Hi folks. It's amazing how quickly three months can flow by when it hurts to bend your elbows...
At any rate, in celebration of the fact that I'm getting back into the swing of things, I thought I'd catch up on the playoff races by taking a look at some of the teams who are still hanging around the fringes of them.
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As Alfonso Soriano trade talks reach critical mass, it's looking more and more like he's destined to finish the season in the AL Central. The division-leading Tigers emerged as the front-runner for his services, which prompted White Sox GM Kenny Williams to stick his nose in and try to jack the price up for his main competition.
The team that could most use Soriano, however, has faded from view after some early rumblings that they were in the hunt, and might find themselves fading in Chicago and Detroit's rear-view mirror entirely if they don't make a move before the deadline.
The Twins are a curious club to say the least. Their recent track record in developing major league players has kept them competitive, and made them the tools-driven answer to Oakland's 'new school' approach to budget team-building. The Amazing Johan was joined in the rotation this season by the Bulletproof Monk Francisco Liriano, while the bullpen continually churns through useful arms. On the hitting side Justin Morneau finally seems to be healthy and having the season expected of him since he got to the bigs (.309/.357/.592 as of Monday), while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel both emerged to make contributions.
What the Twins really lack, though, is solid production from their outfield. Cuddyer's been adequate as a right fielder but no more, and Torii Hunter (when not on the DL) has been his usual great glove-OK bat self in center, but left field has been an open wound in the batting order all year long. Shannon Stewart has been more brittle than usual. Rondell White and Lew Ford have both, in different ways, been huge disappointments. Minnesota has been forced to turn to Jason Tyner in recent weeks and as Devil Ray fans know, nothing good can come of relying on Jason Tyner for offense.
This is a team eighth in the AL in runs scored, and second-last in home runs. As a puzzle piece, Soriano is about as perfect a fit as you're likely to find. If any team in baseball has a need for a slugging, toolsy left fielder whose contract comes off the books at season's end, it would be the Twins. And if any season seems like the perfect time to take a chance and go full-tilt for glory it would be this one. No team in the AL seems particularly unbeatable, and with Liriano riding shotgun for Santana the Twins have a one-two punch at the top of their rotation no one else can match. With a decent offense supporting them, Minnesota could conceivably get to the World Series without a win from any other starting pitcher -- and given the state of the rest of their rotation, they might have to.
Even Soriano's one potential weakness, his defense, would be masked playing left field in the Metrodome, with Hunter covering his flank.
So will the Twins make a move for him? Probably not. Terry Ryan has never been one to deal future potential studs for short-term gain, and given what Nationals GM Jim Bowden is rumored to be asking for names like Matt Garza or Anthony Swarzak would almost certainly have to be involved on the Twins side to make the deal happen. The Twins also seem out of the pennant picture, sitting 9 1/2 back of Detroit, meaning their ticket to the playoffs will have to come from a wild card berth (where they currently sit third, two losses behind the White Sox and one behind the Yankees) and increasing the risk that they might fall short even if they make a trade.
Minnesota has no hitting help on the way in the minors though. Not to be overly dramatic, but this could end up being the defining moment of Ryan's stewardship of the team. Will he step up and actually try to win a very winnable American League title?
Or will he do nothing and watch his team come up short once again?