1981: Gary Gaetti’s Career Starts with a Bang

September 21, 2010

Sunday September 20, 1981

September can either be a month in which a team drives for the pennant, or a time to play the September call ups to see what you have for the future. All to often in the 1970′s and early 80′s it was the latter for the Twins. In 1981, a young third baseman saw his first action.

The Twins had drafted Gary Gaetti with the 11th overall pick in the June 1979 secondary draft. He was signed a few days later. It wasn’t long before, at the age of 22, Gaetti was called up to the majors.

He made his debut in a late September game at Arlington Stadium. Penciled in a third base and batting seventh, Gaetti first came to the plate with a man on and two outs in the bottom of the second inning. Charlie Hough had retired the first five Twins he faced before issuing a two out walk to Dave Engle.

Earlier in the season, both Kent Hrbek and Tim Laudner had homered in the their first major league game. Gaetti did them one better by doing it in his first plate appearance.

Gaetti was retired in his next two plate appearances and the Twins lost the game, but it was the hope in the upper Midwest that the early power showed by some of the young players would translate into wins down the road. It would take some time, but the wins would start coming.

1988: Oakland Clinches the West

September 20, 2010

Monday September 19, 1988

As the Twins close in on yet another AL Central title, it is easy to forget that there was a time when winning the division was not the norm for this team. In 1987, they seemingly came out of nowhere to win a weak AL West. A year later, though the Twins sported a better record than they had in their World Series year of 1987, the AL West was no longer a weak division. The Oakland A’s were on the front end of the dynasty that would last through the early part of the 1990′s, and it can be argued that the 1988 team was the best of those A’s teams.

By mid-September of 1988 it had become clear that the A’s were the better team, so the events of 9/19 seemed like somewhat of a formality.

The torch was passed from the Twins to the Oakland Athletics on a cool Monday night by the bay. More accurately, it was wrested away – yanked from the hands of a good team by a great team.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The Athletics have been preening atop the division in full view of the American League for 150 games. This team is loaded, at least for one season, playing at a dizzying 41 games above .500.

No question, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The standings have been right there in hard black and white each morning. Even as Twins fans, remembering the unlikely events of 1987, waited for some miraculous intervention that would turn it all right-side up, the Athletics were flexing those muscles one more time.

The Athletics beat the Twins 5-3 at Oakland Coliseum to clinch the American League West Division title. Fans at the Metrodome can stop leaning toward one another and asking “What’d Oakland do?” every five minutes. Oakland has done enough.

-Tom Powers, Pioneer Press

From the other side of the river:

Even when the clinching was close, the entire matter seemed moot, decided weeks ago and accepted by everyone in both clubhouses. That it happened on the road might have softened the blow for the Twins, but it still stung.

The Twins remembered the feel, the atmosphere of that champagne-soaked clubhouse in Texas 12 months ago and they knew that it all belonged to Oakland Monday night. The Athletics marched off with a 5-3 victory and carried the American League West title with them inside the Coliseum, which started shaking in batting practice.

That the A’s should clinch against the Twins seemed fitting. Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson set out nine months ago to deal the A’s into the playoffs after the Twins stole the division with 85 victories. It worked. All of it.

Unlike Twins manager Tom Kelly, who stayed behind and watched the Twins roll around the Arlington Stadium mound last September, A’s manager Tony La Russa followed the last player off the bench and joined the party in progress.

1987: Don Baylor

September 2, 2010

September 1, 1987

The Twins waited until the morning of September 1 to formally announce the move, but Don Baylor was added to the Twins’ roster before midnight on August 31, the deadline for a player to be eligible for the post season.

The reason for the delayed announcement was that, to make room for Baylor, the Twins needed to let go of somebody. That somebody turned out to be future HOF’er Steve Carlton, whose 6.70 ERA left something to be desired.

Baylor, for his part, was excited about the prospect of playing for the Twins:

“How many games out are we (Boston is 15 games behind Detroit in the AL East)?” Baylor said. “Well, (the Twins) would excite me a lot more. That’s what players play for, being in a championship series. . . . Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them some experience on what the playoffs are all about, and taking one step at a time.”

There was also optimism among the local crowd, though it was somewhat tempered by what the Twins didn’t get before the deadline (from Dan Barreiro’s 9/2/87 column):

Make no mistake: This was a low-risk, solid move by Twins executive vice president Andy MacPhail. But there is one thing Baylor cannot do – and that is pitch. The acquisition of Baylor just before the midnight deadline Monday should not obscure the fact that the Twins have been unable to do much of anything to strengthen their starting pitching. Tuesday night’s 9-0 loss to the Red Sox was a not-so-gentle reminder.

