If you are a fan of Major League Baseball, or a fan of the Minnesota Twins, you are likely aware of the resurgence of Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies. The 2006 American League MVP joins a long list of former Twins players who are currently still employed by major league ball clubs. Are the Twins continuously “failing” when letting talent go?
As a lifelong Twins fan, I figured it would be a fun exercise to look at some former players and see how they have done since leaving Minnesota. As a gentle reminder, these are only some former Twins, not every former Twin. If you talk to current Twins fans, these are the names you will hear as those fans ridicule the Twins’ front office.
J.J. Hardy – Baltimore Orioles – Hardy was traded to the Twins in a deal of “throwaways.” The Milwaukee Brewers had given up on Hardy, as he constantly dealt with injuries. The Twins, always looking for more middle infielders, took a chance on Hardy. How did it go? Here are his home run numbers over a seven-year period: 26, 24, 11, 6, 30, 22, 25. Want to guess which year Hardy was in Minnesota? After hitting just 11 home runs in 2009 with the Brewers (in 115 games), Hardy hit just six with the Twins in 2010 (in 101 games). Hard to blame the Twins for letting Hardy walk, but in typical “former Twins” fashion, Hardy found his stroke again in Baltimore. So far this season, Hardy has gone silent, having not hit a home run in 40 games and only driving in 13 runs.
Carlos Gomez – Milwaukee Brewers – Traded away to the Brewers for the aforementioned Hardy, “GoGo” was way under performing as a member of the Twins. It wasn’t until 2013 with the Brewers that Gomez finally played to his potential (which the Twins were hoping for when receiving him in a trade for Johan Santana). Gomez was a career .243 hitter until 2012 when he spiked his average up to .260, then up to .284 in 2013 and currently .320 in 2014. Gomez is a free swinger and strikes out a lot, which is the polar opposite of what the Twins look for in their system. Gomez is also a hot head, who always knows when the cameras are on him, and the Twins weren’t willing to wait nor deal with any of that. Again, hard to blame them for trading him away as they weren’t waiting three more years for mature.
Francisco Liriano – Pittsburgh Pirates – At one point, early in his career, Liriano was involved with one of the most lopsided trades in Major League Baseball history. The Twins traded A.J. Pierzinksi to the San Franscico Giants for Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser. Liriano was as dominant as Santana and gave the Twins one of the most dominant one/two punches in baseball. But, as we now see too often, Liriano injured his elbow and needed Tommy John Surgery and never pitched the same again.
That is, of course, until last year, with the Pittsuburgh Pirates. Before landing with the Pirates in 2013, the Twins dealt Liriano to the Chicago White Sox for the equivalent of a Nintendo Game Cube, and it actually looked like a good trade for the Twins as the White Sox removed Liriano from the rotation down the stretch of the 2012 season. The Pirates took a chance on Liriano and it paid off in 2013 as he won 16 games. In 2014, however, things are not as smooth sailing, as Liriano has yet to win a game in 11 starts. Again, the Twins trading away Liriano is hardly worth labeling a “fail.”
Nick Punto – Oakland Athletics – Punto was a fan favorite in Minnesota. Never a great offensive asset, Punto made up for it with his defense and gritty effort. As part of the original “piranha,” as former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen once nicknamed the bottom of the Twins’ order, Punto’s value began to outgrow what the Twins needed. Mid to small market teams can’t afford to keep paying guys like Punto like the big markets can.
Punto has enjoyed success from a team perspective since leaving Minnesota. He won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, and also made a postseason run with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. But Punto’s numbers have severely declined since leaving the Twins, though the Twins haven’t had much success finding defensive replacements for him. Again, Punto can’t be labelled a “fail” for the Twins either
Denard Span – Washing Nationals – Another fan favorite in Minnesota (you will start to see a theme here), Span was shipped off to Washington when the Twins began to rebuild after the 2012 season. Span is what he is a middle of the road lead-off hitter who is very sound defensively. The Twins could not afford to pay Span the money other teams were willing to offer, so they dealt him for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer.
At the time Twins fans were throwing a fit about this trade (which is common among the fair-weather faithful Minnesota fans), but they will forget about the Span trade once Meyer takes the mound on a regular basis. That will be happening very soon, but also note that Span has not improved as a player while in Washington, so this can’t be labelled as a “fail” for the Twins either.
