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Updated: June 16th, 2010 11:41pm
Pelissero: Deadline far off, but keep an eye on Twins and Cliff Lee

Pelissero: Deadline far off, but keep an eye on Twins and Cliff Lee

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- If a playoff series began today, Scott Baker would be one of the Minnesota Twins' starting pitchers, and Wednesday's performance showed why.

He allowed three baserunners in seven shutout innings. He used the Colorado Rockies' aggression against them to set a career high with 12 strikeouts, including five straight between the third and fifth innings. Tantalizing stuff from the 28-year-old right-hander who opened the season atop the Twins' rotation.

But is Baker reliable enough to toss in with Francisco Liriano and (probably) Carl Pavano in a short series? Can a guy who's given up four runs or more six times in 14 starts be trusted to deliver when it matters most?

Those are questions Bill Smith and the rest of the Twins' braintrust have to ask themselves in the six weeks until baseball's non-waiver trading deadline. And the apparent answers have more than one person in the know saying they wouldn't be surprised at all if the team makes a serious run at acquiring Seattle's stellar left-hander, Cliff Lee.

None of this is a knock on Baker, who historically has improved as the season goes on and was as good in Wednesday's 2-1 win as any Twins pitcher all season. It's not a knock against Pavano, Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey either.

"We like our arms," manager Ron Gardenhire said before Wednesday's game. "We like the way they go about it. For the most part, they've all given us opportunities to win games, and that's all you can ask."

It may take more than that to win in October, though, and that's why no one should sleep on the prospect of trading for a guy who won the American League's Cy Young award two years ago.

Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 earned-run average for the Cleveland Indians in 2008. His numbers actually are better in several categories this season for the woeful Mariners -- including a 0.932 WHIP and a 15:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- even though he started the season with an abdominal injury that forced him to undergo plasma injection therapy.

The prorated portion of Lee's $9 million salary wouldn't be prohibitive for an organization with a record payroll already. The obstacle would be putting together a package good enough for the Mariners to sacrifice the two draft picks they'd receive if Lee, 31, leaves as a free agent after the season.

The Twins' first-round pick in 2007, Class-AA outfielder Ben Revere, is the most expendable of the team's top assets, but it'd take more than that. And giving up top catching prospect Wilson Ramos would be a hefty price for a hired gun who might depart after only a few months.

Still, there's no doubt Lee would be the ace the Twins know their rotation has lacked -- Liriano's return to form notwithstanding -- and another weapon against the good left-handed bats they'd see in the postseason.

Houston's Roy Oswalt could become available, too, but he's another righty and the Twins would end up on the hook for the rest of his $15 million salary, plus $16 million in 2011 and a $12 million option in 2012.

There's been talk about adding a bat -- perhaps Boston third baseman Mike Lowell -- but the sense is the Twins are confident in their lineup if and when everyone finally gets healthy.

No, if the Twins make a bold move between now and July 31, the smart money is on Lee.

It's just too early to say whether Baker and company can convince the Twins that bold move isn't necessary.

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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