The Twins have tried to improve their starters, but let’s look at the facts: Joe Niekro may have done wonders for the emery board business, and he may have given a four-star performance on David Letterman’s show, but he has not helped much on the mound. Last night, he gave up five runs in four innings. Steve Carlton was worth a look, but it’s time somebody stuck a fork in him. A big one. Shish kebab-size.

Baylor, of all people, should know that. He hit a grand slam home run off Carlton 10 days ago at Fenway Park.

Not that the long ball is the only way Baylor can get on base. “You’ll notice,” said Evans, “that he always seems to get hit in a crucial situation.”

Baylor’s batting average is .239. His on-base average is a robust .355, thanks in part to his well-known propensity for getting plunked by a pitched ball. He has elevated the act into an art form. This year he has been hit 24 times – the entire Twins team has been hit 20 times – to extend his all-time record total to 251. “He always finds a way to help you win,” said Evans.

Eventually he may help the Twins in the clubhouse, too. As Kelly said, “He’s been in the wars before.” In 18 years he has played on pennant contenders in Baltimore, California, New York and Boston. “The first time you get traded, it’s very traumatic,” Baylor said. “But after a while, you realize it’s a business. Two days ago, it said `Red Sox’ across my chest. Now it says `Twins.’ That’s the way it is.”

Baylor’s performance down the stretch did help the Twins – he batted .286/.397/.306 and his WARP3 was 0.2 in just 20 games played. His biggest impact, however, came in the post season. He went 2-for-5 against the Tigers in the ALCS before posting a .385/.467/.615 line in 15 World Series plate appearances, including his game-tying two-run home run in the fifth inning of Game 6.

In return for Baylor, the Twins sent right-hander Enrique Rios to Boston as the PTBNL. Rios had spent the 1987 season in single “A” Kensoha. Rios never made it to the major leagues.

1981: Hrbek’s Debut

August 25, 2010

Monday August 24, 1981

The Twins spent the bulk of the 1981 season platooning Ron Jackson and Danny Goodwin at first base. Both players had come to the team from California in the Dan Ford trade after the 1978 season, the same year that scout Angelo Giuliani signed a young Kent Hrbek to a Twins contract. When the Twins traded Jackson to Detroit for a player to be named later (Tim Corcoran), it opened a roster spot for a local kid who had been putting up some impressive numbers in single A Visalia.

The California League was a hitter’s league at the time, and Hrbek was hardly the only player to put up gaudy-looking numbers; but the Bloomington native stood out enough from the rest to be named league MVP even though he missed the last two weeks of the season due to his call up to Minnesota.

The Bloomington native was penciled in to manager Billy Gardner’s lineup batting eighth in a game at Yankee Stadium. After flying out in his first at-bat, Hrbek found success in the bottom of the fifth when he knocked in the Twins first run with an RBI infield single. Then, with the score tied at two in the 12th inning, Hrbek led off with a solo home run, which ultimately became the winning run.

“I should have slowed down my home run trot, so it would have lasted longer,” Hrbek said, “Right now it’s like I’m dreaming, like I don’t know where I am. It will take a while to sink in.” -Hrbek quoted by Patrick Reusse in TSN

Manager Gardner was at a loss for words:

“I had to get some smelling salts first,” Gardner said, “A home run… we don’t see many of those in this dugout.” -quoted by Patrick Reusse in TSN

All-Franchise Team: 1981-1990

August 20, 2010

C Brian Harper 6.0 WAR (1988-1990) – It is tempting to write Tim Laudner’s name in this spot. His entire career came during this decade, and he was the catcher for the 1987 World Series team. While Laudner logged more time with the Twins in the decade, it is easy to forget just how good Harper was in his first couple of seasons with the Twins. Not largely remembered as a great defensive catcher, the rationale the team gave when he took over for Laudner for good in 1989 was because he was a better catcher.

1B Kent Hrbek 29.9 WAR (1981-1990) – As much of a no-brainer as there is. The team’s starting first baseman in 1981 was Danny Goodwin. The next non-Hrbek regular first baseman for the Twins was Scott Stahoviak in 1995.

2B John Castino 7.7 WAR (1981-1983) – The position was pretty much a revolving door most of the decade, but Castino was one of the few “stars” on the Twins during the lean years of the early 1980′s.

SS Greg Gagne 12.1 WAR (1983-1990) – Gagne was so steady for the Twins at shortstop. While he didn’t provide the offense the team had hoped for, he played excellent defense up the middle for the bulk of the decade.

3B Gary Gaetti 23.8 WAR (1981-1990) – Another no-brainer. Played 1,361 games for the Twins, all in this decade.