David Ortiz – Boston Red Sox – Not much has to be said here. The Twins cut Ortiz loose too early. But to their defense, while in Minnesota, Ortiz was not even close to the player he became in Boston. He was often hurt, not hitting as many home runs as expected, and wasn’t willing to hit to the opposite field (which he’s made a living doing in Boston). In roughly six seasons with the Twins, Ortiz reached the 20 home run plateau once (in his final season with them). It’s easy to say how dumb of a decision it was to let him walk, but his production during his time in Minnesota was hardly worth the investment Ortiz would get once in Boston. Chalk it up as a “fail,” but it is not as clear cut as people in Minnesota make it out to be.
LaTroy Hawkins – New York Mets – “The Hawk” had one and half pitches while in Minnesota and rarely got through the ninth inning without raising the blood pressure of Twins fans. The Twins had closers waiting in the wings, thus making Hawkins easily replaceable. Give it up to Hawkins for becoming a journeyman in the big leagues, but this is not a “fail” for the Twins.
Kyle Lohse – Milwaukee Brewers – Like Hawkins, Lohse showed flashes of becoming a solid top of the rotation starter, but was never consistent enough to warrant the investment from the Twins. If you look at his numbers, Loshe has really only had four decent seasons in the bigs. It only takes one good season on another team for Twins fans to jump all over the “another one we should have kept” train, but the Twins did not make a mistake in letting Lohse go.
Who, by the way, has been looking for work a few different times before teams get desperate. Even with the success the past few years in St. Louis and Milwaukee, Lohse makes a butt load of money and is hardly a shut down type pitcher. Do not be that fan who calls this a “fail.”
A.J. Pierzynski – Boston Red Sox – See above. What ever A.J. did after San Francisco is not the Twins fault or problem. Opposite of “fail.”
Michael Cuddyer – Colorado Rockies – Yet another “fan favorite” who was due to get paid way more than the Twins could invest as Cuddyer’s career starts to come wind down. This happens in baseball, many times, every offseason. Veteran players get their only (and often times last) chance to sign a free agent deal for more years than the current team wants to offer.
Teams can’t keep players at this stage in their careers unless they are All Stars or Hall of Fame caliber. Cuddyer was neither and the Rockies offered him a lot of money and more years than anyone else. Cuddyer responded well by winning the National League batting crown last season. He enjoyed hitting in Colorado (.356 at home in 2013) versus Target Field, there’s no question. The biggest “fail” with Cuddyer for the Twins is that they did not trade him when they had the chance. Wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of those who labelled Cuddyer as their “favorite” player, that would be mean
Grant Balfour – Tampa Bay Rays – Had a cup of tea with the Twins before getting injured. Took roughly four years after leaving Minnesota for Balfour to find success. He’s been productive since then, but hardly a “fail” on Minnesota’s part.
Torii Hunter – Detroit Tigers – Like Cuddyer, the Twins missed a chance to trade Hunter for a bundle of prospects. It was obvious that Hunter was looking for a big contract from a big-market team after lighting the fire on his career in Minnesota. The Twins knew they had to pay players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, thus leaving Hunter feeling left out.
Hunter took the biggest contract from the team offering the most years (Anaheim Angels) and the Twins got nothing in return. Hunter had success with the Angels, as he should because he’s a good player, but he doesn’t carry a team. Now in Detroit as his career comes to an end, Hunter is missed by the Twins. Not really a “fail,” but if the Twins had $100m+ to pay Hunter the past seven years, they would have done it. Do note, however, that Hunter never hit more than 23 home runs after leaving Minnesota. Something to chew on.
Joe Nathan – Detroit Tigers – Nathan was an absolute monster in Minnesota. After suffering a serious arm injury, Nathan never really pitched the same for the Twins. His value as a closer was too high and the Twins had Glen Perkins waiting in the wings. Nathan had decent success in Texas, but is struggling in 2014 with the Tigers. Hardly worth the investment for the Twins. Not a “fail.”
Matt Garza – Milwaukee Brewers – Garza hated being in Minnesota and wasn’t willing to listen to the pitching staff about keeping the ball near the strike zone. Bad teams tend to pay Garza for his services, but he’s never going to carry a team to the promise land. Not a “fail” by any means. Some-times things just don’t work out with young pitchers.
