Deadline looms, but Twins staying present

July 19th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Before the All-Star break, Nelson Cruz joked with reporters twice that he hadn't thought too much about the looming July 30 Trade Deadline until, well, he'd been asked about it two days in a row.

Good luck keeping that out of mind now.

This Twins team was, at minimum, supposed to contend for a third straight division title with the White Sox team against which it began a four-game series on Monday. Instead, the reality of their upcoming sale ahead of the July 30 Trade Deadline has slowly, relentlessly, surely descended upon them over the past few months -- much as they might not want to think about it.

"We put ourselves in this position," Mitch Garver said. "They don't break down teams that are doing well. We put ourselves in this position. You could almost read it coming. You could almost see it on the wall."

Whether it's among the club's impending free agents likely to draw interest (Cruz, Andrelton Simmons, Hansel Robles and Michael Pineda) or those with a year remaining before free agency (José Berríos, Taylor Rogers and Byron Buxton), there hasn't been much open acknowledgement about the uncertainty of this clubhouse's future in the final two weeks before the Deadline.

"I don't like to think about it," Cruz said earlier this month. "I try to think about it only when they ask me. I try to stay focused, like I said, on what I can control. I cannot control that. I'll show up every day with that mentality to win games and be ready for the games and let other things just take care of themselves."

"I've been around the league for a little bit," Pineda echoed. "I know the situation, but I'm not thinking about it. I don't have control of that. I'm never thinking. I'm here. I'm a Minnesota Twins player. I want to focus on doing my job and helping my team to win the game."

Cruz, for example, has never been involved in a midseason trade as a big leaguer, meaning he can't rely on past experience to guide him through the move likely to come for him as one of the more productive hitters in the Majors, regardless of contract status. So he doesn't have a reference point -- but even someone who has been on the move at this point, like Josh Donaldson in 2018, claims to be keeping things out of mind.

"For myself, it’s not something that I really try to pay too much attention to," Donaldson said. "All that stuff is going to happen, which is out of our hands, most of it."

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who indicated he is involved in some trade discussions with president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, might be relieved to hear all that, having indicated that he's been around players throughout his playing and coaching career who at times get caught up in the trade rumors and let it impact them.

"Many guys think they’re going to get traded or they might get traded when in actuality, very few people normally do get traded," Baldelli said. "Every year ... a lot of teams I’ve been around, there might be 10 guys on the team, because they saw some article or they heard their name somewhere one time, they’re showing up to the field still thinking there’s a chance they’re going to get traded, and rarely does it occur."

But for some of those players in the Twins' clubhouse, that chance is likely to come to fruition soon as the organization should officially turn the page on a season in which they never did find their footing.

These next two weeks likely won't be easy -- and Garver experienced that firsthand in 2018, when the Twins sold big at the Trade Deadline coming off an appearance in the American League Wild Card Game by moving Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly, Zach Duke and Lance Lynn in quick succession.

But as Garver pointed out, the Twins came through it OK -- and they'll hope to do that again.

"That was really hard, but it had to happen, and look what we did in '19," Garver said.

"Our guys haven't gone yet," Baldelli said. "So really, as we sit here right now, anything can happen and we know that. I don't want to lose Nelson Cruz. I don't want to lose any of these guys in this clubhouse. I want to start building in the direction we need to go in and start building toward winning a championship and doing the things we need to do."