4:26pm: MLB.com's Kelly Thesier has more from Gardenhire, who says that he and GM Bill Smith are aware of who's out there and talk casually about trades up until the All-Star Break, when they typically sit down to discuss potential moves in a more serious manner.
1:57pm: Mired in a four-game losing streak, and having lost six of their last ten games, the Twins find themselves with just a half-game lead on the AL Central as they square off against their former ace Johan Santana in New York today.
Since Santana's trade following the 2007 season, the Twins have lacked a definitive ace atop their rotation. Francisco Liriano has shown flashes of brilliance and looks to have returned to form somewhat in 2010. However, it seems a long shot that he'll ever recapture the dominance he exhibited in his 2006 breakout, which was cut short by Tommy John surgery.
Currently relying on Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn, the Twins' rotation has begun to falter over recent weeks. Slowey and Blackburn in particular have struggled of late, posting ERAs of 5.18 and 9.47 over the last month, respectively.
Knowing that the Twins are a front-runner for Lee and that they've explored a trade for Houston's Roy Oswalt, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spoke with Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire today regarding the club's trade philosophy. If the Twins are pursuing Lee, who is rumored to be available immediately, Gardenhire isn't tipping their hand:
"This organization’s pretty set in its ways about not ever giving up your system for a rental, as they say. We haven’t done that in the past, and I wouldn’t think they would be leaning that way now."
Gardenhire's comments aren't necessarily entirely accurate. While the Twins haven't dealt elite prospects for talent in the past, they did trade for two rentals last season when they acquired Orlando Cabrera from the Athletics and traded the Indians for Pavano's services in August. Pavano remains a Twin after accepting arbitration this past offseason.
Gardenhire does concede that "things happen" and mentions increased revenue from the sellout crowds every game at the Twins' new home, Target Field. He's quick to cover that admission, however:
"But it still goes with the philosophy of the organization and that’s develop and bring these guys to the big leagues — and that’s never going to change here, I don’t believe."
The one hole in Gardenhire's statement? Ramos, ranked as the game's 58th-best prospect by Baseball America in late February, won't supplant AL MVP Joe Mauer, making it impossible to see him being brought to the big leagues as a regular — at least in a Twins uniform.
While those comments may leave the door more open for Oswalt, the Astros recently called up their own elite catching prospect, Jason Castro. There's also the issue of Oswalt's contract. At $16MM in 2011, it will be a considerable burden to any club looking to acquire the Houston ace, making Lee a far more logical target for Minnesota, despite its past philosophy.