I am generally accused as being the positive Twins blogger, always seeing the positive in everything. If Ron Gardenhire makes what many consider a poor choice, I can usually justify it. I try to find the positive in most moves the Twins make. In previous years, I could justify the Twins not making trades at the deadline.
After watching tonight's Twins/A's debacle, one thing jumped out as incredibly clear. If the Twins don't make a move, they will not make the playoffs. Yes, there were a lot of infield singles and bloopers just out of the reach of a fielder. Yes, there were a couple of errors. Yes, the team scored more than enough runs. But this game also showed the Twins weaknesses.
The easiest area to pick on is the bullpen. Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier have been excellent all season. Although not good tonight, Jose Mijares has generally been adequate. Bobby Keppel, after being very good for the first 14 innings of his Twins career, had a forgettable outing that ended with a game-tying grand slam to Matt Holliday. Is that a bad outing, or a sign of things to come? I mean, Sean Henn had several good outings before reality set in with him. Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey are starters. Neither pitched in the bullpen in the minor leagues and yet are being asked to get hitters out. Duensing threw more than an inning in back to back days which may not seem like a big deal, but not many starters can do that. I'm not saying that neither is capable of pitching well in the role, but if that's the goal, then they should have been throwing in the bullpen in Rochester first. And R.A. Dickey has been very good when used in long relief. He has not been good in cluch, important game situations.
Yesterday, a side-winding 26 year old named Cla Merideth was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Baltimore Orioles for a 31 year old infielder who may have been designated for assignment by the Orioles if not for the trade. Merideth's numbers are not spectacular this season, but he has a track record of success. Matt Capps is another young guy who hasn't been at his best this year, but he has 20 saves for the Pirates. He is similar to Guerrier. Or, if you want a couple of guys that you can call dominant 8th inning guys, how about Orioles George Sherrill? I really like the Astros Jose Valverde, or even former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Rafael Soriano of the Braves is another guy that fits the need. The Twins bullpen needs at least one, and you could argue two, strong arms so that all the starters have to do is give six or seven innings of quality work.
That brings us to the next point... how many of the Twins starters can you count on to give seven innings almost every time out? Despite last night's awful start, Nick Blackburn has been the team's top pitcher. When healthy, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey have been pretty solid and lasted well into games. Scott Baker has been much better of late. Francisco Liriano has been the main wild card. From start to start, or pitch to pitch, you simply do not know what you will get. Anthony Swarzak simply has not made enough starts to feel strong confidence either way.
Yesterday, my Your Voices colleague Doogie Wolfson laid out the specifics of why making a strong run at Blue Jays ace (and perennial Cy Young candidate) Roy Halladay. Although the Twins could argue that they need to go with their young starters, having a true ace like Halladay could make all the difference in the world for a starting staff that simply has not met its expectations. I encourage you to go back to Doogie's blog for the reasons to acquire Halladay and to believe it is legitimately something the Twins should do. He and I may disagree on the package of players we would give up to acquire him, but both believe that it would be a organization defining move.
But it isn't just the pitching. This lineup still has holes in it. Nick Punto may have made two web gems in last night's game at SS, but he also did not make at least two plays that should have been made. And if Nick Punto is ever your team's Number Two hitter, you have a problem. Thie team needs a middle infielder who preferably can bat second. Freddy Sanchez is the easy answer. If the Pirates believe that they can get a current starting pitcher for Sanchez, they must be fooling themselves. Felipe Lopez, a slightly lesser, less consistent 2B option was dealt to the Brewers for two mid-level prospects. Sanchez will require a little better package, but he fits the Twins needs. Who knows, maybe Mark Grudzielanek can be a difference maker when he comes up to the team in mid-August, but by then, will it matter?
Nick Punto has had to play SS the last couple of games because Joe Crede is out yet again. I love Crede's glove at 3B. It is as good as I have seen. And he can hit some home runs. But he is not a good hitter, has no power against left-handed pitching, and with Danny Valencia crushing the ball down in AAA Rochester, maybe it is time to cut bait on Crede? Do you think any other teams might be interested in his services for the last two months of the season? He has already missed 24 games this season. As much as I believe that signing Crede was a great signing for the Twins, I'm ready for it to be over.
Or, could Crede be moved to the bench? That would be a legitimate power option off of a bench that is another big weakness of this Twins team. Brian Buscher is the team's top pinch hitter. I can't add anything to that. Mike Redmond has been a warrior, a tough guy, a key contributor the last three years for the Twins. This year, it is clear that he has nothing left. He can not throw runners out attempting to steal, and teams could play with six infielders when he is batting. Is Jose Morales much better? Probably not as much as we want to think, but he can put together solid at bats and show some athleticism behind the plate.
I am also the Twins blogger that is known for being very protective of the Twins minor leaguers. I generally don't like seeing the Twins trade players that they have developed. But we all have to remember that the goal is to win at the big league level. This year and beyond. So, I would never advocate trading too much for anyone. I would not trade a top prospect for a reliever, unless he is an absolute given. I would refuse to give up too much in any trade. That said, I believe that there are really only two Twins minor leaguers that I would deem as completely untouchable. 2008 #1 pick Aaron Hicks is an outfielder at Low-A Beloit. He is one. The other is 3B Danny Valencia, who I think is ready now. Outside of those two, I would consider everyone available, but obviously would be very careful with how much I gave up for anyone.
Baseball is full of cliches. One of them holds very true today. Last night's game is done. Tonight is a new ball game. The Twins still have the ability to win this series, and they have a good chance to do that. This is a tough loss, but it was just one game. I know, all of that is true.
But I also will stand by my claim, one that I have not made in previous seasons, that if the Twins do not do something of at least some significance, they will not win the division, and in fact, they may not finish in 2nd place either. It bothers me to admit that, but I can't help but believe it to be true today. There are just too many holes.
And maybe that is what the Twins front office realizes too. Maybe they realize that they are not a playoff team. I guess that is the other option. I certainly hope that isn't the case.