August 9, 2012

Twins’ trade deadline inactivity forces fans to have faith

Last year's July 31 trade deadline came and went without the Twins making a deal, although on August 15 they sent Delmon Young to the Tigers for minor leaguers Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. This year they pulled the trigger on trading Francisco Liriano two days before the deadline, acquiring marginal prospects Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez from the White Sox, and then chose not to make further moves (except later dumping Danny Valencia).

Rarely do struggling teams avoid trading any veterans for long-term help, yet in back-to-back seasons the Twins reached the July 31 deadline with one of MLB's worst records and failed to acquire a single quality prospect. Last year's inactivity stemmed from the Twins misguidedly still believing they had a chance to get into contention, plus the knowledge that they were in line for draft pick compensation for impending free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

This season there were no such illusions of contending, but Liriano was their only impending free agent with any sort of trade value and the Twins felt the time wasn't right to deal players signed beyond 2012. It's unclear whether that means the Twins felt the time wasn't right because those players are part of the team's intended plan to contend in 2013 or because they simply hope to get more value for them this offseason, but either way they stood pat.

Aiming to contend in 2013 or waiting until the offseason to deal veterans lead to the same thing, which is not trading Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Jared Burton, and others by July 31, but the long-term impact of those scenarios are very different. If they held onto veterans believing they're close to consistently contending again that's "optimistic" without plans to add lots of free agent rotation help and further delays a much-needed rebuild.

However, if the Twins held onto veterans believing that players signed beyond the current season will have a stronger trade market in November than in July that's a calculated risk and certainly defensible. Morneau and Burton are both under team control for next season, Willingham is signed through 2014, and Span's contract runs through 2015, so not trading them by July 31 doesn't rule out eventually trading them.

Terry Ryan and company need to be right about that, of course, and there's definitely reason to be skeptical of Willingham or Burton ever having more trade value than they do right now. And if any team was offering to absorb Morneau's entire $14 million salary for next season and give the Twins any sort of quality prospect, that's a move worth jumping on immediately. Still, in theory at least there was no rush to part with players under team control past this season.

Ultimately it comes down to having faith in Ryan and the front office, first to realize the focus should be on finding young talent rather than trying to contend in 2013 and then to maximize their returns from trading the few veterans with value to other teams. If you have faith, the Twins' trade deadline inactivity shouldn't be troubling. If you don't have faith, the Twins missed an immediate opportunity to restock the farm system and dive headfirst into rebuilding mode.

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  1. Good post. I myself have faith in Terry Ryan’s plan and scheme to grow our talent. I just don’t know if I have the fortitude to wait out the sure to be long process. How much longer do you think he will be on charge? And should the Twins wait? What are your thoughts on it? And on Ryan for that matter. Great stuff as always.

    Comment by Andrew — August 8, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  2. So what is your gameplan to get them back to winning. There are numerous ways to do this. I believe the Twins would be able to compete for the playoffs with 2 starting pitchers 1 better middle infielder and a solid bench bat. I think that would get them in the 85-90 win bracket with this team. They are almost a .500 team as is so if the Twins went out and got Blanton and Sanchez or edwin Jackson, or more likely an under-rated pitcher that will frustrate the both of us. Polanco looks to be one of a very few IF tht could help and then finding a bench bat shouldn’t be too hard if it is a priority.

    Or we could just ensure we aren’t any good next year and trade everyone for a prospect just to get a prospect.

    Comment by doofus — August 8, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

  3. I was frustrated as well by the lack of Twins activity. Although considering the returns other teams were getting for players I think the Twins did well by standing pat. It’s really unfortunate that Pavano and Capps look to be on the shelf though August because they could be dumped for warm bodies.

    I thought the extra wild card spot would encourage more buying, but that did not seem to be the case. Any other reactions to that?

    Comment by Tim — August 8, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

  4. This team has had some serious injury problems since last season, and the injuries have started to wane. Now that our veterans and big salaries are healthy, the offense is doing well again. I think Ryan is just going to hold these guys and see about getting some pitchers in here. I support him on that one if its true.

    You neglect to consider that possibility. It is a hole in your coverage of the Twins mister stat head.

