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Updated: July 6th, 2014 5:26pm
Zulgad: Twins might want to explore option of shopping Kurt Suzuki

Zulgad: Twins might want to explore option of shopping Kurt Suzuki

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins general manager Terry Ryan was asked a week ago about whether he might be a buyer or seller as baseball's non-waiver trade deadline approached on July 31.

Despite the fact his team was coming off a 1-5 road trip against the Angels and Rangers, Ryan refused to tip his hand and said he would wait until after next week's All-Star break to make any decisions.

Ryan's answer is becoming more obvious by the day.

The Twins followed their trip by losing two of three to AL Central-rival Kansas City at Target Field and then dropping three of four to the Yankees over the Holiday weekend. This includes a 9-7 defeat to New York on Sunday in which free-agent Ricky Nolasco gave up six runs and seven hits in only two innings.

The lost left the Twins in last place in the Central at 39-48 and 10.5 games behind division-leading Detroit entering a four-game series at Seattle and a three-gamer in Colorado before the break.

Ryan's stance of "why not us," that came in early June as the Twins surprised everyone by signing designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal likely has turned into, "so here's what I'm offering" when it comes to his discussions with other general managers.

The list of players Ryan will try to move includes left fielder Josh Willingham, Morales and righthanded pitcher Kevin Correia. Willingham and Correia, like Morales, are in the final season of their contracts.

But as Patrick Reusse, my Saturday Morning SportsTalk co-host and baseball sage, pointed out recently, it doesn't matter if Ryan is offering Willingham, Morales or Correia because he's not going to get anything of value for them.

Willingham, 35, can provide occasional power and get on base, but he is a defensive liability and would be a designated hitter and/or pinch hitter for a contending team. Willingham went 11-for-32 with eight walks in his first 10 games back after returning from a wrist injury in May but was out of the starting lineup on Thursday after hitting .184 since June 4.

Willingham is hitting .224/.378/.448 with eight homers and 24 RBI.

Correia, who will start Monday night in Seattle, is 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA and went through a stretch this season where it only appeared logical that he be taken out of the rotation. That never happened and the 33-year-old has rebounded to an extent. But any team that scouts him knows that he loves to live on the edge of constant disaster when it comes to his starts.

Morales, 31, impressed everyone when one-day after signing, and despite a layoff that meant he had no big-league at-bats in spring training or into June, he told the Twins he was ready to play.

Morales then had at least one hit in his first six games before not getting a hit in his next five games. Morales was not in the starting lineup on Sunday after going through a 2-for-17 slide and grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. That left him at .216/.243/.294 with one home run and 11 RBI.

I'm not convinced that Morales couldn't bring at least a semi-decent minor-league prospect back, if a team becomes convinced he will begin to find consistency at the plate with more at-bats.

Ryan confirmed Sunday that he has been in communication with teams. "It's getting (to be) that time of year," he said, "we all know that. We're in a tough spot. So you know whose shoulder that falls on? Me. Now I've got to do what I've got to do."

Ryan has to know that he is not going to be overwhelmed with any offers for the above three.

So what can be done?

Everyone that just suggested trading Nolasco, you can stop right now.

Nolasco, in the first season of a four-year, $49 million that contains a fifth-year club option, was brutal again Sunday. His earned-run average is up to 5.90 and the Twins appear to be considering removing him from the starting rotation.

Ryan, though, might have at least one interesting trade chip in his clubhouse.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, 30, is hitting .306/.363/.400 with two home runs and 34 RBI. He hasn't thrown out as many base stealers as the Twins would like, but otherwise he has proven to be extremely dependable behind the plate. Suzuki deserves to be in the All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field.

So why deal him? It's simple.

Suzuki signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Twins last offseason to replace Joe Mauer as the regular catcher. There is no question he has increased his value this year and could draw interest from other teams when he hits free agency again.

If you're Ryan, what you do is approach Suzuki in the coming days to get a read on his interest in signing a two- or three-year contract. If Suzuki or his representatives indicate they are interested in your offer, you get the deal done. If they want to test the market, you start shopping him.

This is not to say there will be a huge return for Suzuki, but he stands to get you more than Willingham, Correia or Morales.

Unless they have given up on him as a catcher, and it's doubtful that's the case, Josmil Pinto is expected to develop into the Twins' regular catcher at some point. Given his potential at the plate, one would hope that Pinto will spend plenty of time at Triple-A Rochester and this offseason working on the craft of catching.

In the short term, the Twins could plug in the likes of Eric Fryer and Chris Herrmann for the remainder of 2014. This wouldn't be ideal but these days (or years) there is little ideal when it comes to the Twins' franchise.

The focus needs to remain on the future.

If trading Suzuki gives the Twins an opportunity to improve that future, it at least has to be considered.

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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