LF Gary Ward 8.5 WAR (1981-1983) – The conventional wisdom would probably put Dan Gladden here. While largely credited as the catalyst for the 1987 World Series team, Gladden’s numbers don’t even approach Ward – Gladden posted just 3.5 WAR from 1987-1990.

CF Kirby Puckett 27.9 WAR (1984-1990) – Other candidates for center field include Darrell Brown and Mickey Hatcher. Enough said.

RF Tom Brunansky 14.6 WAR (1982-1988) – He was not the same player after the Twins traded him away, but it’s not like they got much in return.

DH Roy Smalley 2.2 WAR (1981-1982, 1985 – 1987) – Smalley’s inclusion on this list is more of an indictment on the team’s luck with designated hitters in the decade. Randy Bush might have been a better choice, but he played much more in the outfield than at DH in the decade. Perhaps Bush should be the pinch-hitter on the all-decade team.

SP Frank Viola 24.5 WAR (1982-1989) – Easily the best Twins pitcher of the decade. Led the team to one World Series, and his trade was the key to the pitching foundation of a second.

SP Bert Blyleven 9.3 WAR (1985-1988) – While Blyleven was not the same pitcher in his second stint with the Twins, he still provided some valuable innings.

SP Allan Anderson 7.9 WAR (1986-1990) – For two years Anderson looked like he might be the pitcher of the future for the Twins.

RP Jeff Reardon 4.3 WAR (1987-1989) – While I think Reardon tends to be overrated a bit, he doesn’t have a lot of competition for best closer of the decade- a fact that no doubt lends itself to Twins fans seeing him in a better light.

RP Juan Berenguer 5.0 WAR (1987-1990) – Whether as a starter, long reliever, set-up man, closer, or music video star, you could make a case that Juan Berenguer was one of the most valuable of the Twins pitchers for the latter part of the decade.

The Franchise 1990 (Part 2)

August 18, 2010

Roster/Stats (Pitchers)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1990

SP Allan Anderson 7-18 4.53 ERA 93 ERA+ 1.34 WHIP 4.02 FIP -0.8 PW 7 WS 1.2 WAR
Anderson got off to a miserable start, going 2-11 with a 5.63 ERA through June. Most observers believed that the left-hander’s problems on the mound were mental in nature. Anderson did what he could to improve, including some visits with a sports psychiatrist. Whatever he tried seemed to work for the second half of the season. In 14 starts he went 5-7 with a 3.47 ERA, though most of the headlines surrounding Anderson in the last couple of months were about his effort to avoid losing 20 games.

SP Kevin Tapani 12-8 4.07 ERA 103 ERA+ 1.21 WHIP 3.10 FIP 0.4 PW 10 WS 2.4 WAR
In his first year as a major league regular, Tapani got some high praise:

“He gets the ball and throws it, and he is always around the plate. For a young man, he’s got a lot of poise. I think it’s important for a pitcher not to show any emotion on the mound. Tapani gives up a home run and says ‘Give me the ball, lets go.’ That’s the way Catfish Hunter used to be. He reminds me of Catfish Hunter.”

The quote, as pointed out by Jim Caple in The Sporting News, came from umpire Vic Voltaggio. His performance made him one of the mid-season favorites for AL Rookie of the Year Honors. Though he finished fifth for that particular award, Tapani seemed to find a home in Minnesota’s starting rotation.

SP Roy Smith 5-10 4.81 ERA 87 ERA+ 1.55 WHIP 4.29 FIP -1.1 PW 5 WS 0.4 WAR
With the team’s emphasis on young pitching, veteran Roy Smith, who was fresh off of his best season, had a bit of a short leash. By the end of the season Smith saw most of his action out of the bullpen. He was released by the Twins after the season. Smith signed with the Orioles and appeared in 17 games in 1991, his final taste of major league action.

SP David West 7-9 5.10 ERA 82 ERA+ 1.50 WHIP 5.10 FIP -1.3 PW 4 WS 0.3 WAR
David West was considered by many to be the centerpiece of the package the Twins received for Frank Viola in 1989. While he might have had the most potential, he struggled in his first attempt at full-time major league duty.

SP Mark Guthrie 7-9 3.79 ERA 111 ERA+ 1.33 WHIP 2.96 FIP 0.7 PW 9 WS 2.6 WAR
Guthrie ended his first season as a major league regular with 11 consecutive quality starts. Though he was mentioned in several trade rumors during the offseason, Andy MacPhail denied that the Twins organization was interested in trading any of its pitching, saying “we are not that good yet.”

