Wednesday, July 10, 2013

20 Minnesota Twins Trades: The Knoblauch Debacle

An unhappy superstar hoping to rekindle the team success he achieved in his rookie season.  A budding dynasty looking to add a couple final pieces to a Championship-level team.  Later, batteries.  You know what I'm talkin' about.

The Trade:  BREAKDOWN!

The Minnesota Twins traded Chuck Knoblauch to the New York Yankees for Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, and Danny Mota

Knoblauch would play four up-and-down seasons with the Yankees, but would win three World Series Championships.  He famously lost the ability to throw from second to first, and thus was no longer the overall excellent player he was in Minnesota.  He was still an excellent offensive player in '98 and '99. 

Guzman became the Twins' starting shortstop in 1999, at the age of 21.  He would remain in that role for six seasons and he was at times a very exciting player.  Milton immediately entered the rotation and gave the Twins 165 starts over the next six seasons.  He will also be the subject of one of these features in a few weeks.  Buchanan debuted in 2000, showed some power, but was gone by 2002.  Mota pitched 5.1 innings for the Twins in 2000 and was out of baseball after the following season.

How did I feel at the time?

Angry.  The Twins had completed their fifth straight losing season and now they were trading their best player?  What gives?  After the '94 season, Kent Hrbek retired.  After the '95 season, Kirby Puckett retired.  In '95, the Twins traded Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera.  It was adding up to be too much.  I distinctly remember being very angry about this trade. 

Why make the trade?

This trade was coming down the tunnel for quite some time.  Knoblauch famously asked for a trade late in 1997, tired of losing, as evidenced in this article from the Star Tribune:

"Finally, late in 1997, the Twins were swept in Kansas City, and on the long, depressing ride from the ballpark to the airport, Knoblauch called his agent and said he wanted a trade.

'I was just dejected,' he said. 'The losing got to me. I wasn't handling getting beat up on a pretty consistent basis.'"

Tom Kelly clearly wanted him to stay, so he employed some reverse psychology:

"When the request leaked to manager Tom Kelly, any vision of a graceful exit vanished, Knoblauch said. He remembers the manager suggesting to the media -- Kelly doesn't remember saying this -- that Knoblauch wanted out of Minnesota because he didn't think his teammates were good enough."

"When TK made that statement, it was like a seismic shift, because he had a lot of control over the organization," Knoblauch said, seeming stunned, still. "I love him, looking back on everything, I do, but I just think people pay attention to what he says -- the people of Minnesota, the fans. And I think that's why there was so much hate or hostility toward me when I came back. He probably thought I was abandoning them ... but I just wanted to win."

This explains his desire, but doesn't necessarily excuse it.  Of course, if Kelly did say that, then he was being a lame-o. 

The Yankees were a match because they were trying to build a dynasty and had some impressive prospects.  This LA Times article outlines how Terry Ryan felt right before the trade:

"I think everybody involved would like to have that happen," Twin General Manager Terry Ryan said. "The Yankees would like to have that happen. I've said we would like to get this done as soon as we can. I think everybody in the organization would like to have this behind us."

This was a difficult situation for Ryan.  He had a superstar who publicly wanted out and not a lot of teams in the bidding.  The Yankees were offering a good package (which included 3 million bucks, so you know that helped) and it was best for the Twins to get it done before the 1998 season started. 

According to this article from the New York Times, Knoblauch wanted to go the New York, so that worked out well:

''I think New York would be a great place to play,'' he said. ''When you open the season, you want to know you're going to be competitive and going to have the chance to win. I think if you ask any Yankee players right now, they'll tell you they got a chance to win. I think every player wants to have that.''

Of course, something clearly changed for Knoblauch when he started playing there.  There is simply no way that his throwing issues weren't mental, and the biggest change from good throwing Knobby to bad throwing Knobby was the change of scenery.  However, you can see why New York would be the choice of a player who wants to win. 


This was a fantastic trade for the Twins.  They unloaded an unhappy player and acquired two six-year starters.  Guzman did not develop as many had hoped, but he did provide good value at a premium position for over half a decade.  The trade worked for the Yankees too.  They got two very good offensive seasons from Knoblauch and he helped them win three straight World Series titles by filling a need on their team.  He retired much sooner than anyone would have guessed, but did so with four Championships on his resume. 

So, the trade worked for both teams.  Why did it hurt so much?  Why do Twins fans still hate Knoblauch?  Why is it possible that one of the greatest Twins of all time may never be enshrined in their Hall of Fame? 

No one likes to feel slighted.  Knoblauch was smart enough to see that the Twins were not going to win anything significant in his career.  He made a calculated and understandable decision to ask for a trade to a better team.  He did what was best for Chuck Knoblauch, but he did it at the expense of the millions of fans he had in Minnesota.  He never said anything bad about our State or the Twin Cities, but he certainly was not fond of the Organization by the end.  He hurt his fans in Minnesota when he spoke the truth, mostly because it was a truth that we didn't want to face.

I was angry with him when he was traded, but I understand things from his perspective now.  The Twins were bad and they weren't getting any better.  He did sign a contract with the team, but he also watched as that team shipped off many of his teammates in prior seasons, while they were under contracts the Twins agreed to.  Loyalty goes both ways, and sometimes, it goes neither way. 

Who won the WAR?

Knoblauch for the Yankees:  7.4 
Milton for the Twins:  14.7
Guzman for the Twins:  7.5
Buchanan for the Twins:  0.3
Mota for the Twins:  -0.1

WAR won by the Twins!

One Sentence Summary

If I ever saw Chuck Knoblauch on the street, I'd huck a battery at him; a battery of respect.    

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