By Jim Souhan, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — They are back from their best road trip in a year, back looking like the team they thought they would be all spring, so now is the time to appreciate what the Twins are becoming before our eyes:
A bunch of guys the front office might be able to trade.
Even their belated burst of competence leaves the Twins with the third-worst record in baseball, still in last place in a weak division. What General Manager Terry Ryan must be willing to acknowledge is what Bill Smith was unwilling to admit last summer, that this team is useful to the future of the organization only if it is stripped for parts.
Smith provided the template for what not to do last year. He had a bad team. He was encouraged, or fooled, by a midseason hot streak. He delayed attempting to trade core veterans, hoping the team would vault into contention or that keeping them around could encourage them to re-sign with the Twins.
The Twins should have traded Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan last season. All left in free agency.
In previous summers, the Twins could have traded Delmon Young at his peak value in 2010 and instead waited until he had little value. They could have traded Francisco Liriano for the likes of Ricky Romero or Ivan Nova, and misjudged Liriano’s value and mental toughness.
The Twins rushed the Johan Santana trade, accepting a poor group of players from the Mets instead of holding him until the trading deadline and trying to create a bidding war.
The 2011 and 2012 Twins have failed, in part, because of the organization’s inability to trade the right player at the right time for the right price. Ryan has to do just that this summer.
Matt Capps has 14 saves. He’s a pro. Trade him while he’s healthy and valuable.
Denard Span is quietly having a strong season. He’s a wonderful guy. Trade him because the organization has outfield depth and Span could bring a starting pitcher in return.
Trade Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano if they reestablish their value. Or even if they don’t.
Ryan Doumit is a great fit for this team. He is versatile and willing to play with pain. He is also on a one-year deal. The Twins should offer him a generous extension so he can continue to back up Joe Mauer, and if he doesn’t take it, they should trade him.
There are also players the Twins shouldn’t consider trading. Jared Burton has been dominant and is under control for two more seasons. He’s a tremendous find for the organization. Glen Perkins has an affordable three-year deal and should be the closer for the next two seasons. It would be foolish to trade him. Same with the highly productive and affordable Josh Willingham. He’s a player around whom you can build.
Jamey Carroll is signed for another season and should be a good influence on Brian Dozier. He should stay. Mauer has a no-trade clause and an untradeable contract. He will be around.
Which leaves the Twins with their biggest, toughest question: What do you do with Justin Morneau?
He is a cornerstone player who is again hitting for power. He is also hitting .237 a year after hitting .227, and he will make $14 million in 2013 in the last year of his contract, and no one can predict whether he will remain healthy.
In what might be the strangest twist in the saga of the M&M Boys, Morneau could get pushed out of the organization by his buddy Mauer, who may need to play first base to stay in the lineup and whose salary leaves little room for other big-money players.
Most of the trade-him-or-keep-him decisions will be easy for Ryan. Morneau will test him.
Does Ryan trade one of his franchise players, or keep him and pray for good health and a career resurgence?
That should depend on the quality of the offers. If Ryan can land the right pitcher, he will have to cut ties with one of the most valuable position players in recent Twins history. Waiting and hoping, it has been proved, is almost always a mistake.