Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline is just three days away, which has Twins fans everywhere pondering that age-old question faced by clubs sitting on the fringe of contention in late July: buy or sell?
In each of the past two years, we've seen Bill Smith pull the trigger on deadline deals, acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera for the stretch run in '09 and closer Matt Capps a year ago. To Smith's credit, both those moves paid short-term dividends, helping the team charge to a division title. (To his discredit, the Capps trade may ultimately go down as one of the worst in franchise history, but I digress…)
This year's Twins team presents a paradox. They seemed destined for a totally non-competitive season after going 17-36 in the injury-ravaged months of April and May, but charged back with an excellent June to move within shouting distance of the division lead.
Optimistic fans desperately want to believe that the "true Twins" are the ones from June who seemingly couldn't lose, but it's more likely that what we saw that month was a natural correction after those first two miserable months. What goes up must come down, or vice versa in this case.
Since the end of June, the Twins have played .500 ball and held steady between 5-7 GB in the Central. It's easy to pump out excuses for their lackluster overall record, but at the end of the day they hold a 22-41 record against teams with a winning record and their pitching staff -- which has largely been healthy -- has allowed more runs than all but two AL clubs.
We need to accept the fact that this just isn't a very good ball club, and dumping valuable resources to make incremental short-term improvements for a mediocre team with a slim chance at a postseason berth is foolhardy. The notion of aggressively buying should be out the window.
Then again, just because they're heavily flawed doesn't mean the Twins should be written off. The AL Central is particularly unimpressive this year and this is a squad that has shown the ability to rattle off wins in bunches.
Trading a key player like Joe Nathan or Jason Kubel would likely put the kibosh on whatever shot the Twins have at closing the deficit in the Central, and I don't think the return on such players would be enough to justify that. Nathan's contract (still owed a chunk of his $11.25M salary, plus an expensive buyout for next year's option) and Kubel's specific utility (righty-mashing DH type on the verge of FA) limit their values to the point where I don't think a lot of impact talent could be had for them. Meanwhile, the Twins have made it very clear that their best trade chip, Michael Cuddyer, isn't going anywhere under any circumstances.
With that being the case, why not stand pat and hope for the best? Other "sell" candidates like Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano remain under team control through next year, so decisions can be made on them in the offseason. Might as well see if those two, along with a number of other underperforming team members, can get it going in the final months and at the very least keep things interesting.
If I were the GM, I'd sit tight and focus on minor moves that won't take usable talent out of the organization, even if those moves come after the July 31st deadline (typically when Smith has done his best work).