt who could interest the Twins in the coming weeks. Let's look through a few potentially desirable names:
Fausto Carmona, Indians
Cleveland has dealt aces at the deadline in each of the past two seasons, and may be tempted to do so again this year with contention still looking like a distant hope. However, Carmona's control issues reduced him from Cy Young contender in 2007 to disaster in '08 and '09. While he's gotten his walks in check this year and returned to effective (albeit not dominating ace) status, his precarious nature will likely prevent the Twins from offering what Cleveland will likely require.
Ted Lilly, Cubs
The veteran lefty is most likely available and the Twins would love another experienced hurler who could reliably deliver quality innings in bunches. Yet, the Twins have to figure that Brian Duensing, a much cheaper and readily available left-handed arm in the bullpen, could provide similar production. Tom Gorzelanny would seemingly be a more desirable target.
Aaron Harang, Reds
Harang has always been a somewhat interesting pitcher because of his durability and his solid strikeout totals, but his results have never really matched his stuff. He hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2007 and continues to struggle with the long ball. That's the last thing the Twins need.
Derek Lowe, Braves
Atlanta would love to dump Lowe's contract but the Twins are hardly equipped to take it on. Not that they'd want to, as Lowe has regressed to the point where he is (as Braves blogger Peter Hjort puts it in the Primer) "not one of the five best starters the Braves have."
Ben Sheets, Athletics
Sheets was sort of an interesting possibility during the offseason, when his injury history had him looking for a one-year make-good deal. The right-hander eventually inked a $10 million contract with the A's while the Twins elected to spend their money on retaining Carl Pavano -- a very wise choice. Sheets sits with a 4-8 record, 4.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 82-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 112 2/3 innings. He's been healthy, just not very good. Can't imagine the Twins will even bother making a call.
Brett Myers, Astros
The former Phillie is enjoying a change of scenery in Houston, where he's posted a 3.41 ERA over his 18 starts thus far. Myers' peripheral numbers, however, don't paint a pretty picture; his strikeout rate, walk rate and hit rate are all nearly identical to where they were last year in Philadelphia, when he posted a 4.84 ERA. He's been fortunate enough to see only 8.9 percent of fly balls leave the yard -- easily a career low. His luck would likely catch up with him in the less pitcher-friendly American League.
That's pretty much it. The rest of the players likely to be available are either worse than the ones listed above or they play for a rival who won't be going out of their way to help the Twins in their quest for a playoff spot. If none of those names get you particularly excited, you're not alone. While they'd all probably be better than Nick Blackburn, these just aren't impact additions likely to turn around the fortunes of a fledgling rotation.
If the Twins want to make a real, significant upgrade to their rotation at the deadline this year, they're pretty much going to have to set their sights on Haren or Oswalt. But, as John Bonnes noted earlier this week on his blog and in his Twins essay for the Primer, there may not be payroll space to take on either of those hurlers. Oswalt is owed more than $20 million over the next two years while Haren is in the second year of a four-year, $44.75 million deal.
Simply put, with Lee gone, the Twins might be out of luck when it comes to adding a starting pitcher this month, unless they're willing to significantly lower their standards.