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.
• Twins: The addition of Morales could end up being a stroke of genius by general manager Terry Ryan. Minnesota won’t be in contention much longer, with too many teams ahead of them better equipped with talent and money. Those same teams will be looking to upgrade their offense, and the switch-hitting Morales should be able to fetch a few top-notch prospects for an organization that remains in a rebuilding mode.
• Rangers: The injuries that have ruined the season have also led some people to think that the Rangers should sell, sell, sell. But those injuries aren’t pushing the Rangers into a rebuild. The Rangers are in recovery. Many of the pieces that were expected to contribute to a 2014 playoff push are expected to be good to go in 2015. The Rangers expect to contend next season. No one should get carried away.
• White Sox: This club is headed by executive vice president Kenny Williams, whose trade history suggests he would deal his own son if he thought it would help the club win now. It just isn’t going to happen on the South Side this year, even though the White Sox are exceeding expectations and have Chris Sale back in the rotation. Williams and GM Rick Hahn, who wanted Luke Jackson for Alex Rios before the July 31 deadline last year, need to think along those lines again next month.
• Mariners: This is the moment GM Jack Zduriencik has been waiting for since he was hired after the 2008 season. Seattle is in the hunt. His job status entering the season was tenuous at best. He’s got to buy. A starting pitcher should be a priority with the health of young studs Tijuan Walker and James Paxton uncertain going forward this season. A bat wouldn’t hurt, either.
• Rockies: The typical April/May surge has come and gone, and the Colorado finds itself with too many injuries in its rotation and one too many good positions players also on the shelf. One of them is outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who was off to the worst start of his career since establishing himself as a bona fide star. He also has a contract worthy of star status, but several teams would gladly make a deal for it and the player.
• Marlins: They aren’t half-bad, but as anyone who saw them play last week at Globe Life Park could see, they aren’t a playoff team. Washington is rebounding and will get Bryce Harper back. Atlanta is hanging on despite having problems at the plate. Both are better than their NL East brethren in Miami, which has lost ace Jose Fernandez and has only one hitter, Giancarlo Stanton, who scares opposing teams. Don’t trade him, Owner Loria, but other pieces should draw interest.