COMMENTARY | In recent years, the Minnesota Twins have not had much luck with some of their more notable trades. That trend appears to be turning around over the last year.
Under former general manager Bill Smith in 2010, the Twins traded away their best piece, top catching prospect Wilson Ramos, to the Washington Nationals for mediocre closer Matt Capps to fill in for injured closer Joe Nathan at the trading deadline.
Capps actually had great results in 2010. The Twins did not lose a single game that Capps was handed a lead the rest of that season, however, he predictably came back to earth in 2011 when he went 4-7 with 15 saves in 26 opportunities while splitting time with Nathan, who was coming back from Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, Ramos, whose rise to the majors was blocked in Minnesota by All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, was proving to be a solid all-around catcher with the Nationals.
While the Twins did get to the postseason with Capps as closer in 2010, the Twins were still swept out of the first round for the second straight year and the third time in four years. The Twins even got another closer that year in Brian Fuentes for just a player to be named later, which turned out to be minor-league reliever Loek Van Mil, who has still yet to reach the majors.
In 2007, Smith took over for Terry Ryan as GM and was faced with trading away All-Star pitcher Johan Santana, who was in the final year of his contract and unlikely to sign an extension. Smith traded Santana to the New York Mets for center fielder Carlos Gomez and starting pitchers Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.
Gomez was the only one to make it to the majors with the Twins, and Guerra, who was in the low minors and considered to have the highest upside, has yet to reach the majors and has been turned into a reliever with mixed results. Gomez showed flashes of potential but lost the center-field job in Minnesota to Denard Span and was traded in November 2009 to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Trading for Hardy was by far Smith's best deal as general manager, but then he made his worst deal the next offseason by trading Hardy to the Baltimore Orioles for relievers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobsen, both of whom were eventually released by the Twins. Trading Hardy also led to the disastrous signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a three-year deal. Nishioka's time in the major leagues went so poorly his first two years he agreed to end the contract one year early so he could slink back to Japan.
Smith's other most notable trade was shipping starting pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and a minor leaguer to the Tampa Bay Rays for corner outfielder Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and a minor leaguer. Other than Hardy's one year in Minnesota, shortstop has been a disaster for the Twins since this trade. Young had three great months in 2010, but other than that he was a poor hitter for a corner outfielder, and it was painful to watch him skate around on defense in left field.
Return of Ryan as Minnesota Twins GM Leads to Better Trade Results
With such a poor track record in trades, it shouldn't be a surprise that the Twins struggled to avoid 100 losses in 2011-12. After losing 99 times in 2011, Smith was fired and Ryan agreed to return to help right the ship. It appears to be working.
After 2012, Ryan noted the Twins' lack of power arms throughout the system and traded young center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere for two minor-league starting pitchers. Span was traded straight up to the Nationals for Alex Meyer, who instantly became the Twins' top pitching prospect. The former first-round pick was assigned to Class AA and in his first 22 innings, he has a 1.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts to just eight walks and is getting more than three times as many ground balls as fly balls.
Revere was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for starting pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May. Worley was the Twins' opening-day starter, although it is likely Scott Diamond would have started the game if healthy, but has struggled while coming back from elbow surgery. May is Meyer's teammate in Class AA and through his first 21 1/3 innings has a 2.11 ERA. He's still struggling with his control with 13 walks, but he has 23 strikeouts and has allowed only 16 hits.
Even before these trades, Ryan made a lower-profile trade at the deadline in 2012 when he shipped inconsistent starter Francisco Liriano, whose contract was expiring, to the rival Chicago White Sox for utility infielder Eduardo Escobar and minor-league starter Pedro Hernandez.
Liriano struggled with the White Sox with a 5.40 ERA, and Chicago fell short of the postseason. Meanwhile, Hernandez, a left-hander, was called up in April 2013 and was 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in his first four games, including five shutout innings against the Texas Rangers on Saturday, April 28, 2013. Hernandez should only help the Twins maintain their league-leading walk rate, which I wrote about last week, since his career walk rate in the minors was an excellent 1.6 BB/9.
Escobar also has played well, hitting an astounding .438/.455/.625 through his first 33 plate appearances for the Twins in 2013. His minor-league OPS was .660, so he's playing way over his head. Hopefully, he can play well enough to take playing time away from shortstop Pedro Florimon, who also is a weak hitter and hasn't exactly been impressive on defense. Escobar has a reputation as a great defender wherever you put him in the infield, other than first base, and has shown a very strong arm.
This is exactly the type of deal that Ryan has excelled at. He turned a veteran player with little usefulness to the Twins into two useful players making the league minimum and under the Twins' control for at least the next five years. The Twins need more deals like these to help speed up their return to contending yearly like they did when they won six AL Central titles between 2002 and 2010.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sports writer since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and multiple websites, including LendingLeaves.com and MyCashTime.com.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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