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Updated: June 13th, 2012 10:31pm
Zulgad: GM could face interesting decisions as trade deadline nears

Zulgad: GM could face interesting decisions as trade deadline nears

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS - The Insider section on ESPN's website recently ran an analysis by former big-league general manager Jim Bowden in which he listed 10 teams that will be sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

The Minnesota Twins were among the clubs on the list with six players named. This included first baseman Justin Morneau, left fielder Josh Willingham, lefthanded starter Francisco Liriano, center fielder Denard Span, righthanded closer Matt Capps and lefthanded setup man Glen Perkins.

It can be argued that there is no way Willingham and Perkins should have made the list.

Willingham, who signed a three-year, $21 million free-agent deal last offseason, is a righthanded-hitter with power who can pull the ball. In other words, he is ideal for Target Field. He has provided the type of pop the Twins' badly needed at home and has a team-leading 13 home runs.

Perkins signed a three-year, $10.3 million extension in March that includes a club option for 2016. This wasn't done so Perkins could be dealt, but rather with the intention that he could soon take over for Capps as the Twins closer.

That being said, it was no surprise the Twins joined the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies on the list of potential sellers.

The Twins' 9-8 loss on Wednesday night to the Phillies at Target Field left them sitting 11-games under .500 (25-36) and kept them in last place in the not-even-mediocre American League Central.

The issue is that the Twins had spent the first two months of the season playing like a team that would be fairly easy to dismantle as the trade deadline approached, with the only question being what players had value to move?

And now?

Despite the loss to the Phillies, it appears general manager Terry Ryan could face the same type of dilemma that Bill Smith had last season.

The Twins, who won the first game of their series against Philadelphia on Tuesday, are only 3.5 games behind the third-place Detroit Tigers in the Central. If they win this series it will mark the fifth in a row that they have captured.

Entering Wednesday, the Twins had gone 15-9 since May 16 and were 6-1 in their past seven at home.

Winning the three-game series against the Phillies isn't that big of a long shot. The Twins will have "ace" Scott Diamond (5-1, 1.61 ERA) facing righthander Joe Blanton (5-6, 5.40) on Thursday night in a very winnable game.

After starting the season with woeful pitching performances and facing quality teams (Orioles, Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays), the Twins have made the most of playing the likes of Oakland, Cleveland, Kansas City, the Cubs and the Phillies. From that list, only the Indians are above .500.

What Ryan now must weigh is what type of approach he wants to take if the Twins continue to hit the ball like they have been of late and continue to win more than they lose.

Twins officials have never gone into great detail about why they removed Bill Smith as general manager last November following a 99-loss season, but Smith likely didn't do himself any favors by deciding that a 17-9 June and 16-13 July were anything more than a two-month mirage for a team that was banged up and not all that good.

The Twins entered June of 2011 with a 17-36 record and 15.5 games out of first place. They ended the month at 34-45 and 8.5 games back. By the end of July, when the trade deadline came and went, the Twins were 50-58 and seven games back.

Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, who were both approaching free agency, weren't moved. Neither was closer Joe Nathan. Smith made two trades in August, dealing Delmon Young to Detroit for two pitchers and Jim Thome to Cleveland for cash after getting those players through waivers.

The Twins were in a 7-21 August slide by that point and then went 6-20 in September.

Ryan, unlike Smith, is a pure baseball guy. It would be foolish to think he returned to a job he held from 1994 to 2007 without a plan in place for how he wanted to rebuild this franchise.

But it could get dicey attempting to move a few parts if the Twins manage to continue winning series and play like they did last June and July.

Nonetheless, that might be exactly what Ryan needs to do to stabilize this organization and especially the starting pitching staff. The Twins entered the season with a starting rotation that was expected to include Carl Pavano, Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis.

Marquis already has been jettisoned. Pavano, Liriano and Baker are in the last year of their contracts. Diamond appears to be a legitimate find, but P.J. Walters is looking like a guy who other teams might be figuring out. (It doesn't help matters that Walters left in the first inning Wednesday without getting an out because of a sore shoulder and is due for an MRI on Thursday.)

Liam Hendriks is expected to be summoned from Triple-A Rochester to start Saturday against Milwaukee and Blackburn is signed to a four-year, $14 million deal that runs through 2013 and includes an $8 million club option for 2014.

This means the Twins are going to need some real help in the starting pitching department as soon as possible if they are going to again become consistently competitive against all teams. Dipping into the free-agent market could be a possibility, but the Twins' needs will go beyond just signing one arm.

Ryan is going to have some pieces to move to contenders, if he chooses, especially when you consider that the addition of a fifth playoff entrant in each league means more clubs will be involved in the bidding for players as the trade deadline approaches in a little over six weeks.

Liriano likely won't bring much - moving him for anything at this point might be an accomplishment - but Capps (14 saves in 15 opportunities) could get something in return. So could Span, whose five-year, $16.5 million contract that runs through 2014 is considered team-friendly and includes a club option in 2015 for $9 million.

Ryan Doumit also could be shopped if the Twins determine he isn't going to sign a multi-year extension. Doumit is playing on a one-year, $3 million deal that clearly was agreed upon with the hope that he would have a strong enough 2012 to get himself a bigger payday.

Moving Morneau also could be a possibility but that is going to depend on exactly what the Twins could get back for him. A healthy Morneau could be a great trade chip, but other general managers might not be willing to give Ryan the type of pitcher he would want in return.
Morneau also would come with a year remaining on his contract at $14 million.

What Ryan is going to have to weigh is how many players he wants to move and the impression he wants to make with a fan base that could begin to hold out hope that maybe things weren't as bad as they appeared in the spring.

The good news is that Ryan doesn't seem like a guy who is going to concern himself too much about what fans think.

And for that reason there likely is an excellent chance that come late July he will be willing to accept some flak in the short term to add some extremely important organizational depth for the long term.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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