    Comment by Jason — August 8, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

  5. another well-written and interesting piece. thanks aaron. my guess is that ryan and co. feel that they can be competitive in 2013, and therefore, will hang onto the veterans. and i am not unhappy with that approach.

    recently ryan said that he sees “holes” which need to be addressed. i would imagine that the most critical hole is the starting rotation. but, if hendriks, diamond, gibson, and blackburn are serviceable in 2013, then picking up a good free-agent starter or two might be all that is needed. the twins will have nearly $20 million coming off the books after this season.

    as for acquiring young talent pre-deadline or in the off-season, there is no guarantee that the bounty would be impressive. the return on the liriano deal was mediocre, and other teams trading veterans at the deadline came away with similar, less-than-awesome returns. they’ll probably have a top-ten pick next june, and will take advantage of favorable positioning in the waiver pecking order.

    does anyone think, as i do, that liriano could return to the twins with a 3-year deal starting in 2013? i think he wanted to stay, and after testing the free-agent market, he may return. just a thought. who knows, he may pick up a few good points from cooper in chicago.

    Comment by jfs — August 8, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

  6. Clearly their plan is to keep the offense intact because they intend to spend big in the free agent market for starting pitching. That’s what the stadium was for, remember? Duh.

    Comment by by jiminy — August 8, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  7. I’m not sure it’s purely a “faith” vs “missed opportunity” situation. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a ton of faith in the Twins FO making the best decisions, but I’m also very skeptical that there were teams tripping over themselves to cough up good pitching prospects in return for the available Twins veterans. I don’t think there were significant opportunities available and given the trend of teams hoarding top pitching prospects, I’m not confident the market for Twins veterans will improve all that much in the off-season. If Ryan can’t get the kind of talent he needs to improve the rotation, there’s not much point in making deals. He can’t make other GMs trade with him just because Twins fans want it to happen.

    Comment by Jim Crikket — August 8, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

  8. You left out another highly likely possibility: nobody offered them very much for any of their pieces. Might as well keep Willingham around to give Twins fans something to enjoy at the ballpark rather than trade him for something that won’t ever help.

    Comment by Adam — August 8, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

  9. The Twins have been a .500 team since the end of May. Yes, some pitchers have pitched above their expected values, but like Jason mentioned, the offense is coming around. Morneau is hitting, as of late, closer to his old stat line. With Willingham, Mauer, Span, Doumit, and Plouffe (if he can continue to hit well), that’s a pretty solid offensive nucleus to help compete in a weak division. Throw in an improved bullpen that gets a piece or two added, and you’re left with the need to acquire some starting pitching and to fill another couple spots. I’m not saying they’re a playoff team next year if they do that, but I am saying that people shouldn’t be surprised if they are.

    Comment by (the other) Neil — August 9, 2012 @ 4:07 am

  10. doofus says they are “almost a .500 team as is” D’ok. Build for 2014 or 2015. Doesn’t mean that have to completely gut the roster, but keeping guys like Morneau around for another season just seems idiotic to me.

    Comment by Paulie — August 9, 2012 @ 7:34 am

  11. The inactivity at the trading deadline didn’t really bother me. I didn’t subscribe to the idea that it made sense for the team to make a huge salary dump of productive players who were under team control for additional seasons at reasonable prices. Especially for position players where immediate replacements weren’t available from the minors.

    That said, the Twins should have sufficient money freed up to make investments for the starting rotation to A) compensate for regression from guys like Diamond, and B) provide stability around whomever emerges from the collection of guys like DeVries, Deduno, Walters, Hendriks, etc. I know Ryan has warned off on a major splash in the free agent market, but if the Twins aren’t willing to spend the $25+M freed up by moving Liriano, Pavano, Baker, Capps, & Marquis off the books then they are making a mistake. This offense is good enough to compete and they’d be wise to build around it for the short-term.

    I don’t want deals for deals sake. Span can be moved for the right price because Revere is capable of replacing him, but there had better be a real return, not just a couple of C-level A-ball prospects. Moving Morneau is a bigger risk, because while Parmelee is killing it in AAA, it’s not a certainty he can repeat it at MLB. Moreover, Morneau seems to be coming all the way back from the concussions and is hitting LHP again. I’m glad we didn’t sell low on a player who’s been an MVP for the team.

