Twins Insider: Tigers aim high; Twins target middle

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2011 - 1:03 AM

While Detroit might make trade-deadline splash, a return of Jon Rauch could boost Twins.

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Jon Rauch was an effective reliever for the Twins in 2009 and 2010 before signing with Toronto this past offseason. The Twins have discussed trying to bring the big righthander back.

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Baseball insiders believe the Detroit Tigers will continue big-game hunting before the July 31 trade deadline, hoping to land another front-line pitcher, such as Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez, or an impact position player, such as the Mets' Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran.

Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland are both in the final year of their contracts, so the team has a feeling of desperation. Most teams are afraid to unload prospects and mortgage the future; but most teams don't have as much riding on one season as the 2011 Tigers.

Cleveland is in first place, and White Sox GM Kenny Williams is always dangerous, but the team that scares the Tigers the most is the Twins, who blew past them to steal division titles in 2006 and 2009.

The Twins looked like they'd be trade deadline sellers when they were 17-37, but a six-week surge has positioned them to be buyers, especially if they continue climbing during this 12-game homestand against the Royals, Indians and Tigers.

Minnesota's target list isn't nearly as exciting as Detroit's. The Twins have enough starting pitching depth and a strong enough lineup to make another stretch run, but their bullpen has been a train wreck.

Twins relievers still have the worst ERA in the majors, at 5.04.

The fans have lost patience with closer Matt Capps, who blew his seventh save Friday when he served up a two-out, two-run homer to Eric Hosmer in a 2-1 loss to Kansas City. The Twins might turn back to Joe Nathan, who has 250 career saves and a 0.00 ERA over his past seven appearances. Another option is Glen Perkins, who has a 1.87 ERA and already has bailed out Capps in two save situations.

Don't expect the Twins to add another closer. Adding the likes of San Diego's Heath Bell would cause headaches for manager Ron Gardenhire, since that would give him three potential free agents -- including Capps and Nathan -- all hungry for save chances.

The Twins will focus on finding setup men, and one thing they have discussed, at least internally, is bringing back Blue Jays reliever Jon Rauch. The tattooed giant can be surly at times and wasn't well-liked in the clubhouse, which is a big reason they let him leave as a free agent.

But there's no disputing the success he had with the Twins in 2009-2010. He went 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA in 76 games and notched 21 saves before Capps replaced him at closer.

Rauch, 32, is making $3.5 million this year and has a $3.75 million option for next year with a $250,000 buyout. The Blue Jays are ready to trade from their stable of relievers. Besides Rauch, other available Toronto relievers include Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor.

The Padres have several options besides Bell, including Mike Adams, Seth Gregerson and Chad Qualls. The Orioles would move Koji Uehara. The Athletics would move Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes, both former Twins.

The list of available relievers is long, but several other teams have the same need. Twins General Manager Bill Smith is experienced at this. In 2009, he acquired Rauch and lefthander Ron Mahay in August, when players must be placed on waivers before being traded. Last year, he acquired Capps from Washington for catcher Wilson Ramos on July 29, then added Fuentes and Randy Flores in August.

Even though the Twins were responsible for a pro-rated portion of those salaries, Capps and Fuentes combined to add $3.2 million to Minnesota's payroll. No doubt the Pohlads would approve a similar increase if Smith approaches them this summer with more trade possibilities.

Ultimately, the Tigers might get bigger headlines, but the Twins won't mind a bit if they climb past them again.

Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

  • NONWAIVER TRADE DEADLINE JULY 31

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