State of the Team
1997 Record: 68-94, 4th in the AL Central
1997 Overview: 1996 looked like a step in the right direction, 1997 was a step into horse manure.
1998 Outlook: Avert your gaze.
Players Lost - Free Agency
One thing you can't fault the Twins for in the 90s was losing key players to free agency. It helped that they didn't really have many key players during that era, but that's just being rude when you really think about it. The Twins did lose two members of their '97 rotation though.
Rich Robertson was a waiver claim after the '94 season, and really, he was perfectly acceptable for someone who was completely unwanted by his original team. Of course, he did get progressively worse each season, going from a 3.83 ERA in limited duty in 1995 to a 5.69 ERA in way too much duty in 1997. The Angels signed him, he pitched 5.2 innings for them, he gave up 10 runs for them, he never pitched in the Majors again.
Scott Aldred left for the fancy new Tampa Bay Devil Rays franchise. It's understandable why the Rays would want him, he had a 6.10 ERA in 199.1 innings with the Twins in '96 and '97. Of course, the Rays never let him start and they got 55.2 decent innings (4.37 ERA) out of him in '98 and '99. He later became a player to be named later. What a career!
Players Gained - Free Agency
So many weird veterans...
Otis Nixon was 39 and still very fast. The Twins spent $2 million bucks on him and he provided an 85 OPS+ and 37 stolen bases. He was awful in the field, likely because he was old as crap. Some argue that Nixon's suspension during the '91 World Series swayed that series toward the Twins. I'm not sure that's true, but I also don't care because THE TWINS WON!!!!!! WHOOWOOWOWOOO!!!!!!
Brent Gates went to the University of Minnesota, so the Twins had to sign him. He had a 69 OPS+ in 1998 but then exploded for a 70 OPS+ in 1999. Hmm. Not many players improve offensively at 29. Steroids?
The Twins signed Orlando Merced for $800K, got a 98 OPS+ out of him in limited duty, and traded him and Greg Swindell for prospects on July 31. Merced played his final game on my 21st birthday. I celebrated with him.
They signed 38-year-old Mike Morgan for $1.3 million. He started 17 games, posted a 3.49 ERA and then the Twins flipped him in August for a player to be named later. That player became Scott Downs, who never pitched for the Twins but is still in the Majors in 2013. He'll be 38 in March. Circle of Life!
Finally, the Twins landed Ricky Bones, sent him to the Minors, he pitched well, they released him and he sucked for the Royals later that season. It's strange, but true.
OH DOCTOR! The Twins made a doozy of a trade. They got tired of incumbent starting center fielder Rich Becker and shipped him off to New York for Alex Ochoa. See, the Twins had signed a guy who was drafted in 1978, they didn't need Becker anymore. Becker slipped a bit in 1997, but had a pretty good 1996 season. Some internet dork immortalized it here. Becker was a real OBP guy for about a million teams over the next three seasons. He posted a .375 OBP, but slugged lower than that and only his .235. He was out of the Majors after 1998.
The Twins also made another minor deal this off-season, sending Chuck Knoblauch to New York for four dudes including Eric Milton and Christian Guzman. If you really want to read more about that insignificant trade, you can click here.
Expansion Draft Fever!
We already learned that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were joining MLB baseball, but the Arizona Diamondbacks were entering as well. So many dangerous animals. The Twins lost Brent Brede and Damian Miller to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. Greedy bas...
Brede hit .226 in 98 games with the D-Backs and disappeared forever (untrue). Miller had a fine 11-year career, posting 9.0 WAR as a mostly part-time catcher.
Oh goodness, it was the Knoblauch trade. Pimpin' links aside, that trade was excellent for the Twins. Knoblauch wanted out and the Twins got four prospects and cash for him. Guzman and Milton had productive careers in Minnesota. Brian Buchanan netted the Twins Jason Bartlett down the line. Danny Mota contributes a lot of questions to The Starters (formerly The Basketball Jones).
Personally, I would have kept Becker and saved the money they spent on Nixon, but that's very nit-picky. Both guys had value, although Becker was roughly 50 years younger.
My Own Personal Heartbreak
I actually loved Knoblauch, so I was sad to see him go. He's one of the best Twins of the past 25 years, no doubt about it.
Arbitrary Overall Assessment: C
The Twins didn't do anything super noteworthy during this off-season. Their biggest move was made more out of necessity than anything else. The Knoblauch trade worked out well, but not for a couple years. The team did little to try to win in 1998 and basically signed a bunch of old dudes while trading away their best player. That said, the Knoblauch trade was positive in the long run, so they get a decent grade.
Next week, we'll look at the 1998 off-season. See you then!