Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 7/24/12
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At this same point last year exactly one week before the July 31 trade deadline the Minnesota Twins were in fourth place in the American League Central and seven games out of first place. A year later, Minnesota is now in fifth and last place at 40-56 and 12 games out of first. Last season, the Twins stayed quiet at the trade deadline. That shouldn't be the case this year, particularly with an impending free agent such as pitcher Francisco Liriano. There are differences between this season and last, not only for Minnesota but for Major League Baseball. Last season, teams who lost players deemed as "Type A" and "Type B" free agents were compensated with draft picks. That happened to the Twins when outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel left as free agents to Colorado and Arizona, respectively. Minnesota received two compensatory picks as a result. But thanks to baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, teams no longer get draft picks for Type A or Type B free agents who leave via free agency. The only way a team receives a draft pick for losing a free agent is if a team offers the player a one-year contract with a salary equal to the average salary of the league's 125 highest-paid players. If the player rejects the one-year deal, the team receives a pick. That will change how teams approach the trade deadline as well as free agency this offseason. As for the Twins, Liriano is the one impending free agent on the roster who has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors. The 28-year-old Liriano has electric stuff, but he is an enigma on the mound. He recently put together a string of 10 strong outings, including back-to-back starts with 15 and 10 strikeouts earlier this month. Then Liriano had one of his worst starts of the year Monday, allowing seven runs on three home runs in just 2 23 innings against the White Sox. Liriano's latest outing by no means wipes away what he did in his previous 10 starts, which came after a demotion to the bullpen. Still, it's a reminder to other teams that, for as good as Liriano can be at times, he can be equally shaky. The conundrum for the Twins is that they desperately need starting pitching, and Liriano has excellent stuff if not the consistent results to match. If Minnesota deals Liriano before the deadline, it will need to get pitching back in return. After Liriano, the Twin most frequently mentioned in trade rumors is outfielder Denard Span. He was the talk of similar trade rumors a year ago, and his name again has resurfaced. There are reasons for that he is a solid leadoff hitter, plays above-average defense and has a very team-friendly contract (he's currently in the second year of a five-year, 16.5 million deal). On top of that, Minnesota probably has better organizational depth in the outfield than at any other position. If Span were to be traded, right fielder Ben Revere would easily slide into the center field role. The Twins have young players such as Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia and Joe Benson in the minors who could play in the outfield during upcoming seasons with Minnesota. Speaking of outfielders, left fielder Josh Willingham's name has also been mentioned in trade rumors for a few reasons he's having his most productive offensive season, and his contract (three years, 21 million) is reasonable for the production he's given the Twins. But those are the exact reasons Minnesota should not trade Willingham. The Twins have locked him up for two more seasons after acquiring him as a free agent last winter. Through Monday, Willingham has hit 23 home runs and driven in 68 runs, both team highs. He's on pace to surpass his career home run total of 29, set last season with Oakland. The Twins might be able to get something decent in return for Willingham, but why would they want to let him go? He appears to be a key piece of Minnesota's nucleus for the next few years. And he's provided much-needed power from the right side of the plate. Though Target Field can play big for left-handers, the right-handed Willingham has made the third-year park look small. Minnesota seems to be a perfect fit for him. Twins general manager Terry Ryan is back in the GM's chair after stepping down from the job in 2007. During his first run as GM, Ryan showed he has the ability to make trades and get plenty of value in return. Perhaps his most memorable deal came when he sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco in exchange for Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser. There's a chance Ryan could make another trade involving Liriano in the next week. As Ryan looks to rebuild a Twins franchise that will have back-to-back losing seasons, any deal he makes could be pivotal in putting the pieces back together.
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