Twins trade needed, even if not wanted

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 6, 2010 - 5:43 AM

Justin Morneau suggests the current players just need to be more consistent, but the rotation and bullpen require help.

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Suddenly the Twins find themselves asking the same question our country has confronted for the past few years:

When does a recession become a depression?

Since the beginning of June, the Twins are 13-18. They've become a middle-rung American League team benefitting from alignment in a weak division.

They are poor on the road. During a long weekend at Target Field, they lost three out of four to a Tampa Bay team that made the Twins look unathletic by comparison. Most frightening, a bullpen that had overachieved most of the season is showing signs of wear.

About a year ago, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer argued that the Twins' front office would have to prove it could make midseason upgrades if Mauer was going to re-sign with the team, and if Morneau was going to want to stay with the team.

I would argue that this year's team needs Cliff Lee at the top of rotation, if not to win the division, then to have a chance to win its first playoff series since 2002.

I would argue that this year's bullpen needs a B-12 shot in the form of a trade, or a contribution from within the organization.

Strangely, Morneau didn't agree, or at least didn't admit that he might agree. A year after challenging his front office to upgrade the roster, Morneau offered a more mature and cautious assessment of his team.

"I don't think so," he said when asked if his team needed a jolt. "I was just thinking about it a little while ago. Sometimes you look around and say, 'Man, if we had this guy in our lineup, if we had that guy in our lineup,' but we have all the guys in our lineup that we need.

"You're not going to trade to take someone out of our lineup."

How about the pitching staff?

"What we have is definitely good enough," he said. "We have guys who have been there before and have succeeded before. You look at Blackie [Nick Blackburn], he's pitched a lot of big games for us, must-win games for us, and he can get back to tat point.

"We believe that. You look at a guy like [Kevin] Slowey, it's the same thing. He has the stuff and he's capable of doing well. You just look at Pavano, the way he goes about his business and attacks the strike zone, and Frankie [Liriano] can be lights out.

"We're just looking for that consistency from everyone, and we have the players to do that."

Morneau has learned that begging for a trade is a direct insult to current teammates.

"You always want to get better,'' he said. "But if somebody new comes in, that means someone you've been playing with for a long time goes out. For me, I've got caught up in that stuff in the past, and if you're asking for this and that and it doesn't happen, what do you say to the guys who are still here?

"It's not a good situation."

The lineup reorchestration, with Michael Cuddyer playing third and Jim Thome continuing his climb up the home run list, has distracted us from what matters most about this team: The young righthanded starters -- Scott Baker, Slowey and Blackburn -- have been horrid on the road, and the patchwork bullpen belatedly looks like it misses Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins.

On the day Morneau made his fourth All-Star team, he was unwilling to blame the pitching staff. "We're not getting the big hits as consistently as we need to," he said. "We're not putting teams away when we're ahead. Like [Saturday], we could have made that a 7-1 game instead of 4-1, and then they're out of it. Kind of like they did to us [Sunday], they get that double that puts them up by six. We've been missing those hits.''

The Twins actually aren't failing in the clutch so much as they are hitting into too many double plays, an inherent flaw of a team of station-to-station sluggers.

I asked Morneau if he's as confident in this team in the midst of this slump as he was in April. "Yeah, definitely," he said. "Cuddy had a pretty good April, and he's done everything this team has asked, playing right field and third and even first, but he's a guy who hit 30 home runs last year. He's a guy who is capable of doing that. He'll tell you that offensively he hasn't done as well as he would have liked.

"And Koob [Jason Kubel] got off to a slow start, and this is my lowest RBI total heading into a break since '05. We're not scoring as many runs as we need to."

I admire Morneau for refusing to beg for a trade. I just hope his front office doesn't listen to him.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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