As Derek Falvey and Thad Levine prepared for their first season running the Twins’ front office, the duo had to believe it was a long shot their team would contend for a playoff spot and, thus, the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline would serve as an opportunity to acquire some much-needed young pitching.
The names floated as trade options were veteran righthander Ervin Santana and second baseman Brian Dozier.
But three weeks from the trade deadline, the Twins find themselves sitting at 45-43, 2.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central, and one game back of the Yankees and Rays in the wild card race. This is in part a credit to the Twins– although their minus-60 run differential is difficult to ignore -– and because the American League as a whole is not very good.
All of this places Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, and Levine, the team’s general manager, in an interesting situation. Do they try to move their top starter, Santana, to a superior team, like the Astros, in an attempt to pry away a top prospect and something else, or do they use one or two of their own prospects to get much-needed starting pitching?
According to a report from Fox’s Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday, Falvey and Levine are “checking on” starters who have term left on their contract but might be available in a trade. This includes Jose Quintana of the White Sox, Sonny Gray of Oakland and Dan Straily of the Marlins.
Quintana, 28, is signed through 2018 with club options for 2019 and 2020. Gray, 27, will remain under team control until at least 2019, and the 28-year-old Straily will be under team control until 2020.
Put them in a rotation that already includes the 34-year-old Santana and 23-year-old phenom Jose Berrios and you’ve got something. The issue is what would it take to get a quality starter who doesn’t have the ability to walk as a free agent after this season?
The White Sox are looking for two top-level prospects in return for Quintana, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. So would Falvey and Levine agree to give an AL-Central opponent a couple of prospects, such as shortstop Nick Gordon and righthander Fernando Romero?
While acquiring a quality starter would improve the Twins, this is a team that isn’t an acquisition or two away from contending for a World Series berth. The team’s starters have a 4.95 ERA, second-to-last in the American League, and the bullpen also has issues.
Falvey and Levine have turned into magicians this summer, making pitchers appear and disappear in a variety of creative ways that often involves use of the new 10-day disabled list.
There is the question of whether Santana, who made the All-Star team by going 10-6 with a 2.99 ERA in the first half, can continue to pitch like he did in his first 18 starters or whether there will be a decline? Considering Santana’s age, there could be a case made that looking to move him by capitalizing on his first-half success makes sense.
It’s also important to remember that Falvey and Levine did not join a franchise that lost 103 games last season in order to be occasionally competitive or hang around the playoff race. They joined the Twins to build a club that can compete for a World Series title, as the once-atrocious Astros will be expected to do this year.
The reality is that takes time.
If a pitcher like Gray can be added in the coming weeks to make the Twins more competitive, and give them a better chance to win a weak division or grab a wild card, no one is going to complain and more tickets will be sold.
But if Falvey and Levine decide the price is too high – or that the potential return on Santana is too good to pass up – the big picture has to be kept in mind. (Quick aside: If the Twins trade Santana, the return is going to be a good one. The Dozier trade talks with the Dodgers this offseason proved that. Los Angeles offered pitching prospect Jose De Leon, the Twins demanded more and backed out when they couldn’t get it.)
Except for one season, the Twins have been non-competitive since the 2011 season. That cost once untouchable GM Terry Ryan his job last summer and caused a major shakeup in the thinking of the Twins’ front office and field staff.
Does part of that thinking include attempting to plug the holes that exist for the 2017 Twins or does it mean asking for more patience from an already impatient fan base?
The latter choice might not be the popular one, but it won’t be surprising if Falvey and Levine decide it’s the right one.