July 4th has arrived. The Twins are 12 games under .500, 11 games out of first place in the American League Central and 18 games out of wild card contention.
Half the season is gone, key players remain in the minors addressing shortcomings while an overall lack of competitiveness has infected the major league club.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have no other choice.
The Twins are preparing to trade players to reset for the 2019 season, multiple sources confirmed. There’s no question the team has been shorthanded because of injuries and a suspension to Jorge Polanco, but half the season is gone, important players have underperformed and the deficits are too great to make up even with better health, upgrades, hot streaks … or a combination of all three.
So the Twins are open for business and have been speaking with clubs about potential deals before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
Manager Paul Molitor was asked if he’s thought about what could happen over the next few weeks.
“Everyone kind of understands this is where we’re at, and the time of year we’re approaching, some of these things are going to pick up in terms of rumors or things that could potentially happen,” Molitor said. “We have a lot of people who fall into those categories where names might be discussed. I’m not going to get too far ahead of that, but just see where the day-to-day takes us.”
Eduardo Escobar, batting .274 with a 12 home runs and a league-leading 34 doubles, is drawing interest from several clubs. And the Yankees had a scout watching Kyle Gibson’s start Monday against the Brewers.
The Twins would like to see what their team could do at full strength, but that’s unlikely to happen. Polanco returned Monday from an 80-game suspension for PED use, but righthander Ervin Santana, an All-Star last season, has yet to pitch an inning as his return from right finger surgery has taken much longer than expected. No. 1 catcher Jason Castro is out for the season after knee surgery. Both third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Byron Buxton have been injured and ineffective and are searching for their swings in the minors — and the club has said both need to produce to get out of the minors.
And a major problem has been subpar performances at the plate from regulars Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Logan Morrison and Max Kepler.
The Twins don’t feel a major overhaul is necessary, and think they can be a factor next season, so they will look to add players who can help them win next year, not 2020 or later.
Escobar, who can play three infield positions, and Gibson are among the Twins with the most value. Escobar, however, will be a free agent during the offseason, which affects any return the club could get. There’s a belief at 1 Twins Way that they could deal Escobar then re-sign him during the offseason — mostly because of how much Escobar likes Minnesota. Gibson, with one more year of arbitration remaining, has positioned himself as a mid-to-back-end rotation option by posting a 3.58 ERA in 17 starts.
Righthander Lance Lynn, signed to a one-year deal as a free agent, has struggled, going 5-7 with a 5.49 ERA, but the three-time 15-game winner could be a trade target for a contending team. Relievers Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney could also help contenders.
Dozier damaged his trade value with a below-average first half, but his penchant for second-half surges could interest someone in the second baseman. And Santana could return and pitch well enough to be a target before the Aug. 31 deadline, provided he clears waivers.
Most of these players have their flaws, so it’s not like the Twins expect an eye-popping package of top prospects or productive players in return. In a perfect world, the Twins would get creative enough to move a couple players while getting quality — not potential — in return. That means someone who would help in 2019, not a teenage prospect.
With only about $31 million in salary commitments for next season, the Twins are in a strong financial position and aren’t looking to shed payroll. Several players are in line for arbitration raises, but the Twins plan to be active in free agency for upgrades.
So expect this team will have a different look after July 31.
La Velle E. Neal III covers the Twins for the Star Tribune. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org