Major League Baseball has altered its playoff format and free-agent compensation this year, moves that could spur increased activity before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
That should be good news for teams like the Twins, who are in need of an infusion of talent, especially among starting pitchers.
Indications are that the Twins will swing a deal or two before the deadline, with left-handed starter Francisco Liriano, right-handed reliever Matt Capps, outfielder Denard Span and perhaps even outfielder Josh Willingham available for the right price.
After watching his team lose four of its past five ballgames --including back-to-back 4-3, extra-inning losses at Texas -- Twins General Manager Terry Ryan sees the need for change.
"We had a tough finish to the first half," Ryan said. "We had a couple games we might have won, but we didn't. It's been pretty much the story of our first half.
"We have found ways not to win those games, and that is not what we are trying to accomplish. I don't want to get too much deeper than that, but it's apparent we've got work to do."
The new rules should help teams looking for change via trades.
There is an extra wild-card slot in each league, which, in theory, will keep more teams involved in the playoff race and make them buyers in the trade market.
As of now, there are eight teams in each league within six games of a wild-card spot. The Twins are 11 games out of first place in the AL Central and nine games out of a wild-card spot.
"That should put more people in the pool," Ryan said. "Consequently, I suspect you'll see more movement before the 31st of July."
More motivation to trade
Free-agent compensation -- or lack thereof -- also could make teams more willing to move players. Type A or Type B free-agent compensation is gone. In order for a team to receive a draft pick as compensation, it has to offer a free agent a guaranteed one-year contract equal to the average of the top 125 players in the game, expected to about $12 million this offseason.
And a player has to be with a team the entire season for that team to receive compensation. So the days of teams trading for player who is months away from free agency -- and receiving compensation -- are over. And there's no motivation for a team to keep someone like Liriano through the trade deadline unless it plans to re-sign him.
"The compensation [change] is big," Ryan said. "There was no harm in keeping a guy if you think you are going to get compensation. Now that's a more difficult scenario. I would say people would be more apt to find places for those kind of players.''
Ryan wouldn't address the interest his players are receiving from other teams. But indications are that the Yankees, Braves and Blue Jays are interested in Liriano, who has shaken off a horrible start to go 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA over his past eight starts. Scouts for the Braves and Yankees have been front and center at his recent starts.
The Twins and Nationals discussed a deal last July for Span. Washington, whose leadoff hitters have a .306 on-base percentage, could rekindle those talks this July. Span's contract -- he will make $4.7 million next season, $6.5 in 2014 with a club option for 2015 -- makes him attractive to any team looking for a leadoff hitter.
Span, batting .214 over his past 30 games, was rattled last year when learning about trade rumors during a season in which he battled concussion symptoms.
"I've been hearing since the beginning of this season about getting traded again," Span said from his home in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. "I think I'm more at peace about it if it happens. Do I want to leave? Obviously not. I've been with Minnesota for 10 years."
Capps, 1-4 with a 3.42 ERA and 14 saves, is close to returning to action following shoulder soreness. He pitched a scoreless inning at Class A Fort Myers on Monday and could return to the team by this weekend.
It would take a lot for the Twins to give up Willingham in a trade -- they really don't have a replacement for him. But he's a bona fide power hitter making $7 million a year on a team in desperate need of pitching.
Focus on pitching
The Twins have used 11 different starting pitchers through 85 games. And, despite the rise of Scott Diamond and solid outings by several others recently, their starters' ERA of 5.68 is the second-worst in baseball and would be the third-worst in club history.
Convincing teams to give up pitching -- especially major league-ready pitching -- is difficult. The Twins would like to swing a deal like the Mets did last year when they traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants for righthander Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was in Class A at the time but now is at Class AA Binghamton and considered one of the best prospects n the game.
"I think that it's apparent, if you look at our club and our needs, we're going to be looking at pitching, no doubt," Ryan said. "You've got a possibility to get that type of thing in return, but there aren't many teams I suspect that are willing to give up pitching that's on their major league team or even close [to the majors]. It all depends on what you are willing to take for what you are giving up."