SP Scott Erickson 8-4 2.87 ERA 147 ERA+ 1.41 WHIP 4.39 FIP 1.1 PW 9 WS 2.3 WAR
Erickson was drafted and signed by the Twins in June of 1989. A fourth round pick who had led the nation in victories with the University of Arizona in 1989, it didn’t take long for Erickson to make his way up through the Twins’ system. He skipped triple A all together and made his  major league debut exactly a year to the day after he signed. Erickson’s best pitch was a sinking fastball that tended to force hitters to hit ground balls. Erickson rode that pitch to success in 1990, and by the end of the season he was considered one of team’s best pitchers.

CL Rick Aguilera 5-3 2.76 ERA 153 ERA+ 1.13 WHIP 2.99 FIP 1.4 PW 12 WS 1.3 WAR
At first, Aguilera was not pleased when the Twins wanted to move him to the bullpen to take over the closing role upon the departure of Jeff Reardon. After only two months on the job, however, Aguilera’s success was such that the Twins rewarded his willingness (and success) with a three-year contract extension worth $2 million per year. By season’s end, Aggie was already among the league’s elite closers.

RP Juan Berenguer 8-5 3.41 ERA 123 ERA+ 1.43 WHIP 4.23 FIP 0.8 PW 8 WS 1.2 WAR
Berenguer had another very good year with the Twins. As a result the same collusion settlement that made Gaetti a free agent and Aguilera’s emergence as the Twins’ closer, Berenguer went off seeking ace-reliever money, signing as a free agent with Atlanta for about $1 million more per year than he would have made with the Twins. Had it not been for a lingering injury that kept Berenguer out of the 1991 post season, he might have faced his former team in the World Series.

RP Tim Drummond 3-5 4.35 ERA 97 ERA+ 1.54 WHIP 4.09 FIP -0.1 PW 4 WS 0.6 WAR
Drummond is the forgotten man in the Viola trade. This was really his only year of note.

RP Terry Leach 2-5 3.20 ERA 132 ERA+ 1.29 WHIP 2.81 FIP 0.7 PW 7 WS 1.4 WAR
Like most of the team’s new pitchers in 1989-1990, Terry Leach had recently been traded from the Mets organization. Unlike most of his teammates, Leach was a 36-year-old veteran reliever and he did not come to the Twins in the Viola deal. Leach signed as a free agent prior to the 1990 season after having a couple of mediocre seasons. He turned things around with the Twins, actually pitching just as well if not better than he did at his mid-1980′s peak.

The Franchise 1990 (Part 1)

August 12, 2010

1990 Minnesota Twins

Manager: Tom Kelly 5th Season (5th with Minnesota 342-329)
74 W 88 L 666 RS 729 RA 7th AL West 29.0 GB (Oakland 103-59)
4.11 RPG (AL = 4.30) 4.12 ERA (AL = 3.91)
.689 DER (11th AL)

All-Stars (1) Kirby Puckett

Franchise (1901-1990) 6622-7245-110; 19-25 Post Season; 15-18 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1990) 2408-2381-6; 11-14 Post Season; 7-7 WS

While the Twins finished in last place in 1990, there were plenty of bright spots to keep fans happy and optimistic. In the offseason before, the team locked up both Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek to long term deals. The young pitchers acquired in the Frank Viola trade continued to show promise, Brian Harper continued to play solid catcher and emerged as one of the better hitters in the league, and the team seemed to find an answer in right field with the emergence of Shane Mack as one of the team’s best players.

Aside from the bright-looking future, 1990 is probably best remembered by Twins fans for the historic pair of triple plays the team turned in one game.

Roster/Stats (Hitters)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1990

C Brian Harper .294/.328/.432 6 HR 106 OPS+ 1.0 BFW 14 WS 2.7 WAR
C Junior Ortiz .335/.384/.388 0 HR 111 OPS+ 0.3 BFW 8 WS 1.4 WAR
Harper estimated that he had moved 55 times in his life by 1990, when, for the first time, he had the same job as a major league regular catcher that he had the year before. He spent most of the season flirting with the AL leader board in batting average, and earned himself a third season as starting catcher with his play behind the plate. To back up Harper, the Twins brought in one of the game’s great characters in Junior Ortiz via trade from Pittsburgh.

1B Kent Hrbek .287/.377/.474 22 HR 131 OPS+ 1.6 BFW 19 WS 2.0 WAR
At the end of the 1989 season Andy MacPhail identified seven players who were “very important” and  free agents. Four of the players were not considered financial bank-busters: Juan Berenguer, Greg Gagne, Dan Gladden, and Brian Harper. Of the remaining three: Kirby Puckett, Jeff Reardon, and Hrbek; MacPhail figured the Twins had the budget to keep just two. Puckett was the no-brainer, which left the decision between Hrbek and Reardon. From Dave Nightingale’s story in TSN, 4/30/90:

“It was a tough decision; tough to think of having to lose either of them,” said MacPhail. “But among the factors we considered was the age of the pitcher in question and the ‘local hero’ aspect of the first baseman.”

