Saturday, July 25, 2009

6th Split: 7-9

Overall Record: 48-49
3rd in AL Central, 4 games back

Other splits: 7-9, 8-8, 9-7, 8-8, 9-8

As you can see, the Twins have played all 6 of their splits up to this point of the season within one win of .500. (Any guesses which extra win they should have had this time? Maybe the one they were leading by 10 runs vs. the 2nd worst offensive team in the league?) As a result, their overall record is within one win of .500. This should come as a surprise to no one. For anyone to doubt after 97 games that the 2009 Twins are essentially a .500 team is wishful thinking. If nothing changes, I would expect them to be right around that number at the end of the season.

They are basically in the middle of the pack in the league in terms of R, OPS, ERA and R allowed. They remain one of the top fielding teams despite committing their highest number of errors this split (9, giving them 40 overall on the season). It's illustrative of just how deep the holes are on the roster that the extraordinary performances of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, together with the strong performances so far by Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Blackburn and Matt Guerrier, have only been enough to bring the team back to about even. This team simply isn't a winner, and without significant changes, I don't expect that to change over the last 40% of the season.

If that's apparent to me, it's undoubtedly also the case with the players. My travel and work schedule hasn't permitted me to keep up with entries this month, but what I said last time is still true: this team needs a shot in the arm, a mental lift, a sign from the front office that the cavalry is coming. Mark Grudzelanek, if he has anything left at 39, could well be an upgrade at 2B, but he's still probably at least a couple of weeks away. Replacing one of the AAAA long relievers with Jesse Crain should ultimately improve the bullpen, but it's not enough. Since this will perhaps be my last chance before the deadline, here's a quick summary of my thoughts on the Twins' trade possibilities:

At the All-Star Break, Blackburn was among the leaders in the AL in IP and ERA. He was pitching great, but is actually only a good pitcher. If his numbers by the end of the season slip back to where we might expect from a good but not great pitcher (ERA somewhere around 4.00 in 210 IP), his ERA will be 4.85 for the rest of the season. Anthony Swarzak should be able to match or exceed that, so Blackburn, at the height of his value, would have made a terrific centerpiece for a trade. However, with Glen Perkins having shoulder trouble and Kevin Slowey suffering a setback in his recovery, the Twins are probably loathe to deal a MLB SP right now.

However, there are other positions of depth within the organization. With Grudzelanek in the system, the Twins now have 2B covered for the rest of the year, with Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla available to get spot starts or take bench spots. Steven Tolleson has performed well enough at Rochester to push Luke Hughes down the depth chart to AA. Hughes is a lousy IF, but has a pretty good bat and has also played some corner OF. Danny Valencia looks for all the world like he's ready to assume the 3B spot next season. David Winfree has taken a step forward this year, particularly in terms of plate discipline, with the vast majority of his walks coming in the last 2 months. Rene Tosoni is another OF having a breakout year at AA. Ben Revere does about what Denard Span does, and Joe Benson is another fine OF in the low minors. Jeff Manship has reached AAA, showing similar stuff to Swarzak/Blackburn/Mulvey but doing an even better job of keeping the ball in the yard. Juan Morillo still doesn't have great control, but the K/9 and BAA are outstanding.

Given that overview, Twins' biggest need is offense from SS and quality short relief. They should expect Tolleson and Valencia to replace Grudzelanek and Crede in 2010. Therefore, if they add a good SS, Brendan Harris becomes superfluous - he should be a trade piece. Mulvey is in his final option year, and will likely force the Twins into the same position they were with Philip Humber this spring. He's imminently replaceable by Manship. Pick somebody out of Blackburn, Perkins, and Mulvey and make them a trade piece. Winfree is on his way to replacing Cuddyer, but could probably do what Delmon Young is doing right now. Throw in Young, if only to clarify the OF situation at the upper levels. And, realistically, with top prospect Aaron Hicks just a year behind Benson and Revere, one of them could probably be traded.

Any of those guys could be probably be dealt for a decent reliever. The Brewers, watching the flurry of recent moves by the Cardinals, and with SS prospect Alcides Escobar ready for the bigs, might be willing to deal JJ Hardy for the right package, particularly if it included Blackburn and Harris. A collection of those guys might be enough to pry Christian Guzman away from the Nationals. I wouldn't worry too much about upper level depth for the rest of the season - if the Twins want to contend in 2009, they're going to have to make a bold move in the next week and hope for the best.

Bold Prediction: Something is going to happen for the Twins before the deadline.

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