Smith looking for ways to improve Twins

Smith looking for ways to improve Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Twins head into this weekend's series against the Mariners at Target Field, they do so in the middle of a hot streak. The club won six of seven contests on its most recent road trip and it has posted a 10-4 record since the All-Star break.

But while things have been going well for Minnesota of late, the club continues to look for ways to help improve itself as Saturday's 3 p.m. CT non-waiver Trade Deadline looms.


"The last week doesn't change how we look at or how we approach the end of this month," Twins general manager Bill Smith said on Wednesday night in regards to the Deadline.

The Twins are currently in a tight battle with the White Sox for the top spot in the American League Central, with the Tigers looming not too far behind. Finding a way to help his club during its pennant chase is certainly Smith's goal, but the Minnesota GM also maintains that he is happy with the pieces that are currently in place.

"We've said all along that we like this team,' Smith said. "Our lineup is very good and our biggest need is to get a couple of people healthy. If we can get Justin Morneau, Orlando Hudson and Matt Tolbert healthy, that would be a plus. Some of our guys, some of our starting pitchers, went through a tough stretch and we're optimistic that they're going to work through some of this. They've certainly pitched better recently. And our ballclub has been a good second half team."

The Twins have certainly made a strong statement to their front office with their play at the start of the second half, as they moved to 10 games over the .500 mark on Wednesday for the first time since June 22. And the surge might have only increased the organization's willingness to invest more money into a club that it believes can be a strong contender not only in the AL but also the postseason.

Smith has remained mum for the most part on what his club may be seeking and whether the Twins are likely to make a deal before Saturday. But he did acknowledge that Minnesota is exploring all avenues in regards to improving its team.

"There has been a lot of conversation going on," Smith said.

Just two weeks ago, the Twins' needs certainly seemed to be growing. The rotation was struggling, the offense had yet to really start clicking and while the bullpen has posted one of the best ERAs in the Majors this season, there had been indications that the club might be looking for relief help as well.

Things have turned around since then, as the offense went on a tear this past week in Baltimore and Kansas City while the starting pitching leveled itself by posting a combined 1.40 ERA on the seven-game road trip, but it doesn't mean that there aren't ways that the Twins could perhaps bolster their team for the final two-month stretch.

The chances of Minnesota landing a top starter have appeared to be dwindling with Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and now Roy Oswalt off the market. The club has likely shifted its focus to the next tier of available pitchers. That includes Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly, whom the Twins have expressed interest in although they are believed to be on his no-trade list.

There have also been indications that the Twins have been continuing to explore relief options as well. They've been in contact with the Blue Jays in regards to some of their relievers, and a Foxsports.com report on Wednesday said that Minnesota has assigned one of its scouts to follow Toronto and monitor its relief staff. The Jays also had a scout in Kansas City for this week's Twins-Royals series.

Toronto is certainly listening to offers for their group of relievers, which includes left-hander Scott Downs and right-handers Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor. Indications are that Downs and Gregg have been generating the majority of the attention. Some reports indicated that Toronto has been asking for quite a bit for Downs, who is projected to be a Type A free agent after this season.

The Twins had three lefties in their bullpen up until last week, when Brian Duensing was moved into the rotation to replace right-hander Nick Blackburn. Now it's only Jose Mijares and Ron Mahay, so there's a chance that the club could add a third southpaw once again. Minnesota does have a left-handed option at Triple-A Rochester in Glen Perkins and other relievers -- namely Kyle Waldrop and Rob Delaney -- who are pitching well, so the club could also determine that its best option is to use its system for help.

But while the July 31 Trade Deadline is certainly the one drawing most of the attention right now, it's not the last chance for clubs to make trades. Last year, Smith not only acquired Orlando Cabrera in the hours leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, he also made a number of moves in August as well. He acquired Carl Pavano and Jon Rauch in waiver trades while also signing reliever Ron Mahay after he was released by the Royals.

The moves all provided the Twins with a boost during the final two months of the 2009, and it's possible that Smith could try to do something similar this year. So for Minnesota, the next two days will focus on trying to make the best decisions for the club, and figuring out whether it's in the best interest of the team to make a move now or wait and see what the market brings in August.

"There is a fine line between patience and impatience or patience and panic," Smith said. "You don't want to overreact either way."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.