For two years now, the Twins have been among MLB’s worst teams. And for two years, they’ve let the trade deadline come and go without acquiring a single impact prospect. How many other teams can make such a claim? Teams like Houston and Chicago, who are both in the midst of major rebuilds, collected prospects like they were Pokemon over the last week. The Twins, however, made only one move — trading Francisco Liriano — and acquired two mediocre prospects.
Standing pat at the trade deadline raises some interesting questions: In what direction does the Twins’ FO see the team moving? Can this team contend in 2013? What kind of payroll is in the works for next season?
With GM Terry Ryan’s assertion the Twins aren’t “banking on free agency” to round out the team next season, it’s really tough to envision what he has in mind. I can’t imagine he thinks the team can compete as currently constructed. While the lineup is solid, and most of its major pieces are under team control for next season, the pitching staff is a shambles. Twins starters own a 5.10 FIP and 5.54 ERA on the year. To put that in perspective, only six starters who have thrown 100 innings or more have posted ERAs higher than that of the Twins team.
At this point, only Scott Diamond appears to have locked up a spot in the 2013 rotation. Liam Hendriks seems a good bet to fill another spot, but it’s wide open beyond that. Despite Diamond’s success this year, he’s not a good bet to be any more than a league-average starter next year based on his stuff and minor league track record. Hendriks, though he had success at the lower levels, has struggled at triple-A and has no more than average stuff. Perhaps newcomer Pedro Hernandez could play a part, but he, too, possesses little to no upside.
So, if not free agency, from where is the rotation help going to come? The best guess is Ryan held on to his many assets at the deadline because the most attractive (Josh Willingham and Denard Span) are under team control for two more seasons each. Justin Morneau, the subject of many rumors, has an expensive year left and hasn’t set the world on fire (106 wRC+) this season. He has, however, hit better of late, especially against left-handers. A Morneau deal at Tuesday’s deadline would have been selling low, something the Twins have done a lot lately. If Morneau continues to improve, it’s possible his value could be much higher in the offseason.
Span and Willingham (and to a lesser extent Glen Perkins) seem to have been in demand at the deadline. They also all sport pretty attractive contracts, making them appealing to contenders and also-rans alike. By waiting until the offseason, Ryan could increase his leverage by inviting several more teams into the bidding for players like Willingham and Span. This strategy could also backfire, as teams tend to pay a premium for upgrades at the deadline, looking to improve their chances immediately.
Another possibility: Ryan truly believes the team can be competitive next season. I find this doubtful, given the total lack of success over the past season and a half, but it’s not as terribly far-fetched as it might seem. The offense actually has been very good. Their 102 wRC+ as a team is tied for seventh in the league, and is really in a dead heat with the teams tied at fourth (a group that contains the vaunted Detroit offense) and just about every major player is under contract for next season. If, though it seems unlikely given the apparent unwillingness to be major players in free agency, the starting rotation can be upgraded, the Twins could contend in the perennially weak AL Central.
The other real worry is the team is in difficult financial straits, something we’d hoped not to worry about after Target Field’s opening. Their unwillingness to bring back Liriano at $12.5 million, coupled with Ryan’s remarks on free agency, are red flags. Perhaps the team just doesn’t think they can afford to pay for good pitching this offseason.
Hopefully, Ryan will have a good offseason, upgrading the pitching staff and farm systems through whatever means are necessary. Who knows, perhaps nobody really offered the Twins anything of value. Without insider information — a look at what offers the Twins turned down — it’s tough to really make a decisive call. However, it seems like there is a good chance we’ll be looking back at Tuesday’s trade deadline as a missed opportunity.