With trade deadline approaching, can Twins pull off needed second-half deal?

On Feb. 8, 2006, Wayne Krivsky left the Minnesota Twins to become the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It rated no more than a notebook mention in the Twin Cities dailies, and most fans treated the news with a shrug, if they cared at all.

But to Twins officials and sharp minds in the scouting community, this was a significant loss of a respected talent evaluator — a loss the Twins continue to feel today.

Krivsky was the assistant general manager who scouted the National League for the Twins. He did legwork on the trade that brought Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser here from the Giants for A.J. Pierzynski, the biggest fleece job of GM Terry Ryan’s tenure. On Krivsky’s recommendations, Ryan acquired NL products like Nick Punto, Carlos Silva, Mike Redmond and Luis Castillo, who proved to be productive role players and good fits in the clubhouse.

Costly scouting departures
But the departure of Krivsky and, in 2007, special assignment scout Larry Corrigan cost the Twins two valuable sets of eyes that they’ve never adequately replaced. Corrigan mainly scouted the American League. For middle market teams like the Twins that don’t splurge for big-name free agents, quality scouts who mine other organizations for overlooked players are as valuable as the elusive setup reliever the Twins can’t seem to find.

Nobody’s record is perfect, and Krivsky and Corrigan were still here when the Twins signed veteran American Leaguers Tony Batista and Ruben Sierra in the winter of 2005-06. That began the parade of underperforming, infirm or over-the-hill veterans  (Phil Nevin, Jeff Cirillo, Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, etc.) that weakened the front office’s credibility in the clubhouse and with its fan base.

Joe Crede has been a fair pickup, at least on the days his cranky lower body allows him to play. But general manager Bill Smith’s two signature deals — Johan Santana to the Mets, and Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay — still look like giveaways.

 “They were very talented scouts and key members of our organization,” Smith said of Krivsky and Corrigan. “We have tremendous confidence in the people who have replaced them. Most of them are 20-year employees who have come up through natural progression.

“Some things have changed. In earlier years, we were trading veteran players and taking back younger players. We’re not looking to do that so much now. One of our challenges is trying to figure out the right way to fill a couple of missing pieces.”

At the All-Star Game break, we all know the needs: another setup reliever to ease the load on Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares. An everyday middle infielder who can bat second, make plays in the field and isn’t an automatic out. And a veteran bat for the bench who actually knows what he’s doing. Manager Ron Gardenhire fumed Wednesday night when he yelled for rookie Jose Morales to pinch-hit in the eighth inning for Punto, only to find Morales still sitting in the bullpen instead of anticipating he might be called on.

Can Smith pull off a deal?
Good luck finding anyone in the Twins clubhouse who thinks Smith can pull off any of this. Justin Morneau knows a loaded question when he hears one, so when I asked him if he expected Smith to make a deal by the July 31 trade deadline, he mulled possible answers for 10 seconds while trying to suppress a smile. 

“If it happens I’ll be happy, but I’m not … fired up,” he said. “Teams that have a chance to win find ways to improve. Hopefully if we have a chance to make a move, we do it.”

 Only five teams — Baltimore, Washington, San Diego, Arizona and Cleveland — appear hopelessly out of it, and the Twins are competing with probably a dozen others for pitching. Nationals scout Bill Singer was in town for the Yankee series.

The price of pitching always rises as the trade deadline approaches, and it helps to have a stable of prospects to deal from. Here’s the problem: Despite what some Twins officials may say, they have nothing at Class AAA Rochester or Class AA New Britain that anybody wants. There isn’t much interest in Delmon Young or Carlos Gomez, either. One scout who recently visited the Metrodome assessed the singles-hitting Young in three words: “Same old Delmon.” So to get something done, Smith may have to sacrifice a starting pitcher.

Meanwhile, Smith hears plenty of suggestions, and not just from fans. The coaching staff reportedly asked Smith to check on San Diego’s David Eckstein, the 2006 World Series MVP and a two-time All-Star with the Cardinals. (That was before the Padres disabled Eckstein last Monday with a mild right hamstring strain.) He’s hitting .267, below his career mark of .283, and at 34 may not have the range to play shortstop anymore. But he’s a smart situational hitter with two World Series rings. If he’s healthy, it’s worth a conversation. Instead, on Sunday, the Twins demoted Matt Tolbert and recalled Alexi Casilla, exchanging one sub-.200 hitter for another.

Another Twin, who requested anonymity rather than risk appearing critical of Smith, suggested the GM “be creative” and threw out this idea: Young and a starting pitcher to Oakland for left fielder Matt Holliday. Though Holliday’s average and power numbers are down, he’s still got more home runs, extra-base hits and RBI than Young. But Holliday can be a free agent at the end of the year, and it’s hard to imagine Oakland GM Billy Beane coveting Young’s feeble .296 on-base percentage.

Nobody suggested this, but I will. Veteran Cincinnati reliever David Weathers will be 40 in September but has a long track record of effective setup relief. Although he gave up two homers to the Mets on Sunday, he’s tough on lefties (.200 opponents’ average) as well as righties (.217), and the Reds haven’t overworked him this season (30-1/3 innings), which is always a concern with a midseason acquisition.

Plus, he’s a former Yankee with a 1996 World Series ring who won’t be intimidated by people in pinstripes. The Twins’ kid pitchers can learn a lot from this guy. And he can’t pitch any worse than Luis Ayala. Your move, Bill.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/13/2009 - 11:52 am.

    Don’t hold your breath on this one! The mediocre state of the Twins today is solely the failure of the front office. Most everyone knew what was needed to improve the team during the long off season, and managment failed — even knowing a) money was availabe b) attendance and fan support has been strong and c) the new stadium demanded a showing from management for some progress. Instead they recruited some bad relievers, a third baseman with a bad back, and in infield with no pop in their bats. Likely, because of management decisions, we are consigned to the middle regions of a lousy division

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