1995: Twins trade away Aguilera and Erickson

Before I start, it’s worth remembering Patrick Reusse’s thoughts (which seemed to be indicitave of most Twins fans’ thoughts) on the Frank Viola trade.

July 6, 1995

Here’s excerpts of Reusse’s column from July 8:

Frank Viola was traded to the New York Mets on July 31, 1989, for what turned out to be five pitchers: Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage.

General manager Andy MacPhail said a simple look at the standings – the Twins were 51-53 and 12 1/2 games removed from first place – was evidence that there was a need to rebuild the pitching staff. Several members of the media disagreed, suggesting this was a give-up deal intended to save money for a tight-fisted owner, Smilin’ Carl Pohlad.

MacPhail’s theory turned out to be correct. With Tapani and Aguilera in vital roles, the Twins won a second World Series championship in 1991.

Thursday, Terry Ryan – MacPhail’s successor as general manager – took action. Even if the primary motive was to save money, there can be no arguing that this shakeup was done in the best interest of Minnesota’s big-league franchise.

The Twins entered the Boston series at 20-44 and 24 1/2 games out of first place. The payroll was sitting at $26 million, about what the Twins had paid earlier in this decade when they were winning and Pohlad was receiving $14 million per year in national TV revenue.

That $14 million was set to decline substantially in 1994 and has been all but wiped out as baseball goes through its post-strike miseries in 1995.

Even those folks who have referred to Pohlad as Mr. Cheap in the past could not expect the Twins to operate with a horrible ballclub, minimal TV revenue, lousy attendance and an unchanged payroll.

So, Aguilera 33, and one of baseball’s premier closers for five seasons, and his $3.8 million salary were traded to Boston for a pitching prospect, Frankie Rodriguez, and a player to be determined.

Reusse reported that one star player wasn’t very happy with the deal.

Rodriguez found out about the trade in the seventh inning, when Kirby Puckett ran past the Boston bullpen on the way to right field and said: “Hey, Frankie. Tomorrow night. This uniform.”

Later, Puckett lashed out against the trade, saying: “This is garbage. They don’t want to win around here.”

Have you looked at the standings lately, Puck? They are not winning around here. The Twins – and that includes you – have been losing at an astounding pace.

Rodriguez was considered Boston’s top pitching prospect at the start of the season, but his stock had fallen due to a few shaky outings in his first major league appearances that made him carry to Minnesota a 10.57 ERA. Rodriguez also brought a past with him, having been charged and convicted of statutory rape in 1992. Still, Reusse was favorable towards the trade:

A closer such as Aguilera is a necessity on a contending team. A closer such a Aguilera, in the last hours before he could veto any trade, is a wasted accessory on a last-place team.

Rodriguez might not make it, but there is hope he could become a star, just as there was hope for Viola in 1982 and 1983, when he went a combined 11-25 for the Twins.

Aguilera’s response to the trade was reported as “classy as usual.” Not so for his former teammate who was traded the next day.

July 7, 1995

It was announced a day later that the rumored Scott Erickson deal to Baltimore was official. Erickson would move east in exchange for Scott Klingenbeck and another PTBNL.

Erickson had some parting shots for the organization, as reported by Jim Souhan:

Erickson packed his belongings, left the Metrodome and criticized the Twins for dealing him and closer Rick Aguilera.

“I feel bad for the guys,” Erickson said of his former teammates. “It looks like they’re going to change the whole team. There aren’t many players left from the World Series, and that was just four years ago. It makes a fool out of everybody who’s a Minnesota Twins fan. There’s nothing to cheer for. It’s a joke for anybody who likes baseball.

“They should turn the team over to someone who wants a winning team, somebody who likes baseball.”

That barb was aimed at Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

“If the team was playing well, I wouldn’t have made these moves,” general manager Terry Ryan said.

That same day, Jim Klobuchar went after a couple of the star players that remained:

Puckett and Knoblauch now are picturing themselves as victims of the Twins’ financially benighted management.

You are reading this correctly. Neatly sequestered from the plodding, grubbing world of reality by contracts in the millions of dollars, Puckett and Knoblauch actually believe they are being abused, their professional goals being trampled.

They believe this because the Twins had to trade another of their millionaire stars, Rick Aguilera, to avoid the poor farm. Almost everybody understands why except Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch:

Two reasons why they had to trade Aguilera, and pitcher Scott Erickson a few hours later, are Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch.

He goes on…

Puckett and Knoblauch say the Twins trading Aguilera means the Twins don’t want to win.

This is a baseball management that is paying Puckett and Knoblauch a combined $8 million to lead a team that has perpetrated some of the worst baseball ever aired publicly in Minnesota.

Franz Kafka could have written the scene. First, the negotiations: Ballplayers hypnotized by gold threaten to embarrass the management. They threaten to leave town, find somebody else or go to court unless they get the last ounce available.

They get it. The team has to keep some of its stars. It’s part of the creed of credibility, the contract with the fans. Nobody said there hadn’t been gluttony on the part of baseball ownership in the past. We’re talking about where it is today.

So now, the team loses. It loses some more. It loses and loses. The fans, disgusted by the competing greeds of last summer and this spring, start watching movies and looking for tornadoes instead of going to ballgames. Facing millions of dollars in losses and oceans of empty seats because of the team’s ineptness, the team slips into a crisis. Aguilera gets more than $3 million, but he almost never plays. He’s paid to finish games that are about to be won. The Twins almost never found themselves in that condition from April through the 4th of July.

What Knoblauch and Puckett seem to be saying is this:

Pay us what we want or we’re out of here.

Guarantee us a winning team so we can feel good about making a combined $8 million.

Keep everybody who wants to make every dime he can get.

If you don’t, you’re cheap. If you don’t have the money, get it. If you don’t get the money and we don’t win, you’re to blame, not us, and we may have to ask for more money to take counseling because this is bound to affect our self-esteem.

How did the trades work out for the Twins in the long run?

Aguilera became a free agent after finishing the 1995 season with Boston and immediately signed with the Twins. He had mixed results as as starting pitcher in 1996, but still had enough left to be a decent closer for the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Aguilera was traded to the Cubs in May of 1999 in a deal that brought young prospect Kyle Lohse to Minnesota.

Frank Rodriguez went 13-14 with a 5.05 ERA in his first full season in 1996. It would be his best season. After a particularly bad showing in 1998, the Twins let Seattle take him off of waivers.

The PTBNL in the Aguilera deal was J.J. Johnson, who never saw any major league time.

Scott Erickson pitched for Baltimore from the trade in 1995 to 2002. He had several very effective seasons, particularly in 1997 and 1998. He signed a very large contract with the Orioles after the 1998 season, but his performance fell off pretty drastically after that and he played out the rest of his career with a variety of injury problems.

Scott Klingenbeck appeared in a total of 28 games for the Twins between 1995 and 1996. The Twins sent him to the Reds in the spring of 1997 as part of a conditional deal, and ended up getting nothing in return.

Kimera Bartee was the PTBNL who was sent to the Twins at the end of the 1995 season. The Orioles reclaimed the outfield prospect two months later in the rule V draft, but let him go on waivers before the 1996 season started. Bartee played four years with Detroit.

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