The Twins reached the halfway point of their 60-game regular season on Monday night, opening a three-game series in Cleveland. Minnesota (19-10) held a 1.5-game lead on the Indians and a two-game lead on the White Sox in the AL Central as the one week countdown to the MLB trade deadline began. That deadline will arrive at 3 p.m. next Monday.
Under ordinary circumstances, it’s difficult to figure out what Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, and Thad Levine, the team’s general manager, will do. But the circumstances that surround the 2020 season are anything but ordinary, and so it becomes anyone’s guess if Falvey, Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli will want to look to make deals or back away from the table and elect to hold onto all of their chips for what is hopefully a back-to-normal baseball season in 2021.
There is no clear-cut answer here and no matter what Falvey and Co., decide they also are going to be at the mercy of other teams. If the Twins decide they want to make a run at a championship this October, they likely will need help. The Twins aren’t the only team that have had injury problems, but their current list of walking wounded is growing by the day.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson, the team’s big free agent signing last winter, has been out since July 31 because of a right calf strain. He recently has been joined on the injured list by center fielder Byron Buxton (left shoulder inflammation) and catcher Mitch Garver (right intercostal strain).
The Twins also are without starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who began the season on the injured list, and landed back on it this weekend after suffering a bruised chest when he was hit by a come-backer against the Royals. Relievers Cody Stashak (lower back inflammation) and Zack Littell (inflammation in his pitching elbow) are sidelined and it’s unknown when Tyler Clippard will be able to pitch again after a line shot hit him in the pitching elbow on Sunday. Starter Homer Bailey has been moved to the 45-day injured list because of right biceps tendinitis that has limited him to one start, and Rich Hill’s first start back after being out because of left shoulder fatigue was less than impressive.
The Twins likely would love to add pitching help.
But this is where it gets interesting and where the unusual setup of this season will play a role. It starts with the fact that 16 teams will make the postseason instead of the usual 10. That means there figure to be far fewer sellers than usual and plenty of sub-.500 teams aren’t going to consider themselves to be out of it come next week.
The Cincinnati Reds are a perfect example of this. The Reds entered Monday with an 11-15 record but are sniffing around a wild card berth and, thus, aren’t likely to move outstanding righthander Trevor Bauer, who is in the last year of his contract. Bauer is 3-0 with a 0.68 ERA in four starts and has two complete games and two shutouts. So the Reds go from potentially getting a big return for Bauer to reportedly looking to add talent and not subtract it.
The few teams that will be willing to move valuable players are almost certainly going to be asking for a substantial return. But if that player is a rental, are the Twins (or any other contender) going to pay the asking price in such an odd season? It’s one thing if you swing a deal and get a guy back who has a few years remaining on his contract, it’s another to say you went all in to win a World Series that is going to have an asterisk by it.
Jeff Passan, in his trade deadline preview piece for ESPN, listed the definite sellers as the Pirates, Red Sox, Royals, Mariners and Angels. The probable sellers were the Tigers, Orioles and Marlins and the possible sellers were the Giants and Rangers. That’s only 10 of the 30 MLB teams and that list might be too long. The Marlins, yes the Marlins, could end up trying to be buyers, despite the fact they are the Marlins and had their season shutdown for a time because of COVID-19.
There are other obstacles as well to making trades that could make a difficult process even tougher. For instance, only the players the Twins have in their 60-man player pool can be traded, meaning top prospects in the lower levels can’t be dealt next Monday. Twins scouts also aren’t allowed to watch prospects who are at the alternate sites for other teams and scouts from around the league can’t visit CHS Field in St. Paul to watch the group that is working out there.
Starting pitchers who reportedly could be on the market include Seattle righthander Taijuan Walker (in the last year of his contract), Detroit lefthander Matthew Boyd (two more years of team control after this one) and Angels righthander Dylan Bundy (one more year of team control after this one). But if the market is filled with teams looking to buy, and no one is going to sell cheap, what is the asking price? Take a look at Boyd’s numbers and tell me you want any part of that 8.48 ERA.
The Twins have several top prospects working out in St. Paul — the group includes shortstop Royce Lewis, outfielders Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker and pitcher Jhoan Duran — but Falvey almost certainly wouldn’t move one of those players unless he got a return that included an impact player with plenty of team control left.
The panic trades are still going to be made. The Phillies’ bullpen has been a disaster and over the weekend they attempted to address the issue by acquiring relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree and cash considerations from Boston in exchange for righthanders Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold.
Falvey, though, never has been one to appear panicked, no matter how many of his pitchers get hit by line drives. There also is another aspect to a potential trade. That’s the fact we’re dealing with a pandemic and there are probably plenty of players who ordinarily would welcome trades but right now have no interest in moving and leaving their family behind. You can’t blame them.
There is a chance the Twins will make only one move by next Monday and that will be welcoming back starting pitcher Michael Pineda from his MLB suspension. Falvey could surprise us by doing more but it seems unlikely he will be willing pay the necessary price in such an odd year.