Tuesday, July 23, 2013

20 Minnesota Twins Trades: Young Mickey Mantle for Shannon Stewart

By 2003, the Twins had gotten used to champagne baths and baseball humps.  The year prior, the Twins celebrated their first Division title in over a decade and then went one step further, defeating Moneyball and advancing to the 2002 American League Championship Series.  However, the 2003 team was struggling and needed a shake-up. 

The Trade:  BREAKDOWN!

The Minnesota Twins traded Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart and a player to be named later (Dave Gassner)

Stewart nearly won the MVP in 2003.  He hit .322/.384/.470 in 65 games with the Twins in 2003.  The Twins were so impressed that they signed him to a three-year extension following the season.  Stewart was very good in 2004, but missed almost half of the season.  He was less than impressive in 2005 and a very injury-shortened 2006.  Gassner threw 7.2 innings for the Twins in 2005 and never threw another MLB inning.

Kielty seemed to be on the rise, but faltered in Toronto.  He posted a .233/.342/.376 line in 62 games with the Blue Jays.  They then traded him to a neighbor kid for Ted Lilly, straight up (actually Oakland).  Shockingly (at least to me), Kielty never posted an above-average OPS+ for the rest of his career, and was out of MLB baseball after 2007.  He posted 2.7 WAR in his rookie season, and 3.6 WAR the rest of his career. 

How did I feel at the time?

Annoyed.  I was unreasonably in love with Bobby Kielty.  I'm pretty sure it was the lack of batting gloves.  Regardless, I thought the Twins were giving up on a young, exciting player to trade for a kind of boring player.  I wasn't up on player value at that time, so I just saw low homer and RBI totals and started weeping like a willow.  Of course, Kielty looked like a budding valuable player himself, so I guess I wasn't completely wrong.  Looking back, the Twins clearly knew something about Kielty and guessed very well on Stewart. 

Why make the trade?

Easy, here's an AP story with some simple Terry Ryan quotes:

"It's time we start shaking this ballclub up to see if we can get it going in the right direction."

The Twins had been in a tailspin, as I alluded to earlier.  Kielty held future promise, but after getting the taste of sweet playoff baseball nectar, Ryan and the Twins were thirsty for more.  Swapping Stewart for Kielty made the team better for that 2003 season. 

"The Blue Jays will pick up the remainder of Stewart's $6.2 million salary, and the Twins will pay the rest of Kielty's $325,000 contract."

That part probably helped too.  Hopefully, this part was more important:

"He's always been a good hitter," Ryan said. "It's a situation where we are bringing in a guy to help us ignite this offense at the top of our lineup."

The idea was that the Twins replace Kielty with Stewart, move Jacque Jones out of the leadoff spot and into an RBI spot and that equation would lead to mad runs.  Whether or not the mad runs were a result of this change or not is debatable, but the trade did seem to spark the team. 

It was bittersweet for Stewart:

"Somebody you've been with your whole career, all of a sudden you get a quick call saying, 'You're traded, thanks for everything,'" Stewart said. "I'll just try to get on and do whatever I can to help the team out."

Getting traded is not easy for some players.  In addition, the Blue Jays actually had a better record than the Twins at that point in the season.  It all worked out pretty well for Stewart though. 

The Blue Jays were psyched to get younger:

"Once again, we got a player we've liked for a long time," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "He fits everything we're trying to do offensively."

"We've got this guy for the next four years before he can become a free agent," he said. "This is basically getting Shannon Stewart from the start all over again."

I'm not sure that last part is true even in theory, and it certainly did not work out that way.  Kielty was gone after the season.  Plus, Kielty and Stewart couldn't have been more different players.  Kielty was a switch-hitter with good on-base skills and power.  Stewart was a contact guy who supplemented his game with speed earlier in his career. 

Also, I don't want to have to be the one to point this out, but another difference was quite obvious:  Kielty was a right fielder and Stewart was a left fielder.  But then, you already knew that. 


Good gravy, what a trade for the Twins!   On July 16, the Twins were 44-49, had lost eight games in a row and were 7.5 games out of first place.  The next day, Shannon Stewart hit leadoff for his new team and went 0-5.  Frown.  But, the Twins won!  Smile.  They would go on to double those 45 wins and win the Central.  With Stewart, the Twins went 46-23.  Stewart was hardly a real MVP candidate by the numbers, but it's hard to argue with his impact.  Unless it was all a huge coincidence.  I tend to believe in the impact of psychology on sports, so perhaps this trade sparked the team, even if Stewart wasn't 100% responsible for the turnaround.  Maybe Terry Ryan should have gotten MVP votes?

The trade made sense for Toronto as well.  They were nine games out, in third place, and behind behemoth teams like the Red Sox and Yankees.  This wasn't the rinky-dink Central.  Plus, Kielty was a promising player and Stewart was an impending free agent.  What happened to Kielty though?  Perhaps the problem was that Kielty was a bit of a clown.  Seriously, for real, check out this link.  Whatever the reason, the Twins pretty much maximized Kielty's value on the field and via trade when they were all done with him. 

Who won the WAR?

Gassner for the Twins:  -0.2
Stewart for the Twins:  4.8
Kielty for the Blue Jays:  -0.2

WAR won by the Twins!

One Sentence Summary

There is simply no way this trade could have worked out better for the Twins.

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.  


  1. Ahhh, I remember that one well. I liked it at the time - never was a big Kielty fan - but liked it even better as time went on. I saw Stewart a few years later when he was playing in Oakland. Plantar Fasciitis is something that really kind of curtailed his career. Too bad.

    1. This is simply one of the best trades in Twins' history.

      I had plantar fasciitis about three years ago and it was the worst ailment I've ever dealt with. It's basically unavoidable pain at all times, but at least it only hurts when you walk or use your feet.