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Updated: May 26th, 2011 12:13am
Pelissero: Buried at 16-32, Twins shouldn't wait to answer the phone

Pelissero: Buried at 16-32, Twins shouldn't wait to answer the phone

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- A camera crew made its way through the Minnesota Twins clubhouse on Wednesday afternoon asking a variation of the same question at each locker:

Are things finally starting to feel a little more normal around here, now that the team is starting to play the way everyone knows it can?

The questions came on the heels of a lifeless 3-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners that sunk the Twins' record to a big league-worst 16-32, including 5-13 at Target Field.

The questions elicited some hilariously confusing responses from players such as Brian Duensing, who said he feels "like we've been playing some good baseball. We just haven't gotten the big hits or the outs when we need them."

The questions also summed up just how out of hand the two-time American League Central champions' situation has gotten as they look up at the Cleveland Indians in the standings -- 14½ games back less than two months into what's looking more and more like a lost season.

"It's hard when you're trying to be positive," said Duensing, whose seven solid innings were wasted by the Twins' fifth scoreless performance in their first 48 games.

"To be honest with you, the last few games, I don't feel like we've played poorly. If we had been winning all year and been playing the way we have (lately), we wouldn't think anything about it."

But the Twins haven't been winning. Not outside of a three-game West Coast run last week that gave way to a bunch of blown leads and a 1-5 stretch since.

These Twins have fallen so far, so quickly they would have to go 73-41 the rest of the way to reach 89 wins, which would have won the division last season. The Indians are on pace for 103.

"I look every day and see what Cleveland's doing, because I want to gain ground on them," veteran slugger Jim Thome said. "You want to try to do the best you can to gain some ground, but you can't do it overnight. It takes a long process."

So long, in fact, that the Twins' front office should ramp up their own scoreboard watching immediately -- and not because of long-shot hopes for making another improbable playoff push.

General manager Bill Smith and company know they can't throw in the towel on a 162-game season and a $113 million payroll before Memorial Day. That wouldn't play with ownership or the fans, whose frustration was summed up by the voice that called out to the press box on Wednesday: "Have you seen enough?"

For the right price, though, there aren't too many names that should cause the Twins to hang up when buyers come calling. And the phone will ring plenty by the time trade talks heat up in July.

Jason Kubel's value never will be higher, considering how he's hitting. He's in a contract year anyway, as are Michael Cuddyer, Matt Capps and Thome -- players the Twins could pursue in free agency if they really want them back.

One arbitration year remaining makes Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano logical bait, since the Twins have shown no interest in signing them to long-term deals. And Carl Pavano could have value to a contender that's willing to take on his $8.5 million salary in 2012.

If this season has shown anything, it's that the Twins could use an influx of talent to their farm system, and they haven't been in position to be sellers in some time. Trading Kevin Slowey's tender tummy for a JUGS machine and a thesaurus may only be the start.

Unless Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka return in midseason form, Young and Justin Morneau catch fire and the Twins' brutal bullpen does a miraculous 180, the only real question is this:

How soon is too soon to let the sale begin?

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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