Wednesday, July 24, 2013

20 Minnesota Twins Trades: The Pierzynski Bonanza!

The 2004 season marked two important Twins milestones.  First, the team was coming off of playoff runs in consecutive seasons for the first time in over thirty years.  Second, the Baby Jesus, Joe Mauer was primed for his MLB debut.  As a result of the second milestone, the Twins were looking to unload a popular, but expendable catcher, seemingly entering his prime. 

The Trade:  BREAKDOWN!

The Minnesota Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser

Nathan immediately became the Twins closer and a dominant closer to boot.  He would save 260 games over seven seasons with the Twins, posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.956 WHIP.  Liriano made his MLB debut in 2005, but really made waves in a thrilling 2006 season.  He threw 121 innings, striking out 144 batters and posting a 2.16 ERA before succumbing to Tommy John surgery.  He was never quite the same, but did post a very good 2010 season with the Twins.  Bonser spent parts of three seasons with the Twins, finishing with a 5.12 ERA in just under 400 innings. 

Pierzynski had a disappointing 2004 season with the Giants, clashing with teammates and posting a mediocre 86 OPS+.  He was released at the end of the season and signed by the White Sox, where he played for the next eight seasons. 

How did I feel at the time?

I wasn't super happy, but I wasn't super upset either.  I had taken to referring to Pierzynski as "All-Star A.J." because he made the All-Star team and I am super creative.  I was also very aware that Joe Mauer was going to be with the Twins the following season and an expensive backup like Pierzynski wasn't a luxury the Twins would be willing to afford.  Plus, getting three players for one seems like a good idea.  It's literally three times the players. 

Why make the trade?

"It's one of those things that was eventually going to happen," Pierzynski said, reached on a golf course in Hawaii. "I was one of the first guys people had talked about. And they've got the guy coming behind me."

That quote is from an AP story I found in an ESPN archive.  It's passive-aggressive enough, but not too disparaging.  You know for a fact that he knew Mauer's name.  However, it does perfectly explain why this trade made sense for the two teams. 

"That's all part of the reasons we decided to make this trade," general manager Terry Ryan said.  "We're dealing from a position of strength. We've got some talent at catching come up and some financial concerns, as far as making sure the pieces fit."

Again, "some talent" is Joe Mauer.  Plus, Pierzynski was due salary arbitration and was set to make a huge raise.  In fact, he went from $365,000 in 2003 to $3.5 million in 2004.  That is not an insignificant number, considering Pierzynski would have likely split time with Mauer, and possibly even backed him up. 

This story gives some great quotes about the players the Twins were acquiring.  On Nathan:

"He's got a good arm and gets people out," Ryan said. "He had a good year with the Giants and he's playoff tested."

"He's a stud," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Everything I've heard is he's a horse with a great arm. He should be a big part of our bullpen."

Like me, you're probably wondering if the Twins petitioned the league to allow a horse to pitch.  Gardy was speaking figuratively.  We all learned how playoff tested Nathan really was, right Alex Rodriguez?  Ouch. 

That was cold.

On Bonser, considered at that time to be a better prospect due to his closer proximity to the Majors:

"He's a young right-handed pitcher with a good arm and good stuff," Ryan said. "We think he's got the strength and stamina to be a future starter in the big leagues."

The stamina part was either wrong or a mean, sarcastic joke.  He did have a fun name. 

On Liriano, the wild horse (figurative horse again):

"The left-hander has an excellent arm," Ryan said. "We've got a good look at him in the instructional league and we liked what we saw."

I'd say!  It's borderline remarkable that they plucked a 20-year-old Liriano out of A ball and he made the impact that he did.

From the Giants' perspective, this trade was logical:

"While it didn't come up easy to give up Joe, we feel we've got some alternatives within the organization," San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. "It's not often you can send a right-handed reliever and two unproven prospects for a front-line, All-Star catcher."

On paper, that does make a lot of sense.  The players involved just didn't line up that way.  

Here's what Kyle Lohse thinks about the whole thing, if you care:

"I like him. He did just about anything you could to get a win," starting pitcher Kyle Lohse said. "He called a great game for me. It's kind of sad. It makes you wonder who else they'll keep and who they won't try to sign. It'll be pretty interesting."

No one effing cares what you think, Kyle Lohse.  Sit down and shave that ridiculous soul patch. 

And of course, A.J. did manage a slight dig on his way out:

"It's outside, so that'll be very nice," he said. "Playing in the Metrodome all these years gets kind of old and kind of stale."

Boom!  Roasted.


I'm quite certain the Twins are happy with how this trade worked out.  Pierzynski's a nice player, but he's no Joe Mauer.  In addition, adding Joe Nathan stabilized the bullpen for about a million years.  Honestly, if Mariano Rivera didn't exist, it's possible that Nathan would be considered the best closer of this generation.  Liriano never fully reached his potential in Minnesota, but fans will never forget his rookie season when he set the Metrodome ablaze and dominated with that ridiculous slider.  Boof is a silly name, which we all look back at fondly. 

The Giants would probably like a couple do-overs when it comes to this trade.  First, they would probably not make it at all.  Second, since they actually made the trade, they probably would not have released Pierzynski after one season.  He was not great in 2004, but then, he wasn't that much better from 2005-2011.  He never posted an above-average OPS+ during that time.  In fact, he didn't have an above-average offensive season until 2012, when he posted a career-high 119 OPS+ at age 35. 

The perception of Pierzynski as a player was quite different with Chicago.  He was a pain, but he was a productive and wily pain.  It's amazing what a punch to the jaw and a terrible call from an ump can do to change a player's perception. 

Who won the WAR?

Pierzynski for the Giants:  0.3
Nathan for the Twins:  18.4 
Liriano for the Twins:  9.5
Bonser for the Twins:  -0.3

WAR won by the Twins!

One Sentence Summary

Widely considered one of the best trades in Twins' history, this trade ultimately netted the Twins arguably their best closer of all-time, one extremely talented and frustrating pitcher and a guy named Boof. 

If you enjoyed this post, the least you could do is follow me on Twitter:  @bridman77.  I'll tweet a lot one night, then disappear for weeks.  It's a hoot.  If I get to 1000 Twitter followers, I'll live-tweet Timecop, just like the pros.  If you're really bold, I have a Facebook group too.  There are ten members.  Yep.  If it gets to 50, I'll give away my only 1991 Score Gary Wayne card.  I'm being honest.  

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