CHICAGO - They got the deal done. The Midwestern team that angered fans by letting a popular player dangle in contractual purgatory made a splash Sunday afternoon.
It won't surprise you that it was the Chicago White Sox, not the Minnesota Twins, who took the dive into the deep end of the spending pool, because when it comes to in-season negotiations with star players, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan is still wearing water wings.
The White Sox announced they had agreed with lefthander Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $56 million deal right after they beat the Twins 6-3 on Sunday, a day filled with bad omens for Ryan.
Again, Sox GM Kenny Williams acted boldly, getting the Buehrle deal done when most observers thought it was dead. Williams swings and misses a lot; he also hits the sweet spot often enough to have won a World Series.
Again, the Twins' lineup looked two or three bats shy of competent.
Again, the Twins' engines stalled just as they promised to take off, leaving them 5-6 on a daunting road trip that could have turned into a launching pad had they beaten a good pitcher or even Kei Igawa.
The Twins enter the All-Star break closer to last than first. Between now and the July 31 trading deadline, Ryan will need to make one of the toughest decisions of his tenure. Should he trade pitching for a rent-a-bat that could transform his lineup -- the type of deal to which he is philosophically opposed -- or give up on a disappointing season and trade pending free agent Torii Hunter while he still can?
Standing pat with this roster will not allow the Twins to win this year or reload for the future. Hunter and the Twins have had no productive contract negotiations. If the Twins are not determined to keep Hunter long-term, team doctrine would suggest trading him for affordable players and prospects.
That would be logical -- and typical -- and a grave mistake.
Perhaps never before have the Twins possessed so much frontline talent. Perhaps only while winning World Series have they enjoyed such immense popularity. With a new stadium scheduled to open in 2010 and the divisional competition increasingly daunting, this is no time to revert to small-market thinking.
What the Twins lack is lineup depth. What they possess is organizational pitching depth. Ryan needs to sacrifice the latter to improve the former. If he's smart enough to pick the right prospects from other organizations when he makes a trade, he's smart enough to trade away the right prospects in this kind of a deal.
The suggestion here has been to acquire Devil Rays third baseman Ty Wigginton, a relatively affordable player in an organization desperate for young pitching and relief pitching. Wigginton would improve lineup depth and team power and allow Nick Punto to become an invaluable utility player.
To my colleagues and readers who have suggested trading Hunter and quitting on the season, one question: How do they translate that Vince Lombardi quote in Minnesota schools? Winning isn't everything ... so why even try?
The only way the Twins should trade Hunter is if they can improve the big-league roster. That's not likely.
In 2003, the Twins were 7½ games out of first at the break. Ryan made one of his best deals -- Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart -- and the Twins won the division. Last year, the Twins were 11 out at the break and they won the division.
Giving up is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you aren't going to try to win when you have the likes of Johan Santana and Hunter, what's the plan -- to wait until the AL Central turns mediocre again?
With the White Sox, Indians and Tigers spending money and oozing ambition, when will that be?
The Twins looked tired and depressed Sunday. Does Hunter think this team needs another All-Star break trade? "I think so," he said. "We need some kind of spark."