A popular exercise in evaluating a trade deadline in any sport is to categorize winners and losers. And since the Twins were in the odd position as a buyer this season, they find themselves in that discussion.

As a practical matter, a team that improves itself with a trade probably doesn’t deserve to be counted as a loss. The Twins clearly upgraded their bullpen by adding hard-throwing veteran setup man Kevin Jepsen.

And yet it’s hard to count the Twins as trade-deadline winners, especially when compared to the feeding frenzy that took place around them.

Rather than assign a letter grade to the Twins’ singular move, a simple word will suffice.

Meh.

Not bad, but many of us had hoped — perhaps naively — for something bigger, something that screamed, “Who cares if we’re not supposed to be in this position. Let’s go for it. Why the heck not?!” Despite a shaky post-All Star break stretch, the Twins are still smack dab in a pennant race as the calendar flips to August. They’re clinging to a wild-card spot for dear life and the walls are closing around them.

The Blue Jays went hog wild and pushed their chips all in. Houston and Kansas City made moves that were smart and aggressive. Baltimore is nipping at the heels of the Twins.

General Manager Terry Ryan didn’t raise a white flag. But he didn’t exactly cannonball into the deep end, either.

“Some of these teams behind us did a nice job,” Ryan said. “That catches your eye and certainly you look at their roster, and obviously we’re going up to play Toronto here shortly. We’re going to get a little taste of what they brought over there.”

Ryan is a smart baseball man, and his patience in the vortex of reckless spending many times is a sane approach.

This instance feels different because the narrative has changed. His team is right there in the fight. It would be nice to see the Twins step outside their comfort zone instead of taking the safe route.

Four long, miserable summers tested everyone’s patience with that organization. Baseball wasn’t fun in this town.

But now the Twins are relevant again. Fans came back. They’re paying attention. Few things excite a sports market like a team that far exceeds expectations, and the Twins have provided a large dose of it.

Their roster, though, has glaring holes that needed to be addressed, and not just in the bullpen. They’re still actually holding auditions at shortstop, a remarkable development for a team in a pennant race. That position remains an unmitigated mess.

Warts and all, the Twins have been a resilient bunch. And yes, they’re probably overachieving to a degree. A bold trade might have fixed another deficiency while sending a jolt through the clubhouse.

The Twins likely were reluctant to part with prospects for a potential short-term payoff with a flawed team. Especially if it’s a one-game playoff without their staff ace, Ervin Santana, who wouldn’t be available because of his PED suspension.

That logic certainly makes sense, except this waiting game on prospects and future success seems to have no end. Eventually you get tired of waiting.

That approach also feels like a defeatist attitude because the players on the field desperately want to win now, and there are no guarantees that they will be in this position again next season.

Trading prospects is always a risk-reward dilemma. It doesn’t come without some heartburn.

For instance, cutting ties with, say, Oswaldo Arcia would cause fear that he might blossom in another organization. Of course, there’s always a chance he continues to frustrate the Twins as a power-hitting tease.

It works both ways.

The point is, the Twins had assets to do something bigger that might have provided a boost in the short term.

Who knows, maybe Ryan’s reserved approach will be proven right in the long run. Jepsen’s arrival at least gives the bullpen a much-needed reinforcement capable of producing strikeouts as a bridge to closer Glen Perkins.

Other teams added far more firepower as they geared up for the stretch run. You just hope the Twins don’t get to the end of summer and wish they had done more.

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com