After missing 33 games on the DL due to a knee injury that required arthroscopic, the Minnesota Twins finally have slugger Josh Willingham back in the lineup.
And in an ideal-world scenario, it might end up being a short stay.
If Minnesota’s sentimental trade of Jamey Carroll to divisional rival Kansas City Royals didn’t get the point across already, let’s just say that the Twins haven’t taken down their “for sale” sign even after the non-waiver trade deadline.
In fact, despite waiver deals not being particularly common (unless your name is Alex Rios), the Twins may have several assets that would be suitable to these types of deals (ie. veterans near the end of reasonably hefty contracts who are of little future benefit to the team).
Willingham is one of those that fit this mold. With core players like Justin Morneau (also a candidate to be moved in August) heading into free agency and the team in transition, I think it’d be fair to say that the 34-year-old outfielder with an additional $7 million salary in 2014 just isn’t much of a fit on a franchise that’s waiting on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano in a couple of seasons.
Even with the second Wild Card spot, the window to compete for this Twins team isn’t quite open yet, and having more financial flexibility even at the end of this season could help the retooling process. On top of that, age isn’t exactly on Willingham’s side, and even if he is just one year removed from a 35-homer, 3.5 fWAR season, a steep decline in his age-35 season is not a risk that this Twins team will want to take.
So, who might be some interested parties?
Considering that the Texas Rangers made a claim and successfully negotiated a deal for Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, they’re likely out of the picture for another outfielder … though it couldn’t exactly hurt them. The Baltimore Orioles, who could still use a DH with some pop, may be a team that could put a claim in, and would certainly be a viable dance partner if Willingham happens to pass through waivers.
Part of whether a deal will happen or not will depend on how his knee continues to respond through the rest of August, and if he can show that he still has what he brought to the table last season now that he is healthy.
Of course, the team isn’t exactly being forced to make a deal happen either, so it’s not like this will be a straight up salary-dump situation. With Willingham signed through next season, there is a pretty good argument to be made that the team might benefit even more should they try to trade him at the next deadline, when the financial commitment is reduced for potential suitors and when he might be back in form.
Then again, is that a risk the Twins need to take?