CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Oft-injured Twins have 'limited' options with Cuddyer

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Michael Cuddyer has a limited no-trade clause in the way that the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once had limited partners.

"There is nothing quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner's," former Astros owner -- and Yankees limited partner -- John McMullen famously said.

And so it is with Cuddyer's no-trade clause, which includes -- count 'em -- three teams.

Which ones?

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"Can't remember," Cuddyer said slowly not long ago, thinking. "I think Oakland is one. Toronto. And ... I'm not sure."

Reason this comes up now is because Cuddyer increasingly is in an awkward place for an injury-decimated team waging a spirited fight for survival (and health benefits).

He's in the final season of a three-year, $24 million deal. The Twins, winners of six of the past nine AL Central titles, are in last place and very close to decision time.

Can they climb back into the race, or do they become sellers and retool for 2012?

If it becomes the latter, come trading deadline, Cuddyer might become the most popular target in Target Field.

"I care so much about this organization," said Cuddyer, who wants to remain a Twin.

So much, he says, that if it made sense and helped the organization, he'd even accept a deal to a club on his extremely limited no-trade list.

"I do," said Cuddyer, who is hitting .282 with 10 homers and 27 RBI. "I care so deeply about this team, that if it helps the organization. ..."

Manager Ron Gardenhire, high-fiving Rene Rivera, says the Twins 'haven't been able to put our team on the field since day one.' (Getty Images)  
Manager Ron Gardenhire, high-fiving Rene Rivera, says the Twins 'haven't been able to put our team on the field since day one.' (Getty Images)  
On June 1, the Twins were 17-37, buried in last place by 16 1/2 games.

But today, after somehow winning 11 of their past 13 games despite half their regulars still shelved on the disabled list, they're 28-39 and nine out.

Hmmm, perhaps. ...

It's been a Ben Gay-painful first half for the Twins, who have spent more time analyzing the DL than advance scouting reports. They've put a major-league high 15 players on the DL, and we're not talking just extras and scrubs.

"I quit counting," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We haven't been able to put our team on the field since day one. We've had so many different pieces missing."

Five members of their opening-day lineup in Toronto, including two former MVPs, have spent significant time on the DL: Denard Span, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.

Mauer, the '09 AL MVP, has been more visible in shampoo and sports drink commercials than in uniform. He will return to the lineup Friday and, when he does, he's got a lot to do. His reputation has taken a hit in the game, even inside the Twins' clubhouse. Questions about his toughness and durability have never been so pressing.

When the Twins left spring training, Mauer, who is earning $23 million this season as his eight-year, $184 million extension begins, said he felt as good as he's ever felt. Yet he hasn't played since April 12 because of leg weakness and a sore shoulder.

Morneau, the '06 AL MVP, has not been the same since suffering a concussion last year -- though he had been playing until a wrist injury sidelined him earlier this month.

Nishioka (fractured leg) was activated this week and was in the lineup Thursday during a 1-0 win over the White Sox. This time, though, he's playing shortstop -- where be played in Japan -- with Alexi Casilla moving to second.

"We tried it the other way," Gardenhire said of Nishioka opening the season at second. "He got killed."

How patchwork are things? Kubel (sprained foot) hasn't played since May 30 yet still leads the Twins in RBI (30), batting average (.310) and doubles (14).

The team has been so decimated that two weeks ago in Kansas City, Gardenhire said it had reached the point where they had stopped even thinking of trying to win series. They were in survival mode: Just somehow make it through, and win, today.

"Looking ahead does you no good," Gardenhire said. "Bouncing numbers around does you no good."

On Saturday against Texas, Minnesota's lineup included such non-household names as Ben Revere, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman, Rene Rivera and Matt Tolbert. And yet the Twins hammered the Rangers 8-1.

They've used 14 players who have played at Triple-A Rochester this season. They've used 36 players from their 40-man roster. Some of these numbers are outrageous.

"Never seen anything like it," Gardenhire said. "Never one injury after another. We've had some crazy stuff happen, guys getting hurt. But nothing like this. Every day, it's something.

"What do you do? Move on to the next day and say, 'Go get 'em.'"

The Twins have done that, and they've done it particularly well this month. Cuddyer is hitting .353 with five homers and 14 RBI in June. Casilla hitting .339. Delmon Young is at .309. The rotation is 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 18 walks. And the Twins had swiped 15 bases in 16 games through midweek.

Things keep moving in this direction, who knows?

With Nishioka returning Thursday, Mauer Friday and Kubel, Span, Thome and Joe Nathan still off on the horizon. ...

"The one thing I can say about this team is, we work our ass off," Cuddyer said. "From the young guys on up, you can't fault 'em for their work ethic.

"And that's how it's been around here since I've been in the minor leagues. When things are not going well, that's when you work harder.

"You can't get caught up in where we are in the standings. Not anymore. You focus on putting your work in, and playing good baseball."

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