Carlos Gomez Has Become the Next Great Center Fielder the Minnesota Twins Let Slip Away

The 2009 Trade that Sent Gomez to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy Has Become Another Twins Bust for Multiple Reasons

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COMMENTARY | Throughout their history, the Minnesota Twins have had a slew of great center fielders. At the top of the list was Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who lead the franchise to their two World Series championships. When he had to retire due to glaucoma in 1995, he mentored Torii Hunter.

The lessons that Hunter learned from Puckett were passed down, and the Twins started pumping out other solid homegrown outfielders like Denard Span and Ben Revere.

The recent success of center fielders is something that the Twins can rest their hat on. However, the list could be shorter (and possibly greater) if they had shown more patience with Carlos Gomez.

Gomez's tenure with the Twins was an interesting one. He was the key piece of the doomed Johan Santana trade that was orchestrated by former general manager Bill Smith. At the time, the Twins felt the urge to get an immediate return at the major league level.

With Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra needing more time in the minors, it was Gomez who was force fed into the center field role for the Twins. Besides, he was the only player with extended major league service as he played 58 games for the New York Mets in 2007.

It didn't take long for Gomez to make an impression, as he wowed Twins fans with his raw talent but frustrated them with his boneheaded decisions. It was something they could deal with as he was only 22 years old, and his best days were ahead of him...or so they hoped.

In 2009, Gomez made more plays that made him look like a deer in headlights as he decided to approach every at bat like he was trying to out-slug Barry Bonds in a home run contest. HIs average dipped from .258 the year before to a miserable .229.

Manager Ron Gardenhire had seen enough, and decided to give Span more time in center field in order to have a more patient approach at the top of the lineup.

A career-high .311 average and eight home runs for Span was enough to defeat Gomez, and the following winter he was shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

During the 2010 season, the trade looked to be a failure on both ends. Hardy never got going with the Twins as he dealt with a nagging wrist injury.

Meanwhile, Gomez had trouble adjusting with his new team as well. He had the same difficulties making the basic plays he couldn't make in Minnesota and refused to accept anything other than a 500-foot bomb to left field during his plate appearances.

That lead to another series of moves that seemed to cast both players off for good. J.J. Hardy was shipped to the Baltimore Orioles to make room for Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Gomez fell into another platoon after the spring training acquisition of Nyjer Morgan from the Washington Nationals.

It lead to a miserable 2011 season for the Twins as they went from American League Central champions to division doormat.

In a season that saw them lose 99 games, the franchise was horrified to see Nishioka break his leg during the first week of the season and hit .226 after being converted to shortstop.

The Twins also saw a regression in Span as he struggled to adjust to life outside of the hitter friendly Metrodome. His line drives to right that used to zip over the baggie were now dying into gloves ten feet away from Target Field's overhang.

That all hurt, but not as much as Hardy's renaissance in Baltimore.

Hardy clubbed six home runs during his season with the Twins, but found himself healthy with the Orioles and slugged 30 to earn a three-year, $22.5 million extension.

When it came to finding an answer for the failed Gomez experiment, the Twins were now 0-for-3. At least they could take solace in the fact that Gomez was struggling to overtake Morgan and had now found himself in a bench role while hitting .225.

In other words, there wasn't much to suggest that Gomez would haunt them for years to come.

Then came July 23, 2012...the day that the light bulb finally came on.

The 2-for-4 performance against the Philadelphia Phillies that night seemed like another flash of Gomez's potential, but it was a catalyst for a finish that included 14 home runs, 33 runs batted in and 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts. The .321 on-base percentage wasn't pretty, but for Gomez it was a breakthrough.

Based on his past performances, there was no way that he could keep this up. At some point, he had to start overrunning second base like he was in a beer league softball game and get in a ridiculous run down. He had to start losing balls in the lights again. He had to start hacking away at pitches he had no chance of hitting. This was Carlos Gomez.

Well, that hasn't happened yet.

In 2013, Gomez has become a center piece for the Brewers. The team signed him to a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension last March, and he has rewarded them by leading the National League with a .373 average, three triples, .653 slugging percentage and 1.070 OPS entering May 11.

With Gomez's emergence, the Twins have turned the Johan Santana trade into a series of bad decisions. That's probably why it cost Smith his job with Terry Ryan returning to rebuild the foundation he started a couple decades ago.

The Twins made a major mistake by not letting Gomez improve in the minor leagues when things got rough. Now, they're seeing their next great center fielder become a star for the Brewers.

Chris Schad is a lifelong Twins follower that has spent a majority of his life cheering the Twins on through the dark '90s and success of five American League Central championships in the 2000s. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.

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