MINNEAPOLIS -- Outfielder Matt Lawton thought he was trade bait when he reported to spring training for the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins finally did move Lawton late Monday night, but not to unload a big salary during another miserable season. By getting All-Star pitcher Rick Reed from the Mets, the Twins look determined to make this their year.
They're in their first serious playoff chase since 1992, the year after they won it all. They're playing to big crowds, drawing nearly twice as many fans as they did at this point last year. And they're slowly building momentum in their push for a new ballpark.
The Twins front office had all the incentive it needed to go for broke, general manager Terry Ryan said Tuesday.
"If we're not in this thing to compete with the Clevelands of the world, the Yankees of the world and the Bostons of the world that year in and year out are in this situation, then we need to get out of the racket," Ryan said.
The Reed pickup swelled the Twins payroll to about $30 million, the highest in Ryan's tenure and up from a league-low $24 million before the season started.
"Money wasn't a factor," Ryan said. "We took on a heck of a lot more money in these deals than we sent out."
Ryan kept trying to deal up until Tuesday's trading deadline in pursuit of a player who could hit for power from the right side. That player reportedly was Cincinnati's Dmitri Young, but the deadline passed without any deal being struck.
The Reed deal brings Minnesota its second proven pitcher since Saturday, when the team acquired reliever Todd Jones from the Detroit Tigers for second-year starter Mark Redman.
Heading into Tuesday's game at Toronto, Minnesota trailed first-place Cleveland in the AL Central by half a game. They are surprise contenders thanks to good defense, speed and three strong starters. Reed gives the Twins something they lacked: postseason experience.
Prior to the deal, only three Twins had been on playoff teams. Reliever Bob Wells pitched 5 1/3 innings for the Mariners in 1995 and 1997, pitcher Hector Carrasco pitched 1 1-3 innings for Cincinatti in 1995 and catcher Tom Prince suited up but saw no action with Los Angeles during the 1996 playoffs.
Reed, a two-time All-Star, has three postseason starts to his credit, including one in last year's World Series.
Reed could get his first AL start Wednesday or Thursday. He said he was happy to be back in a pennant race.
"I thought I would retire a Met, but there are bumps in the road," he said. "This is not a bump. This is exciting. This is what you go to spring training for. You want an opportunity to play for something. This team has a chance."
The Twins parted with one of their smartest hitters in Lawton, part of the "Soul Patrol" outfield trio that included Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones. At age 29 and more polished than many of the young Twins, Lawton was hitting .293 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs. He was recently moved into the leadoff spot to take advantage of his .396 on-base percentage and speed (19 steals).
Chad Allen, Brian Buchanan and minor league call-up Bobby Kielty are expected to share the rightfielder job. When shortstop Cristian Guzman returns from a shoulder injury in seven to 10 days, utilityman Denny Hocking also will be available in the outfield.
Saturday's trade helped shore up the bullpen. Jones will be used as a set-up man to closer LaTroy Hawkins, who has 26 saves in 30 chances. Last year, Jones collected 42 saves as the Tigers' closer, tops among AL relievers.
While the Twins will know by this fall whether the trades hurt or helped them, their desire for a new stadium won't be settled until spring at the earliest. But the two may be connected.
"If we win, the stadium and the issues that surround the politicians and the ownership here and the people who take care of the stadium issues, there will be a lot more appetite for us stadiumwise," Ryan said.
Dean Johnson, a state senator who sponsored a stadium bill this year, agreed.
"It's easier to be supportive of a new ballpark if they're winning and heading potentially for the playoffs and World Series," he said.
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