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Twins aim to bolster bullpen at Trade Deadline

@dohyoungpark
July 10, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- This was, in a sense, a "prove it" year for the Twins' young core. Entering the 2019 season, it was clear that at least the makings of a playoff contender were in place behind a core headlined by budding ace José Berríos and the continued rise of Eddie

MINNEAPOLIS -- This was, in a sense, a "prove it" year for the Twins' young core.

Entering the 2019 season, it was clear that at least the makings of a playoff contender were in place behind a core headlined by budding ace José Berríos and the continued rise of Eddie Rosario. This group had, after all, carried the Twins to the American League Wild Card Game in 2017, and last year's club had largely treaded water despite injuries and underperformance at every turn.

But still, questions remained. Could Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó return to form? Could Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler take the anticipated next steps in their development? Could Michael Pineda and Martin Pérez provide depth to the starting rotation? Those uncertainties likely held the Twins back from a full-throated acquisition of pitching talent during the offseason.

As it turned out, the answers to all of those questions were, to varying degrees, "yes." The core has proven its ability and the free-agent acquisitions are thriving. And now, with a 5 1/2-game lead in the AL Central despite a brutal stretch of outfield injuries heading into the All-Star break, the Twins are poised to reinforce their pitching talent with an eye on a deep postseason run -- at only the start of what could be a fruitful window of contention.

Current status: buyer
Based on the progression of that core and the success of nearly all of their free-agent acquisitions, the Twins may have the most dangerous lineup in baseball, one that set the Major League record for home runs hit before the All-Star break. Behind that lineup, Minnesota has already won the season series with the Astros and hasn't lost more than two games in a row at any point this season.

So it's safe to say the Twins believe they can make a deep playoff run this season, and though the lineup -- and position player depth as a whole -- is enviable, there remain holes to be patched on the pitching side, and in the bullpen in particular, as the Trade Deadline approaches on July 31.

What they are seeking
Reinforcing the relief corps with proven back-end help is the most glaring need. The Twins entered the season with four high-leverage options in Trevor May, Blake Parker, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers. The left-handed Rogers has remained one of the elite relievers in the game, while May, despite being shaky at times, has delivered results.

Parker and Hildenberger, on the other hand, have generated concerns. Hildenberger started the season strong, but he experienced such a rough stretch that he was demoted to Triple-A in mid-May -- and hasn't been back to the Majors since. Parker has struggled to find the feel for his splitter, meaning that clean innings have been difficult to come by for the veteran right-hander.

Bolstering the club's high-leverage options could push Ryne Harper, Mike Morin, Matt Magill and Tyler Duffey into lower-leverage roles and give manager Rocco Baldelli a little more flexibility in his bullpen decision-making. Don't be surprised also if the Twins add a starter -- particularly a controllable one -- to give them another reliable starting option in the playoffs and possibly into next season, with three members of the rotation eligible for free agency this offseason.

What they have to offer
The Twins' farm system is deep and well-rounded, particularly after their aggressive sale of Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly -- among others -- at last year's Trade Deadline provided an influx of Minor League talent.

It's tough to imagine the Twins parting with any of their top three prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, in Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Brusdar Graterol, who all figure to play prominent roles in the future of the franchise. But beyond that, the organization boasts several intriguing arms, headlined by Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Blayne Enlow and Jorge Alcala. They also have flashy position player talent at both the upper levels (Brent Rooker, Luis Arraez) and further away from the Majors (Trevor Larnach, Wander Javier).

Possible scenario
One interesting element of this season's Trade Deadline is that several possible trade partners have multiple arms the Twins could covet. The Blue Jays, for example, are expected to move both Ken Giles and Marcus Stroman. The Giants have Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and Tony Watson. The Indians have Trevor Bauer and Brad Hand (though their recent surge has made them less likely to sell).

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Twins try to make a splash by packaging multiple top prospects together to acquire both a high-end reliever and a starter, particularly one that could still be controllable beyond this season. Beyond that, they could still also move some Minor League depth for rental relievers.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.