Should Twins buy or sell?

Check the team's place in the standings after the next 10 games. Their spot will be an indication if they will add or subtract players.

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There have been reports that the Phillies have inquired about the availability of Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer. Other contenders probably would covet someone with Cuddyer’s solid reputation, versatility and his .338 career batting average in the postseason.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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It's time to scoreboard watch.

The Twins are 8 1/2 games behind Detroit in the American League Central, and the next 10 games before the All-Star break will be critical in determining which approach they will take prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Twins have indicated to teams recently that they are unsure if they will buy or sell before the deadline, according to a team official. So potential suitors will wait and see if the Twins will charge up the standings and start looking for relief help, or if they fall further behind and put a potentially long list of attractive players on the market.

The front office's on-the-fence mentality is understood in the Twins clubhouse.

"They are seeing signs of life here," reliever Joe Nathan said, "and then it's totally the opposite. We just have to take care what we can take care of and go out and play more consistently.

"One week we're giving them a reason to add, then the next week we are giving them a reason to subtract."

When the Twins were 16 1/2 games out on June 1, there were rumblings that they were ready to be sellers. When they won 15 of the next 17 games, they ordered their scouts to be on the lookout for bullpen help.

They lost six in a row -- their third six-game losing streak of the season -- but rebounded with two victories this week against the Dodgers.

Injures have been a season-long issue, and if the Twins can get reasonably healthy, they could make a run. As Luke Hughes said Tuesday: "We don't even know what kind of team we're going to have out there."

Here are two statistics to think about:

• Since Ron Gardenhire took over as Twins manager in 2002, they have played .574 ball after the All-Star break, third best in baseball.

• Since Jim Leyland took over as Tigers manager in 2006, they have played .459 ball after the break -- 25th best.

Magic number?

Nathan and Michael Cuddyer agreed that if the Twins can get within six games of the AL Central lead by the break, they have a real shot at a seventh division title under Gardenhire.

"Even if you're six out in September, you'd feel OK," Cuddyer said.

And they'd feel even better with a little added relief help. The Twins have been interested in righthander Chad Qualls in the past, and he's expected to be made available by the Padres. San Diego righthander Mike Adams has been one of the best in baseball, but the Padres might hold on to him and deal Heath Bell instead.

The rest of the relief market hasn't crystallized yet, and the Yankees and Tigers are expected to be on the lookout for arms, too. Did you notice the two grand slams Detroit's Daniel Schlereth gave up on Tuesday that got him demoted?

If things go the other way -- after all, the Twins remain on pace to win 70 games -- they would have a lot to offer contenders.

One thing that went overlooked is that, during a road trip to Oakland in May, Nathan achieved 10-and-5 status. That's 10 years in the league, five with the same team. He can veto any trade, but with his desire to win, he'll probably be in a pennant race with some team this year.

"At the same time, you'd like to stay here and compete for the playoffs with this team," he said.

There were reports in recent weeks that the Phillies called about Cuddyer. The Braves had one of their top scouts here last month eyeing him. Other contenders probably would covet someone with Cuddyer's solid reputation, versatility and his .338 career batting average in the postseason.

The Twins potentially could re-sign both Nathan and Cuddyer during the offseason. Nathan's 2012 option for $12.5 million would have to be declined and a $2 million buyout paid. And Cuddyer would likely have to accept less than the $10.5 million he makes this season -- but the club recognizes that Cuddyer has done everything they've asked of him and he's as close to being "Mr. Twin" as any player.

With no true ace on the market this year, lefthander Francisco Liriano would be attractive to teams looking for a starter. The Twins and Yankees discussed Liriano before this season and the sides could revisit the subject if the Twins fall out of contention. He's not an ace but, on any given day, can pitch like one.

Then there's Jim Thome, a power hitter a playoff team wouldn't mind having around.

"You would want him to have a chance to win," Nathan said, "regardless of where he is."

Outfielder Jason Kubel, a potential free agent who was the Twins' best offensive player before he was sidelined because of a sprained left foot, is another hitter who would be coveted. And he lives in the San Diego area -- just pointing that out.

Righthander Kevin Slowey, who is about to take his rehabilitation from an abdominal strain to Class AAA Rochester, wants to start and could draw some interest. He could be used to get bullpen help as well.

Closer Matt Capps could boost a bullpen, too. He's overcome minor injuries earlier in the season and has converted his past five save opportunities.

The bottom line is the Twins are well-positioned to add or subtract. We'll soon learn which way they will go.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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    SELL? If the Twins continue to fall behind in the AL Central standings, they will have to look at trading some of their more popular players, even big names such as Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan.

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