Kevin Slowey – Miami Marlins – You can do your research on Slowey. He hasn’t done much since leaving Minnesota. Non “fail.”
Delmon Young – Baltimore Orioles– Once a “sure thing” prospect in Tampa Bay, Young came to the Twins with some promise. That promise never came. Young has hit more than 20 home runs once in his career (21 in 2010 with the Twins). A bust no matter how many ways you look at it. An awful defender who will randomly string together six straight quality at bats on national television to create some buzz, the guy just flat out struggles to make an impact in the big leagues. Non “fail.”
Craig Breslow – Boston Red Sox – Breslow makes this list because he never go this fair shake in Minnesota. He came to the Twins as a nobody and pitched really well in his first season with the Twins, struggled a bit in his second year, and was shipped off to Oakland during that year. Since then, Breslow has pitched extremely well out of the bullpen for the Athletics and Red Sox. Breslow gets labeled as a “fail” because the Twins put him on waivers to clear room for Sean Henn (Who? Exactly.) and Oakland claimed him.
RA Dickey – Toronto Blue Jays – This one is a bit tricky. Dickey came to the Twins having not been very productive in the major leagues. He wasn’t all that productive in Minnesota either, so the Twins let him go. Once he got to the New York Mets, Dickey figured something out, and went on to win the Cy Young in 2012. The Mets got a taste of what the Twins usually deal with and had to make a decision on Dickey. They let him go to Toronto and Dickey has been up and down since returning to the American League. You can probably guess how some Twins fans view this, but this is not a “fail” by the Twins. It’s closer to a “fail” for the Mets, if anything.
Drew Butera – Los Angeles Dodgers – Hardly worth talking about because Butera is such an awful hitter (career .185 average), but he’s still in the league and seems to pop up in the news. In fact, Butera caught his second no-hitter on Saturday. Not even close to a “fail” for the Twins with Joe Mauer as your catcher.
Ben Revere – Philadelphia Phillies – Yet another fan favorite due to his five great plays a year in center field, Revere was shipped to a desperate Phillies team in exchange for some much needed young pitching. The Twins have given up on Vance Worley (once a top prospect for the Phillies), but have high hopes for Trevor May. Revere can barely make a throw to the cut-off guy and rarely hits it out of the infield. I low risk trade for the Twins, who may be bragging about this some day if May becomes a staple in the rotation. Non “fail.”
Wilson Ramos – Washington Nationals – Once thought to be the answer behind the plate with power for the Twins, Ramos was immediately labelled as a “fail” when traded to Washington. Ramos played well in the small sample of games he played with the Twins, then was rumored to be the reason the Twins wouldn’t pull the trigger on a trade for Cliff Lee, but since arriving in Washington, Ramos has been average. He hasn’t showed the power everyone thought he was capable of, but the Twins could have used him at times. Hardly a “fail” because the Twins aren’t missing much here.
Pat Neshek – St. Louis Cardinals – Neshek came up with the Twins and was expected to be a ninth inning option if Nathan were to ever leave. Neshek showed brilliance in his first two years with the club, but injuries got the best of him and he was cut loose. The Padres gave him a shot and he wasn’t great. Since then, Neshek has worked himself in to a threat the Twins knew he could be. Not a fail, as arm injuries are scary and dangerous to gamble on, just another potential star who got plagued by injuries while in Minnesota.
After going through this list, it’s hard to say the Twins’ front office “failed” when making decisions on some of their key players. Sure, a few guys turned out to be really good, and perhaps patience could have been encouraged, but every team has guys who get away. You’ll notice I left Johan Santana off this list. That was on purpose, because no one talks about the garbage deal the Twins made with the Mets on Santana. Why? Because his arm fell off after he got his big contract. Funny how fans leave that out of the conversation when attacking the Twins as an organization.
The two biggest issues one can make based on these players, is that injuries weren’t kind to the Twins, and they missed some big opportunities not trading away highly valued talent. Imagine where the franchise would be had they landed seven to 10 good prospects in trades including Hunter, Cuddyer and Santana (had they traded him earlier).
It also helps if you draft well, which the Twins have not. But we can table that conversation for a different day.
Photo: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports