Count the Minnesota Twins, a playoff staple only a few years ago but the losers of 291 games the past three seasons since their last postseason appearance, and the Boston Red Sox, the defending world champions, as the first teams to take a plunge on the 2014 postseason.
The Red Sox agreed to re-sign free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew on May 21, and the Twins, despite being last in the American League Central, outbid all others for the services of free-agent slugger Kendrys Morales, who signed June 7.
Both players were available because of the flawed draft-pick compensation system that scared all teams away in the off-season. By waiting until after the start of the First-Year Player Draft, the Twins saved their pick in trying to save their season.
And there’s something to save for the Twins in a division that is suddenly a wide-open race after the heavily favored Detroit Tigers started playing like a last-place team.
Detroit’s advantage in the Central was a scant 1 1/2 games over Kansas City entering Saturday, and Minnesota was only three back despite being under .500 in the five-team division. The Twins were only two games out of the second wild-card spot.
Oh, that second-wild card spot. The only AL team not in contention for it is Tampa Bay. Boston, which at one point lost 10 straight, was four back. The Rangers, who have used the disabled list 20 times and have played poorly at home, were tied with the Twins.
Fewer teams are in the wild-card hunt in the National League, but even the Chicago Cubs, the worst of the worst, are just seven games out.
The addition of that second wild-card berth, now in its third season, will again keep teams with fleeting postseason hopes on the fence until just before the July 31 trade deadline begins. Some might get fooled into buying when they should be selling.
Granted, it’s still early. Some teams will have a clear idea of what they should do after five more weeks of games. But some teams, like the Cubs and the always-selling Rays, can start planning now for a fire sale.
Others are stuck in buy-sell purgatory. Here’s a look.