Thus, the Twins made no real attempt to prevent Reardon from moving on down the road.

Hrbek, on the other hand, signed a five-year, $14 million contract to stay in Minnesota despite being courted by Montreal, Seattle, and Detroit, all reportedly dangling more money than the Twins. Once again in 1990, he was among the elite first basemen in the American League.

2B Al Newman .242/.304/.278 0 HR 60 OPS+ -1.5 BFW 5 WS 1.0 WAR
2B Fred Manrique .237/.254/.346 5 HR 62 OPS+ -1.7 BFW 2 WS -0.5 WAR
2B Nelson Liriano .254/.332/.357 0 HR 88 OPS+ -1.0 BFW 5 WS 0.7 WAR
At the trade deadline the Twins acquired Nelson Liriano and outfielder Pedro Munoz from Toronto in exchange for pitcher John Candelaria. Liriano would be the latest in a long line of players the Twins hoped would plug the hole at second base; a list that included the failed stint of Fred Manrique at the beginning of the season. Though Liriano was serviceable for the last few months of the season, the Twins released him in the spring of 1991 thanks to the play of rookie Chuck Knoblauch.

SS Greg Gagne .235/.280/.361 7 HR 73 OPS+ -1.1 BFW 7 WS 2.8 WAR
A search for “Gagne” in the archives of The Sporting News for 1990 returns just two hits. He didn’t make the news much and was easy to take for granted. Once again almost all of Gagne’s value came from his defense at shortstop, but it was more than enough value for the Twins.

3B Gary Gaetti .229/.274/.376 16 HR 76 OPS+ -1.0 BFW 13 WS 1.7 WAR
Gaetti’s production slipped even further off of his three year peak (1986-1988) and, unfortunately for him, it came in the 31-year-old’s contract year (though he was locked up for the Twins through 1992, he became a free agent thanks to a collusion ruling). He said all of the right things about wanting to remain in Minnesota, but ultimately seemed hurt that the team would not offer him more than a three-year deal. He signed with the Angels for reportedly about the same money he would have gotten from the Twins. Gaetti remained in the league for another 10 seasons, playing for California, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, and Boston before finally hanging up his spikes in 2000 at the age of 41. He never again enjoyed the success he had at his peak, but played remarkably well for his age in the late 1990′s.

Upon Gaetti’s departure, Kent Hrbek remarked that it felt to him like the old gang was breaking up. Of the original group that came up through the minor leagues, took their lumps together in 1982, and ultimately reached the World Series in 1987, only Hrbek and Randy Bush remained.

LF Dan Gladden .275/.314/.376 5 HR 88 OPS+ -0.3 BFW 11 WS -1.3 WAR
Gladden did not like losing, and that became evident as the last-place season wore on. Gladden became more and more vocal about decisions the team was making. Particularly frustrating to Gladden was the team’s decision to promote Paul Abbott to from Portland when Kevin Tapani was injured in the late summer. Gladden did not like that Abbott, with a 5-14 record at Portland, was promoted instead of other pitchers who had winning records. His public comments quite possibly setting the stage for his departure following the 1991 season.

CF Kirby Puckett .298/.365/.446 12 HR 120 OPS+ 1.6 BFW 22 WS 2.3 WAR
The first season of Puckett’s record-setting contract looked a lot like previous years. While the trend of power numbers coming down continued from 1989, he was still one of the best hitters and most valuable bats in the league. Of note, perhaps, is the fact that 1990 represented a break for Puckett from winning the AL Gold Glove. It may be due to Tom Kelly’s use of Shane Mack in center and his frankness in the fact that he felt Mack would catch more balls than Puckett. Uncharacteristically of the game’s most inert award, the Gold Glove came back to Puckett in both 1991 and 1992.

RF Shane Mack .326/.392/.460 8 HR 132 OPS+ 2.0 BFW 14 WS 2.5 WAR
The Twins grabbed Mack in the 1989 Rule V draft in hopes that he might be the answer to their problems in right field. Mack performed better than the Twins thought he would, and was one of the team’s most valuable players in 1990.

DH Gene Larkin .269/.343/.392 5 HR 100 OPS+ -0.6 BFW 9 WS -0.9 WAR

RF/DH/1B Randy Bush .243/.338/.387 6 HR 97 OPS+ -0.3 BFW 3 WS 0.0 WAR

OF John Moses .221/.303/.267 1 HR 57 OPS+ -1.1 BFW 1 WS -0.8 WAR

1982: Felton Drops to 0-14

August 11, 2010

Wednesday August 11, 1982

1982 is not a season that is remembered fondly by Twins fans, and Terry Felton may have just been the “face” of that first season in the Metrodome. It’s not that he was particularly good or bad, in fact his ERA heading into the August 11 game against California was 4.79 – not a great number to be sure, but not terrible (AL ERA that year was 4.08).

