May 21, 1999
In December of 1998 Jim Pohlad announced that management of the Minnesota Twins was interested in playing the 1999 season with a payroll between $11-12 million. Since the actual number was closer to $19 million at the time, it was inevitable that cuts were coming.
Most everyone figured that the first target for cuts would be reliever Rick Aguilera, who had been with the team since 1990 minus a short stint with the Red Sox at the end of the 1995 season. Aguilera had just signed a one-year contract extension worth $3.25 million in September, making the 37-year-old the highest paid Twin. The contract included a no-trade clause, meaning that Aguilera had significant control over the process.
Aguilera had made it clear that he wanted the deal done by early June, so there was a bit of urgency on the part of Terry Ryan. Aggie had narrowed his short list down to three teams, with a strong preference to play for the Chicago Cubs.
With very little leverage, Ryan pulled the trigger on a deal with the Cubs that was less than well received by the Minnesota writers and fans. From Patrick Reusse’s column the next day:
“It was no secret in baseball what we had to do,” Ryan said. “And when you only have one or two clubs to talk to, it’s tough.”
That said, manager Tom Kelly and the Twins’ remaining players and that small group of Minnesotans still with an interest in the team had a right to expect that Aguilera – one of the game’s elite – could bring one player capable of bolstering the worst team in the American League.
Friday’s deal did not come close to accomplishing that. The Twins received two righthanded pitchers: Jason Ryan, in his sixth year in pro ball and still in Class AA, and Kyle Lohse, a 29th-round draft choice in 1997 who is now in his second season in Class A.
“I’m going to get ripped up and down for this,” Ryan said. “I know that. I understand that. But we did the best thing for the player (Aguilera), and we did the best thing for this club.
Aggie finished the 1999 season with the Cubs and played out the 2000 season before retiring. He pitched well in Chicago, with a 4.91 ERA – which translated to a 104 ERA+ in the late 1990’s.
Jason Ryan ended up pitching in a total of 24 major league games, all with the Twins, over the course of two seasons. He finished the 2000 season with a career 5.94 ERA (84 ERA+). Kyle Lohse, of course, had more success with the Twins, remaining a mainstay in the starting rotation during the team’s three AL Central division titles from 2002-2004. He may be best remembered, however, as the player who took a bat to Ron Gardenhire’s door.
Though the trade may have ended up working out for the Twins, Reusse captured the angst that was Twins fandom in 1999:
The rips could come, one after another, but why bother?
Commissioner Bud Selig and his brain trust have no plan to restore baseball’s dignity in more than a dozen big-league locations, Minnesota included.
Pohlad’s pathetic stewardship and the Twins’ poor-stepchild status have so disillusioned the sporting public that there is an absence of outrage and an abundance of indifference.
We can slash and we can carve and we can rip, but why bother? Carl Pohlad doesn’t care that big-league baseball has become an embarrassment in Minnesota, and he holds the franchise. And the fans – they went numb long ago.
A typical Twin Cities sports bar conversation went like this Friday night:
Fan A: “Hey, I just heard the Twins traded Rick Aguilera.”
Fan B: “Speaking of that, how long do you think it will before Daunte Culpepper gets a chance to play for the Vikings?”
Pohlad doesn’t care. The fans are numb. An old, beat-up sports columnist can’t even muster a string of insults. Only Tom Kelly can still get his feelings hurt by something as vulgar as trading a premier closer for two minor league pitchers of highly suspect credentials.
Ryan and Kelly had an unpleasant conversation when the manager was told officially on Friday that Aguilera was gone and nothing was coming in return. Later, someone said to Kelly: “Aguilera was the last member of the gang of ’91.”
Kelly offered a pained smile and said: “Yup. It’s too bad.”
Kelly paused, then said: “That’s a long time ago, I guess.”