August 3, 2009

I Went to Washington and All I Got Was This Lousy Shortstop

Despite weeks of rumor-filled newspaper reports and speculation-fueled blog entries about all sorts of potential deals, as usual the trade deadline came and went Friday afternoon without the Twins making a significant move. Even the minor swap that they did make--acquiring Orlando Cabrera from the A's for last year's second-round pick and 32nd-ranked prospect Tyler Ladendorf--was seemingly done as much to appease the frustrated clubhouse and ornery fan base as to actually improve the team.

Or put another way, acquiring Cabrera certainly qualifies as doing something and that alone might be enough to take some of the air out of public complaints from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau or muzzle the average talk-radio caller, but adding a 34-year-old shortstop with declining range who was batting .280/.318/.365 through 101 games this season, hit .281/.334/.371 last year, and hasn't posted even a .750 OPS since 2003 is unlikely to tip the scales regardless of how weak the division continues to be.

As noted in this space last week when reports first linked the Twins to Cabrera, he's likely an upgrade. However, that upgrade is small and the fact that a shortstop with a rapidly deteriorating glove and .680 OPS can make the team slightly better is an indictment of the people assembling the roster far more than it's a sign that those same people are capable of and willing to improve on the fly. Ron Gardenhire predictably slotting Cabrera into the lineup's No. 2 spot makes the whole thing even less helpful.

Trading for two months of a thoroughly mediocre Cabrera and sticking his measly .322 career on-base percentage in front of Mauer and Morneau is like handing someone trapped in the desert one glass of water and then walking away. Better than nothing? Absolutely. Doing something that you can point to as improving the situation? Sure. But in the grand scheme of things, useless. One glass of water won't get anyone out of a desert and one mediocre shortstop won't get the Twins ... well, anything.

Making a huge, franchise-altering trade at midseason is more often than not a mistake, because the impact of even a star player for just a couple months is usually overstated and contenders are typically forced to pay a premium to improve on the fly. However, for years now the Twins have tried to sell the notion that even minor deals to add solid players and patch obvious holes are nearly impossible to pull off without raiding the farm system. Here's an excerpt from LaVelle E. Neal III's post-deadline recap:

Cabrera was one of several players the Twins inquired about before the deadline. ... The Twins pushed for relief pitching but found the price too steep. Teams requested top prospects in outfielder Ben Revere, catcher Wilson Ramos and third baseman Danny Valencia, but the Twins elected to hold onto them.

San Diego wanted four top prospects from the Twins for reliever Heath Bell. Oakland wanted a couple of top prospects for reliever Michael Wuertz. The Twins also spoke with Arizona about reliever Jon Rauch, but talks didn't get far. ... They also engaged the Orioles about lefthander George Sherrill before he was dealt to the Dodgers.

"It was a tough market for relievers," Twins General Manager Bill Smith said. "There were a lot of conversations. In the end we couldn't get it done."

I'm sure that LEN3 is just passing along information from his various sources within the organization, but some of that stuff should insult the intelligence of any fan with a pulse. We're expected to believe that the Twins just couldn't acquire a reliever because "teams requested top prospects" Ben Revere, Wilson Ramos, and Danny Valencia? Really, the Twins couldn't get a decent setup man because they "elected to hold onto" their top-five prospects? In what universe is that the cost of a middle reliever?

Certainly not this universe, where solid setup men like Cla Meredith, Rafael Betancourt, Joe Beimel, Tony Pena, and John Grabow changed hands for little more than a mid-level prospect or two and a bit of cash. Yet somehow we're supposed to accept that when the Twins asked for those types of guys the only names brought up by the other side were top-notch prospects like Revere, Valencia, and Ramos. After all, according to Bill Smith "it was a tough market for relievers."

Meanwhile, the two teams ahead of the Twins in the division swung trades for Jake Peavy and Jarrod Washburn, plenty of viable setup men changed teams for nowhere near the prices that Smith would have you believe, and several useful hitters were also swapped for modest returns. I'd never blame the Twins for failing to make a huge splash at the trading deadline, but fans have every right to expect the front office to address obvious weaknesses and they've shown zero ability to do that.

Late-inning bullpen options have been an issue since Pat Neshek went down 15 months ago and the middle infield has been a major problem since Smith misguidedly gave away Jason Bartlett just after taking over as general manager, and regardless of the Twins' attempts to spin the situation those clear weaknesses could have been addressed without sacrificing elite prospects or piles of money. Instead we get the same old quotes about sky-high asking prices and the same old flaws aren't addressed.

The bullpen has lacked a quality setup men for going on two years now, yet the team continues to trot out guys like Bobby Keppel, R.A. Dickey, and Jesse Crain after previously burning through Luis Ayala, Sean Henn, Brian Bass, and a washed-up Eddie Guardado. The middle infield has been the worst in baseball this season and a problem for much of this decade, yet bringing in a declining mediocrity like Cabrera while simply shifting Nick Punto to a different position is their sorry excuse for an answer.

Perhaps the Twins will be lucky and Cabrera can put together a strong two months or perhaps they can win the incredibly weak division even if he doesn't, but they failed to improve in any sort of meaningful way at the trading deadline and anyone trying to sell the idea that asking prices for every decent player being through the roof was to blame is insulting your intelligence. A few mid-level prospects and a few million bucks would've gotten the Twins a new middle infield and a new setup man. That's an upgrade.

Instead the Twins made one ultimately meaningless deal that still leaves them trotting out either Punto or Alexi Casilla at second base every day alongside a different mediocre shortstop and will continue to hand the ball to overmatched relievers in key spots down the stretch. Toss in a rotation that appears to be coming apart at the seams and this is a team that would have no business contending for a playoff spot if not for the AL Central boasting zero teams on pace for more than 85 wins.

Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at

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