Felton, a right-handed pitcher, was selected by the Twins in the second round of the 1976 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in 1979, but was used sparingly and entered the 1982 season with just seven career appearances and an 0-3 win/loss record.

After making a few relief appearances in early 1982, Felton started a game on April 17. The Twins lost 6-2, with Felton allowing five runs on 10 hits to earn his first loss of the season. 12 days later, Felton came on to pitch the 10th inning in Seattle after Ron Davis and the Twins blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning. Felton pitched a scoreless 10th but allowed the winning run to score when Todd Cruz hit a walk-off home run to lead off the 11th.

He lost his next two starts in early May, not reaching the sixth inning in either. Felton lost three consecutive appearances in late June, all game in which he entered late with a tie score or a one run lead. And so it went. When he entered another tie game and lost on August 4, Felton’s record stood at 0-10 on the season, 0-13 for his career – one loss shy of the worst record to start a career in major league history (held by Guy Morton whose “accomplishment” occurred in 1914).

On August 11, in a game against the first-place Angels, Felton entered with the score tied and two outs in the sixth inning. Starter Jack O’Connor was removed after he had allowed the tying run to score on a double by Don Baylor. When Felton entered, Baylor was still at second. Felton retired the only man he faced in the sixth, but got himself into some major trouble in the seventh. With two on and two out, Felton allowed a single off the bat of Doug DeCinces. Two runs scored and the Angels went ahead.

Though Felton was removed from the game, two batter later Don Baylor put any suspense to rest with a grand slam off of Ron Davis. The Angels won 6-3, and Felton held a dubious record.

He went on to lose two more games, bringing his final career total to 0-16.

The Franchise 1989 (Part 2)

August 10, 2010

Roster/Stats (Pitchers)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1989

SP Frank Viola 8-12 3.79 ERA 110 ERA+ 1.24 WHIP 3.30 FIP 0.7 PW 10 WS 3.0 WAR
The Twins took a but of a PR hit in the aftermath of the Frank Viola trade. Here are Pat Reusse’s thoughts from the Star Tribune on 8/1/1989:

Throw away the hankies. Put the sweatshirts in mothballs. Erase the videotapes of Game 7.

The Twins said goodbye to the ’80s and the goodwill that went with it. The ’90s are arriving with another rebuilding project.

Smilin’ Carl Pohlad and Andy MacPhail have decided to trade Viola and his $7.9 million for a number of pitching suspects. They better be right, because last night the World Series officially became ancient history and kid gloves are coming off.

Go ahead, folks, take your shots. It’s open season on the Twins.

…and, the same columnist a week later…

This is a trade for which Pohlad, MacPhail and Bell deserve at least as much admiration from the local sporting public as Calvin Griffith received on Feb. 3, 1979, when he sent a first baseman named Rod Carew to California for a veteran middle reliever named Paul Hartzell and above-average prospects Ken Landreaux, Dave Engle and Brad Havens.

It’s the same trade, with the same motive. Only the names and the salary-inflation spiral have changed.

History, of course, vindicated this trade, but in 1989 it was hard to see Frank Viola playing for another team. He left the Twins with a career 112-93 record, a 3.86 ERA (111 ERA+), and a Cy Young award and World Series championship to his credit.

SP Allan Anderson 17-10 3.80 ERA 110 ERA+ 1.36 WHIP 3.97 FIP 0.5 PW 12 WS 2.4 WAR
With Viola on his way out, Anderson became the ace of the staff. He pitched well for the second consecutive year, and seemed to give the Twins lots of hope for the future.

SP Roy Smith 10-6 3.92 ERA 107 ERA+ 1.34 WHIP 4.33 FIP 0.2 PW 10 WS 2.4 WAR
Smith, who was acquired from the Indians in the 1986 Ken Schrom trade, had a few short stints with the Twins between 1986 and 1988. The 27-year-old finally got the chance for some regular playing time in 1989 and made the most of it. Smith felt he had pitched well enough to earn a regular job, but he was bumped from the rotation late in the season as the Twins made an effort to get a few rookies in the mix. There was some talk that Smith might be the team’s long reliever in 1990, an idea that he was not too fond of.

