As the Twins jogged up the stairs at Miller Park to stretch on Wednesday afternoon, fans who had gathered early behind the dugout began screaming the names of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
Here's how you can tell this year is unique in Twins' annals:
They were also screaming ''Niiiiick!'' And: ''Puuunto!'' And they didn't seem to be drunk.
When Twins fans drive to Milwaukee to cheer Nick Punto, it's time to reward their fanaticism. After speaking with a couple of people who should know, I'm convinced that not only will the Twins pursue Mariners ace Cliff Lee; I'm convinced that this is the right year for the once-careful, conservative and cost-conscious Twins to continue their year of living boldly.
Not only do I think they should trade for Lee; I think they'll try to make it happen over the next month.
This is the right year for the Twins to act aggressively in the trade market because Mauer and Morneau are healthy; the lineup is formidable; the bullpen has held up; and the starting pitching is just not good enough to propel the Twins to a playoff victory over a big-money team. The current rotation might not even be good enough to win the AL Central.
This is the right year for the Twins to act boldly because the current version of Pohlad ownership is committed to winning, because Target Field has to be even more profitable than the Twins could have imagined, and because the prospects the Twins would have to trade might be expendable.
Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, formerly of the Brewers, is known for conducting protracted and demanding negotatiations, so nobody should expect Lee in a TC cap anytime soon.
But Zduriencik also is running a terribly disappointing team that started the day 13 games out of first place in the AL West, and he knows Lee will leave as a free agent at the end of the year. By the trading deadline, the pressure will be on Zduriencik to move Lee for the best offer.
The Twins well could make that offer. The Mariners would probably make the deal for a top prospect, a lesser prospect, and a major-league ready pitcher. For the Twins, that would probably mean either Wilson Ramos, Ben Revere or Aaron Hicks; another minor-leaguer; and whichever starting pitcher Lee would replace in the rotation, probably Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey.
If the Twins acquired Lee and he left as a free agent at the end of the year -- which is pretty much a certainty --the Twins would received two draft picks as compensation. That's not ideal for a team that intends on remaining competitive all decade, but it's a consolation prize.
Lee would fit the Twins perfectly. He would give them a true ace, and a lefthanded one. He would give them clearly the best team in the AL Central, and might give them enough of a margin of victory in the division that they could set up a playoff rotation to their liking.
He would give them a playoff rotation of Lee, Liriano, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker.
He would give them a chance to win a World Series in their first year in Target Field. (I know, it might snow in October; get over it.)
The Twins have touted Ramos for the last year; I wonder whether they're doing so to inflate his trade value. Ramos is a wonderful talent. He's also known for being lackadaisical, and he looked awful earlier this year in the big leagues once pitchers started throwing breaking pitches.
I've espoused the idea of using Ramos to spell Mauer in the big leagues, but if the Twins are committed to keeping Mauer behind the plate, Ramos is expendable. (The same may go for Revere and Hicks if the Twins plan to keep some combination of Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel around.)
Trading for a rent-a-player is risky, and the Twins would have to make the right deal, but this is the right year for them to sell out to win a championship, and Lee is the available player most capable of making that happen.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. email@example.com