    Comment by Josh — August 9, 2012 @ 9:23 am

  12. I must be the only one, but it brings me more joy on a day-to-day basis to have an 85-win team that goes out and plays competitive baseball and wins the division half the years, even if they get beat by the Yankees in the playoffs, than it does to sell off everything but the bleachers and watch them get crushed in vain hopes that in half a decade they’ll win a world series.

    Comment by Jeff — August 9, 2012 @ 11:24 am

  13. I’ve lost all faith in the Twins FO. If Ryan is unwilling to go out and spend, in a good free agent year on starting pitching, then this team has to rebuild. However, I think most of us know, that TR will try to add a few pieces on the cheap, over value Diamond, DeVries, Walters, and Ploof’s seasons as something he can count on for next year. That will be the big mistake. Fine if you want to count on Diamond as a 4 or #5 pitcher, and pencil ploof into the lineup for next year. No problem there, but have a back up plan. There is no track record on these guys.

    Manship, Swarzack, DeVries, Walters. They are all filler, and probably shouldn’t be on an MLB roster.

    Then you have Gardy’s love affair with Dozier. He leads the league in Errors (having played a month plus less then most starting SS), and no discipline at the plate. He’s a 25 year old rookie, and you absolutely cannot count on him for next year. Carroll should be the utility guy and the Twins need better play up the middle. The FO will not go get anyone, and we have nobody to help out. The kid we got in the Frankie deal is slick, but can’t hit. Another utility guy.

    My point is, they need sell out for pitching, and more pitching. The one thing the crappy central division has shown us over the years…the best pitching wins the division…

    Comment by rghrbek — August 9, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

  14. I have faith in Terry Ryan but will remain skeptical until this team actually spends money on top of the rotation starters. Anyone that thinks the plan is to contend next year by spending money on starting pitching is forgetting that this team has never spent money on high end pitching from outside the organization.

    I know that we all assume that the Twins must not have gotten a fair offer for any of their tradeable veterans for them not to make any trades but there were trades where teams got fair compensation for players. So is every team that may be interested in the Twins players under valuing them or are the Twins over valuing them? I just want this team to pick a direction (trade or spend) and go with it.

    Comment by gear jammer — August 9, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  15. I have faith. For the most part, I like what Terry Ryan has said. He’s been pretty honest about the Twins’ lack of pitching organization-wide, and I also agree that the team can’t rely purely on free agency to do that (just look at the 2012 Marlins as an example).

    To me, the indication is that the team is going to spend the offseason trying to get pitching, and it’ll probably do so with a combination of trades and free agency. I think the Twins can contend next year, even if they let go of a couple of players, so long as they beef up that pitching staff. Hell, they could contend THIS year if they had more quality starters.

    Then again, I tend to be an optimist when it comes to the Twins, so maybe they’ll disappoint me and go for the cheap on the pitching staff and pray to succeed.

    Comment by mazeville — August 9, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

  16. To keep fans in the stands, it seems the plan is to avoid the “rebuilding” word, which doesn’t make many of us happy. That said — Revere, Plouffe, Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Span, and Doumit is not a horrible group to trot out there most nights.

    Talking about “filling holes” is fine if you are going to spend some money or work some trades. There isn’t much of value to trade, so they simply must dip their toes in the FA pitching market if they are going to try to contend next year.

    I agree with some other comments, for the most part, the Twins do not have a good track record of filling holes with quality players in recent years.

    Comment by funoka — August 9, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

  17. They could trade Willingham, but unless someone’s offering something silly, why do it? He’s relatively cheap and provides RH power, something they lack currently. If a top 25 prospect or two top 100 guys we5re offered, fine, but there’s no evidence to suggest that team’s were making such offers.

    Denard’s a bit different, as they can replace his production with Revere. He probably WILL get traded, this offseason or next July.

    Morneau? Who’s taking on that contract? The Red Sox had to pay Chicago to take Youkilis and got crap back. Why would anyone give up anything of value for Morneau right now, let alone pay the freight? Because he’s played fairly well for a few weeks? That’s wishcasting.

    Comment by BR — August 9, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

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