SP Shane Rawley 5-12 5.21 ERA 80 ERA+ 1.57 WHIP 4.77 FIP -1.6 PW 3 WS 0.2 WAR
The Twins tried to get some value from the Tom Herr debacle by making the unhappy infielder the centerpiece of a deal to bring Shane Rawley to the pitching staff. The 33-year-old left-hander had some good seasons with Philadephia, the best of which came during the hitter-friendly year of 1987. He seemed to be struggling in 1988 with an 8-16 record. While conventional wisdom generally chalked that record up to bad look, Rawley’s underlying numbers suggest that 8-16 was probably about right for how well he pitched. He had almost an identical season for the Twins in 1989, and it became clear that Rawley’s problem was not bad luck, but that he just wasn’t that great of a pitcher at this stage of his career. He never returned to the major leagues after 1989.

SP Rick Aguilera 3-5 3.21 ERA 130 ERA+ 1.16 WHIP 2.83 FIP 0.7 PW 5 WS 1.5 WAR
Aguilera was the most well-known of the players the Twins received in the Viola trade thanks to his post season experience in 1986. With just Aggie alone, the trade already seemed to be paying dividends for the Twins by the end of the 1989 season:

Aggie w/Twins 11 GS 75.2 IP 3-5 3.21 ERA 130 ERA+ 17 BB 57 K
Viola w/Mets 12 GS 85.1 IP 5-5 3.38 ERA 98 ERA+ 27 BB 73 K

SP Mike Dyer 4-7 4.82 ERA 87 ERA+ 1.56 WHIP 3.73 FIP -0.9 PW 2 WS 0.0 WAR
The Twins drafted Dyer in the fourth round of the 1986 draft. He made his major league debut in 1989. In his only season with the Twins, Dyer was used primarily as a starting pitcher. His most successful seasons, from 1994-1996 with Pittsburgh and Montreal, Dyer was primarily a relief pitcher.

CL Jeff Reardon 5-4 4.07 ERA 103 ERA+ 1.10 WHIP 3.54 FIP 0.2 PW 11 WS 1.0 WAR
“The Terminator’s” last year with the Twins was, quality-wise, an awful lot like his first (1987). Like 1987, he struggled early on. Reardon’s fastball did not seem to have its usual velocity for the first two months of the season. Once he regained his regular velocity, things went much better. Reardon pitched well down the stretch and ended with what looks like a league-average season for a closer. Reardon left after the season as a free agent and signed with the Boston Red Sox. He had one great year with the Twins (1988), but will always be remembered as one of the last pieces to fit into place for the 1987 World Series run.

RP Juan Berenguer 9-3 3.48 ERA 120 ERA+ 1.35 WHIP 3.74 FIP 0.8 PW 9 WS 1.2 WAR
On May 27, the Twins and the Texas Rangers exchanged pleasantries on the field in a game that included several brush back pitches. At the center of the issue was Juan Berenguer, who threw one pitch four feet over the head of Texas shortstop Scott Fletcher. After hearing that manager Bobby Valentine made some comments about Berenguer’s pitch, Juan responded:

He thinks he is a smart manager, but he is dumb. That pitch was not that close. Next time, it might be closer.

RP Gary Wayne 3-4 3.30 ERA 127 ERA+ 1.28 WHIP 3.90 FIP 0.6 PW 6 WS 0.9 WAR
Wayne was originally drafted by the Expos in 1984, but the Twins grabbed him in the rule V draft following the 1988 season. He pitched very well as a left-handed specialist in 60 appearances with the Twins.

The Franchise 1989 (Part 1)

August 4, 2010

1989 Minnesota Twins

Manager: Tom Kelly 4th Season (4th with Minnesota 268-241)
80 W 82 L 740 RS 738 RA 5th AL West 19.0 GB (Oakland 99-63)
4.57 RPG (AL = 4.29) 4.28 ERA (AL = 3.88)
.694 DER (8th AL)

All-Stars (2) Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett

Franchise (1901-1989) 6548-7157-110; 19-25 Post Season; 15-18 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1989) 2334-2293-6; 11-14 Post Season; 7-7 WS

After the success the team had in 1987 and 1988, the result of the 1989 season was a huge disappointment for Twins fans. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, Oakland seemed to be well on their way to winning the West, and the attention that was focused on the Twins had them in the role of seller. The big bargaining chip they had to play was last year’s Cy Young award winner, Frank Viola. The trade was the topic of Twins-related conversation in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and the weeks after, though the fruits of the deal would not be fully realized until 1991.

Roster/Stats (Hitters)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1989

C Brian Harper .325/.353/.449 8 HR 119 OPS+ 0.8 BFW 14 WS 2.4 WAR
C Tim Laudner .222/.293/.351 6 HR 77 OPS+ -0.7 BFW 3 WS -0.1 WAR
Harper was known as an good-hitting catcher but not necessarily a great defender for the bulk of his career. Interestingly, it was his defensive improvement that probably helped him earn the job as the starting catcher for the Twins. The team was unhappy with Tim Laudner’s defense, tried out a few other backstops in spring training (including Minnesota native Greg Olson), but ultimately began the season with Laudner behind the plate. Harper continued to hit early in the season while Laudner slumped, but the team continuously referred to Harper’s improved defense as the reason for the change.

