Now that I've had a few hours to sleep on the Brian Fuentes trade, I realize that what makes the deal a surprise is that the lefty made it to the Twins on waivers.
For those unfamiliar with the waiver process: When Anaheim put him on waivers, the other 29 major league teams had something like 47 hours to claim him. Had nobody claimed him, the Angels had the right to trade him to any of the 29 teams. Claims go in reverse order of the standings, league first — in this case, all 13 other American League teams would have had to pass on him before a National League team could claim him.
The Twins are ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the standings; therefore, the Sox had an earlier shot at Fuentes. The Sox also have bullpen problems, with both J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton — their most useful relievers this season — on the disabled list. And, of course, they know that the Twins have injury problems in their bullpen, so claiming Fuentes would have at least blocked the Twins.
Heads they win, tails they win.
But they opted not to flip the coin.
I suspect they passed on Fuentes because of their Manny Ramirez maneuvering. The Sox are reported to have won the waiver rights to the slugger (meaning that the entire National League passed on him) and may fear that the Dodgers will simply dump the $4 million remainder of Man-Ram's contract on them. (As happened last August, when White Sox general manager Kenny Williams put in a claim on Alex Rios and was startled when the Blue Jays said "Great, you got him," and walked away rather than negotiating a trade and paying a chunk of Rio's salary.)
Claiming Ramirez isn't as risky as claiming Rios; Rios has years yet to run on his overpriced contract, Ramirez weeks. But Williams claims things are tight enough that he's checking the walk-up sales for each game to see how much he has available.
That may be posturing. It appears to be a complicated three-way negotiation, with Ramirez (and agent Scott Boras) wanting a contract extension in return for waiving his no-trade rights, the Dodgers and Sox dickering over prospects and who's paying off Manny, and the Dodgers (4.5 games out in the wild card race) weighing their own status (contender or pretender).
The Sox want Manny; they probably wanted Fuentes; they may not be able to afford both.
My guess is that they picked the wrong one to pursue.