Monday, November 25, 2013

Minnesota Twins Offseason Extravaganza: 1998

State of the Team

1998 Record:  70-92, 4th in the AL Central
1998 Overview:  Well, David Ortiz had a 111 OPS+ at age 22...
1999 Outlook:  Someone has to hit more than 16 home runs, right?

Players Lost - Free Agency

The Twins lost the following players after the 1997 season:  Bob Tewksbury (retired), Paul Molitor (retired), Otis Nixon (Braves), Scott Stahoviak (Cubs), Pat Meares (Pirates), Todd Ritchie (Pirates) and Dan Serafini (sold to the Cubs).  This is analogous to a hoarder getting rid of all their junk (not Molitor, I love him). 

Meares was significant because he had been with the team for so long.  He wasn't good, don't get me wrong, but he had been here for a long time.  Stahoviak was actually pretty good in 1996 (OPS+ of 111), but then he was dreadful in 1997 and barely played in 1998.  He never played again. 

Todd Ritchie was just released and won 15 games for the Pirates in 1999.  Otis Nixon was 40 in 1999 and still stole 26 bases.  The Twins sold Dan Serafini.  Yeah, they just sold him for cash.  I'm sure people loved that.  I'm willing to bet the money was re-invested into the team.  Perhaps to sign Melvin Nieves?

Players Gained - Free Agency

You might remember the scene in Seinfeld when George and Susan are picking out wedding invitations.  The clerk tells them that the giant binder is sorted from most expensive in the front to the least expensive in the back.  George then immediately flips the giant binder's worth of plastic pages to the very back of the binder and then immediately points at the first one he sees and says "that looks good." 

That seems to be how the Twins approached free agents in the late 90s.  Flip to the back, point, sign crap.  At least no one died as a result.

The Twins signed TWO actual free agents in 1998:  Melvin Nieves and Bob Wells.  We'll start with Wells.  Wells was coming off of an age 31 season when he posted a 6.10 ERA in 51.2 innings.  He was horrible.  Wells was good in 1999 though.  He was the exact same pitcher, but he gave up fewer home runs and he was good.  His ERA was under 4 and he gave the bullpen 87.1 innings.  He was even better in 2000 and then reverted to the real back-of-the-binder Bob Wells in 2001 and 2002. 

Nieves didn't play a game for the Twins.  Just three months after signing one of the two free agents the Twins would sign, they sold him to the Fukuoka Daiel Hawks.  Apparently the Twins are selling minor free agents in addition to their own minor players.  Someone should really consider contracting this team. 

The Twins did sign Bobby Kietly as an amateur free agent this off-season.  They couldn't find any teams to offer cash for him, so they just kept him.


I'm not sure these trades deserve that "z."  The Twins traded Dan Naulty to the Yankees for Allen Butler and traded Alex Ochoa to the Brewers for a player to be sold named later (Darrell Nicholas).  Oddly enough, that player (again, Nicholas), was named one day later.  That seems unnecessary. 

These trades were minor and the players sent out were not great, so you can't really rip the team too much.  These just weren't exciting moves.  Naulty pitched just 49.1 more innings in his career, all the following season.  Ochoa had a fine season in 1999 and then another fine season in 2000, but he was out of baseball after the 2002 season. 

Nicholas and Butler never played in the Majors. 

Biggest Splash

Terry Steinbach signed a 2 year, $5.7 million dollar contract two seasons prior.  He was coming off of a 35 home run season and you know he's from Minnesota and whatnot, so it was a good idea.  He hit a combined 26 home runs in 1997 and 1998 and barely posted an OBP over .300.  The Twins brought him back in 1999 for a million bucks and he had a fine farewell season at 37.  He posted his best OPS+ as a Twin (89) and caught 96 games.  Not bad for the cost at that age. 

Biggest Miss

On September 28, the Twins claimed Fred Rath off of waivers from the Rockies.  Less than three months later, the Twins signed Gary Rath as a free agent.  I'm quite certain they are not brothers, considering they were born just five days apart.  They combined for just 4.2 innings in 1999, all from Gary (real name is Alfred).  HOW CAN A TEAM MISS ON SO MANY RATHS?!?!?

My Own Personal Heartbreak

I was sad that Molitor retired, but he was old.  He had three fine seasons with the Twins, all at an advanced age.  The on-field product was mostly poor during this era, so it was fun to watch a Hall of Famer play hard in his last few seasons of baseball.

Arbitrary Overall Assessment:  F

What a garbage off-season.  The Twins did next to nothing.  It shocks me to think that the Twins were just a couple years from being a consistent division contender.  Luckily for the organization, they drafted and developed talent extremely well during these lean years.  As for moves made between seasons?  It was basically - old guy, cheap guy, untalented guy and Minnesota guy.  If you weren't one or more of those, the Twins didn't seem interested. 

Seriously, the Twins sold two players this off-season.

Next Monday, we'll look at the 1999 off-season.  See you then!

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