1B Kent Hrbek .272/.360/.517 25 HR 139 OPS+ 1.5 BFW 18 WS 3.4 WAR
1989 marked the third in a string of seasons for Hrbek in which he was among the top first basemen in baseball. Hrbek missed more than a month of the season due to a dislocated shoulder suffered while diving for a ball in mid-May.

2B Wally Backman .231/.306/.284 1 HR 63 OPS+ -3.0 BFW 4 WS -0.9 WAR
2B/IF Al Newman .253/.341/.303 0 HR 78 OPS+ -1.9 BFW 11 WS 0.9 WAR
Two major holes the Twins felt they had in the late 1980′s were at second base and in the second spot in the batting order. Tom Herr was a bust in 1988, so the Twins acquired 29-year-old veteran Wally Backman in hopes of filling those holes. Backman did not end the string for the Twins, having one of his worst in his career. He spent 53 days on the disabled list with a rotator cuff problem, but blamed the American League for most of his hitting problems. He was granted free agency and returned to the National League with the Pirates in 1990, and had a much better season, leaving the Twins still searching for answers at second base and in the two spot.

SS Greg Gagne .272/.298/.424 9 HR 96 OPS+ -0.2 BFW 12 WS 3.5 WAR
Gagne’s consistency earned him $1 million for 1990 in salary arbitration, but he and the Twins were unable to come to terms on a long term deal, meaning that Gagne would be an unrestricted free agent after the 1990 season.

3B Gary Gaetti .251/.286/.404 19 HR 88 OPS+ -0.1 BFW 12 WS 1.1 WAR
At the age of 30, Gaetti took a pretty big step back in 1989. From 1986-1988 his OPS was .849 (125 OPS+). Prior to that stretch, Gaetti’s OPS was .704 (89 OPS+). In 1989, he reverted to his pre-1986 form. While his strikeout rate remained pretty consistent, he walked a lot less in 1989, and only 27% of his hits were for extra bases compared with averages in the high 40′s for the previous three seasons. All in all it was a season to forget for Gary Gaetti.

LF Dan Gladden .295/.331/.410 8 HR 103 OPS+ 0.4 BFW 12 WS 1.1 WAR
Though he still didn’t get on base as much as you would want a lead off man to, Gladden’s .331 OBP was his high as a member of the Twins. 1989 also marked the end of Gladden’s career as a major league pitcher. His mop-up duty for a game marked his second appearance and second inning pitched. He finished with a 4.50 ERA.

CF Kirby Puckett .339/.379/.465 9 HR 131 OPS+ 3.5 BFW 27 WS 4.3 WAR
Puckett entered the last day of the season in a virtual tie with Carney Lansford for the AL batting title. He had what seemed like a comfortable lead a few days earlier, but went 0-for-7 in the two games prior to make the last day decisive. Puckett went 2-for-5 against Seattle, while Lansford went 0-for-3, giving Kirby his first and only batting title. While his home runs were down from the bar he had set in the previous years, Puckett hit a career-high 45 doubles. He only struck out 59 times, a rate of 8.6 %, which was a career low. It all added up to another great season for Puckett, who used it as leverage and signed a contract after the season was over to become the first baseball player to make $3 million per year.

RF Randy Bush .263/.347/.435 14 HR 114 OPS+ 0.4 BFW 13 WS -0.4 WAR
While Randy Bush was a well-liked player and a good hitter, Tom Kelly and the Twins’ organization did  not seem to thrilled with the fact that he was the everyday right fielder.

DH Jim Dwyer .316/.390/.404 3 HR 119 OPS+ 0.4 BFW 6 WS 0.8 WAR
The Twins traded for Dwyer at the end of the 1988 season to try and fill the hole at DH. The 39-year-old did an admirable job, especially against right-handed pitchers. So well-regarded was Dwyer that he actually batted clean up for a spell when Hrbek was injured. The Twins traded Dwyer to the Expos late in the season, but he would be back to finish his career with the Twins.

1B/DH/OF Gene Larkin .267/.353/.368 6 HR 99 OPS+ -0.8 BFW 11 WS 0.7 WAR
OF John Moses .281/.333/.368 1 HR 93 OPS+ -0.1 BFW 8 WS -0.2 WAR
OF Carmelo Castillo
.257/.305/.454 8 HR 106 OPS+ 0.1 BFW 5 WS -0.5 WAR


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