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Garcia proves Twins are buyers, not sellers

MLB.com @philgrogers

Derek Falvey didn't expect to be buying talent this quickly in his run with the Twins. He figured this would be a season of development and evaluation, and why wouldn't he?

The Twins were a hot mess last season. But here we are, with the Trade Deadline approaching and the Indians unable to distance themselves from the Twins and Royals in a better-than-expected American League Central race. So what about it, Derek, you in?

Derek Falvey didn't expect to be buying talent this quickly in his run with the Twins. He figured this would be a season of development and evaluation, and why wouldn't he?

The Twins were a hot mess last season. But here we are, with the Trade Deadline approaching and the Indians unable to distance themselves from the Twins and Royals in a better-than-expected American League Central race. So what about it, Derek, you in?

Dang right he is.

The Twins appear to have made the first major move among Central teams, with MLB.com reporting they are in the final stages of a trade with the Braves for lefty Jaime Garcia. He's been a mystery man throughout his career, but he's accustomed to being under stretch-run pressure.

Garcia prepped for his role as an under-the-gun reinforcement in his eight seasons with the Cardinals. He made two starts in the 2011 World Series, including a must-win effort in Game 6 after they'd fallen into a 3-2 hole.

His front-of-the-rotation movement always dazzled Adam Wainwright and other teammates, but he never developed the durability to reach his potential. He was a big tease for Cardinals Nation but now gets a chance to remind baseball why he so excited Tony La Russa and Mike Matheny.

Consider the buzz about Garcia as recently as April 2016. He threw a one-hit shutout of the Brewers at Busch Stadium, going the distance on only 104 pitches despite piling up 13 strikeouts.

"Every time he walks out there he has a chance to throw a no-hitter,'' Matheny said. "It's amazing what he can make the ball do when he is in a good rhythm. This is what we expect to see. When he's healthy, he's special.''

Garcia would go on to contribute to a disappointing season by finishing the year 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA. The Cardinals exercised their 2017 option on the contract only to use him as a trade chip, and it didn't take long to get a bite.

The Braves grabbed him as part of an effort to open SunTrust Park with a veteran rotation, thinking he would pitch well enough for them to flip him in July. He's done that.

Garcia wasn't on the All-Star Game short list -- his 4.33 ERA has caused his career mark to rise to 3.65 -- but he's made all 17 starts. His slider is getting hit on the ground a lot more than a year ago (42.1 percent from 56.4 percent), and the results showed when he faced the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

He held Arizona's strong lineup to one run in seven innings, touching 94 on his fastball and throwing 10 of 14 breaking pitches (mostly sliders) for strikes. The Twins saw enough to come away convinced that Garcia can be an upgrade for a rotation that has been missing Hector Santiago.

Video: ARI@ATL: Garcia fans seven over seven strong innings

Bartolo Colon, until recently one of Garcia's teammates in Atlanta, filled in Tuesday in New York but lasted only four innings, continuing a downward trend that has the 44-year-old talking about retiring. That's not exactly the message you want to send on a team with postseason ambition.

There's been persistent debate about whether the Twins should sell high on All-Star Ervin Santana, who is headed to free agency. It might become easier to do that with Garcia aboard, especially if Santiago (back) comes off the disabled list before July 31, but this isn't fool's gold.

Paul Molitor has had the Twins playing well since they left Florida. They haven't lost more than four games in a row and might be emboldened by the Indians dropping six of the last seven, including a sweep by the A's in Oakland.

The lack of rotation depth has kept the Twins from winning more games. They rank 13th in the AL with a 4.91 ERA but are getting a boost from 23-year-old right-hander Jose Berrios, He's 9-3 with a 3.50 ERA in 13 starts but won't be pushed too hard in August and September.

Berrios is viewed as a key part of the young core that is expected to help the Twins contend regularly in the future. But there should be no need to protect the 31-year-old Garcia. This is his time to shine, like he did when he was Berrios' age.

Experience counts double this time of the year. Santana, Garcia, Santiago and Kyle Gibson would give the Twins a fighting chance to pull off a huge surprise in September.

It would do a lot for the franchise to win a division that had been all but conceded to the defending AL champs. But beating the Indians isn't imperative, as there are also two Wild Card spots available.

The Twins just might find themselves battling the recently improved Yankees, Royals, Rays or Mariners (who traded for setup man David Phelps Thursday) for a chance to play in October. That chance is worth becoming a buyer, not a seller.

Two good months from Garcia would go a long way.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.

Minnesota Twins, Jaime Garcia