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Updated: July 15th, 2010 12:11am
Pelissero: With Lee in Texas, Cubs' Lilly is next logical target for Twins

Pelissero: With Lee in Texas, Cubs' Lilly is next logical target for Twins

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by Tom Pelissero

Kevin Slowey will start Thursday's series opener against Chicago White Sox at Target Field, and in a way, that seems only fitting.

Why not open the season's unofficial second half with one of the guys who let down the Minnesota Twins so badly in the first?

Don't think for a second the Twins' failed pursuit of Cliff Lee was their last attempt to fix their struggling starting rotation, which could see Slowey and Nick Blackburn exit one way or another in the weeks and months to come.

Blackburn, who has a 10.00 earned-run average since June 1, is a mechanical mess and may be one more bad start from a one-way ticket to Class-AAA Rochester.

Slowey has an 8.39 ERA in his past five starts, is horrible in day games and was offered to the Seattle Mariners in multiple packages for Lee, the ace left-hander who ended up with the Texas Rangers.

Word is the Twins were willing to deal Slowey and one of two prospects: catcher Wilson Ramos or outfielder Ben Revere. Talks broke down when, contrary to reports, the Twins refused to package Ramos with top outfield prospect Aaron Hicks.

And while that's all history now, it could prove relevant as the Twins turn their attention to the remaining group of available starters -- of which Chicago Cubs lefty Ted Lilly seems the probable target.

A first-round draft pick (14th overall) two years ago who's only 20 years old, Hicks is regarded as a potential five-tool guy in the mold of Torii Hunter. That's why the Twins seem far more inclined to move Revere, the 2007 first-rounder (28th) who has elite speed and can hit but never will have a great arm and has to improve on his overall defense.

In fact, indications are Hicks may be off-limits altogether, taking a key trade chip off the table in what already would be difficult negotiations to land the likes of Arizona's Dan Haren or Houston's Roy Oswalt.

Like Lee, Lilly -- whose salary is $13 million -- is a free agent after the season, making it a rental situation. 

That might not be a negative for the Twins, considering the price in prospects and cash they'd have to pay to land Haren (who is due the rest of his $8.25 million salary this season, plus $12.5 million in 2011 and 2012, and has a $15.5 million club option for 2013) or Oswalt ($15 million this season, $16 million in 2011, $12 million option for 2012).

Granted, Lilly's past two starts (14 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings) are a concern for a 34-year-old who allows a lot of fly balls and lacks top-shelf stuff.

But his 3.45 ERA and 1.091 WHIP since the start of 2009 are solid, he'd be a veteran presence for a staff that needs it, and a lesser package than the Mariners rejected may be good enough for the Cubs, who likely will field offers from several losers in the Lee sweepstakes.

Even if Blackburn, Slowey and the rest of the rotation turn things around before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Twins have seen enough to know short-term results can't be trusted. Just look at what's happened to Blackburn since he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA in May.

Pulling Brian Duensing out of the bullpen is one option, but that would leave Ron Mahay -- who has fallen out of favor and may not be around much longer -- as one of only two left-handers in the bullpen. Rectifying one problem by creating another isn't exactly a palatable solution.

The Twins have faith their offense will rise to the challenge in the second half. They have options in the bullpen. And they still have the lofty expectations that come with entering the season with a new ballpark and a record payroll.

The glaring concern is starting pitching, and if the Twins are serious about turning things around -- which they absolutely are -- their chances may well be determined by what happens on the phone these next 2½ weeks.

At the least, the Cubs should expect a call.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 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