Let’s all be honest here – the Minnesota Twins, despite being only three games out in the AL Central, are not going to contend this year. It’s basically a season to prove they are no longer the 2010-’11 Twins and prepare for the future. They’ve already done the former, and the latter can’t be too far down the road.
The Twins should be major players at the trade deadline. They have pieces to move, and they would be smart to try to move them. Let’s take a look at how their top chips are performing right now so I can start getting all giddy about what they might get in return.
The Hammer was the lone bright spot for Minnesota last year not named Joe Mauer, Scott Diamond or that guy from Owl City. I mean, dude did a song with Carly Rae Jepsen, so beat that, Prince. Willingham’s 35 home runs inspired one of the coolest bobbleheads since the Curt Schilling bloody sock bobble-ankle.
This year, though, Josh Willingham is difficult to figure out. His batting average is 55 points lower than last year (.205 from .260), but his on-base is 12 points higher (.378 from .366). His slugging has plummeted to .411 from .524 resulting in a mediocre .789 OPS.
Willingham’s struggles are fleshed out in the location of his balls-in-play. Only 13.5 percent of his hits have been line drives (down from his career average of 18.9). His infield fly-ball percentage, on the other hand, is waaay up (currently at a whopping 29.4 percent compared to his career mark of 12.8).
The two biggest plusses for Willingham are his power and his contract. Right-handed power hitters are always at a premium. Add on that Willingham is under contract until 2014, and he should be able to net a decent return. However, if he can’t get his stick going and pick up his slugging percentage, the Twins may need to ride it out with Willingham and wait until the off-season to move him.
I already wrote a gushy, lovey-dovey about Justin Morneau earlier this week, so I’ll try not to drool everywhere. The big Canadian is doing work at the plate right now.
Morneau is in the midst of an 11-game hit streak (the fourth-longest of his career) during which he is hitting .422 with 14 RBI’s. His lack of home run power (only two dingers on the season) is a bit concerning, but an .891 OPS in May should help combat those fears a bit.
The biggest problem with Morneau is his health. His beautiful triad of chronic back/wrist/head issues could scare off a lot of teams, seeing as Morneau has missed an average of more than 57 games per year since playing all 163 games in 2008. Morneau’s contract also expires at the end of this year, making him a rent-a-player. It would still be a surprise to see Morneau in a Twins jersey in September even if his return isn’t overwhelming.
The interesting part for the Twins is whom they will dangle near the deadline. They don’t have a ton of veteran players with enough value to be moved. Morneau and Willingham may end up as the only legitimate pieces with whom they wouldn’t mind splitting ways. Either way, if the season goes as it most likely will and the Twinkies aren’t contending in July, they must find a way to give this already promising team an even brighter future.