The Twins have raised six AL Central championship banners during the Gardenhire era. While each one of those six clubs had a solid nucleus of talent, it is doubtful that they all would have won titles without some shrewd midseason acquisitions.
In 2003, the Twins were 44-49, languishing in third place and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Kansas City Royals. On July 16th, Bobby Kielty was traded for Shannon Stewart. The Twins caught fire after the trade, finishing on a 46-23 run and winning the AL Central by four games.
In 2009, the Twins were in a similar July situation, stagnating in third place with a record hovering around the .500 mark. On July 31st, a trade was made for Orlando Cabrera. This proved to be another crucial acquisition. Not only did Cabrera bring a veteran presence to the middle infield, his two-run homer in the seventh inning of the epic one-game playoff helped propel the Twins past the Tigers to win the AL Central.
The 2011 Twins are again in a position where a key addition could transform the team from an also-ran to a champion. Will there be a version of Stewart or Cabrera for the Twins this year? Time will tell, but the following players are candidates the team should should consider.
Chone Figgins needs a change of scenery from dreary Seattle. He has struggled in his two seasons as a Mariner, and the recent call-up of Dustin Ackley is a not-so-subtle sign that Figgins is going to be riding the bench for the foreseeable future.
Figgins may be hitting .186 on the season, but he is only two years removed from hitting .298 and stealing 42 bases as an All-Star for the Angels. His speed could be a key asset if the Twins return to the small-ball approach while their sluggers recuperate from injuries, and he has the versatility to platoon between infield and outfield positions as necessary.
At age 33, Figgins should not be considered washed up. His lowly status within the Seattle organization means the Twins won't need to give up too much to get him in a trade. While his bloated contract is a downside, Figgins could be just what the Twins need right now.
The Twins will need to improve their bullpen if they are to contend for the AL Central title. San Diego Padre Mike Adams would be a quality addition. Adams (3-1, 1.24 ERA) has been impressive for the struggling Padres, and San Diego appears to have accepted the fact that they will not be buyers at the deadline.
Kevin Slowey could be a candidate for a trade to get Adams, but his value is low right now due to his injuries. The Twins need help in the bullpen; Adams can provide this help, but the Twins shouldn't give up too much to get him.
At 33-48, the Cubs aren't going to make the playoffs this year. Kosuke Fukudome is in the final year of his current contract, and would be an interesting player for the Twins to pursue.
Fukudome isn't a superstar. However, an aspect to consider is the fact that he hails from Osaka, Japan, the same hometown as Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Adding Fukudome would give Nishioka a teammate who speaks his language, comes from the Japanese baseball culture and has experienced the difficulties that Nishioka is facing.
Fukudome could be the spark to propel Nishioka to the next level and the Twins to the playoffs. The synergistic possibilities make him a player the Twins definitely should keep on their radar.
With Justin Morneau likely to miss July and August, the Twins could use a first baseman with the ability to hit for power. Derrek Lee's best years are probably behind him, but he still has the ability to hit 20 home runs in a season.
Lee is currently signed to a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles are currently 35-42, in last place in the AL East and essentially out of contention for a playoff spot. Lee seems like a prime candidate to be traded, and it would not be surprising to see the Twins to make a move for him.
The Twins are in an awkward spot right now. While they are in contention at the moment, a losing streak could quickly turn the team into a seller.
Another consideration is Jason Kubel. He is better than anyone the Twins will likely be able to get via a trade; in effect, his return from injury is like a trade in which the Twins don't have to give up anything.
There are several teams who still feel they have a chance to contend this year. The Twins would be wise to wait until more teams realize that their 2011 campaigns will not extend into October, as the pool of available talent will increase with more sellers in the marketplace.