Baseball insiders are saying that the Twins are definitely in the running, if not the front runner, to acquire Mariners LHP Cliff Lee before the July 31 trade deadline. That is all that it takes for Twins fans to start dreaming and projection and predicting. We dream about a postseason rotation that starts with Lee and Francisco Liriano ahead of Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. We project how adding such a proven starter would affect the Twins in the postseason. And we all predict what we think it would take for the Twins to actually acquire the talented southpaw who went 2-0 for the Phillies last year in the World Series.

For some reason, the names of Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are often mentioned in these trade rumors. Baker is just 28 years old, was the Twins Opening Day starter, is signed to friendly long-term contract and has 49 career wins right now. Slowey recently turned 26 years old, and although his ERA has been below average, he has a career record of 33-19 and some believe that he can develop into a #2 starter type, something Baker may already be.

But I've also been wondering to myself why the Twins would have to give up pitchers of that caliber for a pitcher like Cliff Lee, in particular, a guy who would be a two-month rental. I decided to look back at trades of the past five years. I wanted to see which "Ace" type starting pitchers have been traded at the deadline, and what it took to acquire him.

7/31/09 - The White Sox acquired Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Aaron Poreda (AAA), Clayton Richard (MLB), Adam Russel (AAA), and Dexter Carter (Lo A).

7/29/09 - Cliff Lee was traded to the Phillies from Cleveland for Carlos Carrasco (AAA), Jason Knapp (Lo A), Jason Donald (AAA) and Lou Marson (AAA).

7/17/08 - Joe Blanton was traded from Oakland to Philadelphia for Adrian Cardenas (Hi A), Josh Outman (and Matt Spencer (Hi A).

7/8/08 - The Cubs acquired Rich Harden (and Chad Gaudin) from Texas for reliever Sean Gallagher (MLB), Matt Murton (MLB), Eric Patterson (AAA) and Josh Donaldson (Lo A).

7/7/08 - Cleveland traded CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta (AA), Rob Bryson (Lo A), Zach Jackson (AAA) and Michael Brantley (AA).

That is it. There were some offseason trades of ace starting pitchers, but very few at the trade deadline. So, what do we see here? The team trading the pitcher could get two first-round picks if they kept the player, so they usually get one or two key, quality prospects in the deal. But they also get a quantity of prospects. There are pitchers here who are very good, very similar to Cliff Lee, including Cliff Lee. And yet, there were no current pitchers (or position players) acquired by the team trading the pitcher that resemble Baker and Slowey.

The Mariners have not yet started taking or accepting calls from opponsing GMs on postneial trades. With six weeks before the July deadline, they are in no rush, and they should be asking for the world for Cliff Lee. A year ago, we laughed when the A's were rumored to be asking for Danny Valencia in exchange for Orlando Cabrera. At the trade deadline, the Twins acquired the shortstop for Tyler Ladendorf instead. 

So let the Mariners ask for the world for Cliff Lee. The Twins have the pieces to make a move without needing to deal a current member of the starting staff. 

  • Start with Wilson Ramos. The Twins young, talented catcher is expendable thanks to the rather large contract of one Joe Mauer. The Mariners could definitely use a catcher.
  • Add a AA and a AAA pitcher. I think the Twins could trade either Jeff Manship or Anthony Swarzak.
  • Add in a AA pitcher of note, someone like David Bromberg or Deolis Guerra.
  • If they are looking for an outfielder, they will ask for Aaron Hicks, but more realistically, Angel Morales, Joe Benson or Ben Revere.
  • If there is a Major League pitcher involved in the above examples, it is a relief pitcher.

So, I think this backs my original question well. I didn't think that major league starting pitchers, certainly not of the caliber or Kevin Slowey or especially Scott Baker, were involved in these types of trades during the trade deadline. Just for good measure, though, let's take a look at when aces are traded in the offseason? Any different trends?

2/8/08 - The Mariners got ripped off by the Baltimore Orioles. The Mariners received Erik Bedard, but to do so, they gave up Adam Jones (MLB), George Sherrill (MLB), Chris Tillman (Hi A), Kam Mickolio (AAA) and Tony Butler (Lo A).

2/2/08 - The Twins received Carlos Gomez (MLB), Deolis Guerra (Hi A), Kevin Mulvey (AAA) and Philip Humber (MLB) for Johan Santana.

12/14/07 - The Arizona Diamondbacks received Dan Haren from Oakland of Carlos Gonzalez (AAA), Brett Anderson (Hi A), Aaron Cunningham (AA), Chris Carter (Lo A), Dana Eveland (MLB) and Greg Smith (AAA).

12/4/07 - The Marlins packaged Miguel Cabrera and lefty Dontrelle Willis in exchange for Cameron Maybin (MLB, but should have been AA), Andrew Miller (MLB, but should have been AA), Mike Rabelo (MLB), Eulogio de La Cruz (MLB), Dallas Trahen (AAA), Burke Badenhop (AA).

1/9/07 - The Yankees sent an aging Randy Johnson back to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for reliever Luis Vizcaino (MLB), Ross Ohlendorf (AAA), Alberto Gonzalez (AAA), Steven Jackson (AA).

11/24/05 - The Red Sox received Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota from the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez (AAA), Anibal Sanchez (AAA), Jesus Delgado (Lo A), and Henry Garcia (Lo A).

Again, these offseason trade examples, where the team receiving the ace had the pitcher for the full season, they did not receive young Major League starting pitching. The trends are the same. They receive one or two very good prospects, and some younger players who are mid-level prospects.

So, the Twins have no reason to be trading Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey or even Nick Blackburn in any trade, even for a top end type of pitching ace. Cliff Lee would be a two-month rental. Roy Oswalt could be around for 2011. Dan Haren could be around through 2012 with an option for 2013. And, of course, the reality is that even with one of these pitchers around, it does not guarantee the Twins anything, not even a division title, much less a World Championship.

I often get asked to give an example of what I would trade for these aces. For Cliff Lee, I really believe that a package of Wilson Ramos and Anthony Swarzak would be plenty, although I'd be willing to add a B-level prospect in the low minor leagues too if that's what it took. Even with a second year of Roy Oswalt, I think that the same type of package would be about what I would be willing to give. Since they have Jason Casto, they may be more interested in one of the Twins young outfield prospects in place of Ramos and a couple of pitching prospects.

Dan Haren is the one I would be willing to give a little more for. I would consider Ramos, an Outfielder (Revere), and a Low A or High A pitcher or two (Lanigan, Bullock).

Here we are, on June 22. The Twins are in 1st place in the AL Central. They have a team that is built to win in 2010, but the Twins also need to maintain their ability to compete for years to come. That makes it tough to balance. So, you play GM. If you are Bill Smith, what are you willing to give up for Cliff Lee? How about for Roy Oswalt or Dan Haren? Who else would you be targeting?