1988: Brunansky for Herr

Originally posted at Tony, the Killer, and Carew on 4/26/2007. For more on the trade, here is the report from my Hot Stove 1988 series a few years back.

April 22, 1988

Fresh off of the club’s first ever World Championship, the Twins’ front office was looking for another. Impatient with the team’s 4-10 start, it seemed inevitable that a shakeup was going to occur. That shakeup was announced shortly after an 11-6 home loss to lowly Cleveland.

The Twins announced that they were trading 27-year old Tom Brunansky, a six-year regular in right field for the Twins, to the Cardinals for 32-year old second baseman Tom Herr.

Brunansky originally came to the Twins from the California Angels in a 1982 trade that sent Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong to the Angels. Brunansky immediately became the team’s starting right fielder, and didn’t relinquish that spot until he was traded to the Cardinals. The Twins had come to expect pretty consistent numbers from Bruno, who quickly became a fan favorite in Minnesota. He generally only hit in the .240-.250 range, but was a patient hitter and had some power. He started slowly in 1988, batting only .184/.286/.265 with one home run; a line that likely made him expendable in the eyes of GM Andy MacPhail.

The previous fall, Tom Herr had competed against the Twins in the World Series. He batted .250/.300/.357 in seven games against his future team in a losing effort in the series. From the time he had signed as an amateur free-agent as an 19-year-old in 1974, Herr had been a part of the Cardinals’ organization. He had some good offensive seasons, most notably in 1985 when he hit .302/.379/.416 for an NL Championship team; but Herr was mostly known for his glove, although today’s defensive metrics indicate that he was a touch overrated in that department.

Andy MacPhail, quoted by Mark Vancil in the Star Tribune (4/23/88), explained his reasoning.

“It’s tough to do when a guy has done so much for the club for several years,” said MacPhail. “We just felt we needed to improve our balance, and I think Tommy Herr is one of the four or five best second basemen in all of baseball. He gives us a lefthanded bat at the front of the order and he can steal a base.”

It was speculated that this move would be followed by a move sending Steve Lombardozzi away in exchange for a starting pitcher, but that move never came to fruition. Lombo was never a big hitter, and, like most Twins, had a poor start in 1988 (.094/.194/.188 at the time of the trade).

To replace Brunansky in right, the Twins looked to 29-year-old Randy Bush. Bush made his reputation as a versatile back up and a good left-handed pinch hitter, but had few chances to play a regular position with the Twins. Bush figured to give the Twins a similar hitting line as Brunansky, with a lower slugging percentage and fewer home runs.

The 1988 numbers tell part of the story of this trade:

Tom Brunansky STL 143 G .245/.345/.428 22 HR 79 RBI 121 OPS+ 7.6 WARP3
Tom Herr MIN 86 G .263/.349/.326 1 HR 21 RBI 89 OPS+ 2.9 WARP3

The story the numbers don’t tell is that Tom Herr did not want to play for the Twins. The first wind of it showed up in the papers three weeks after the trade, when Herr was quoted saying that he felt like an “intruder” in Minnesota. By the end of May, Herr had already announced that he would not return to the team in 1989. He took a trip on the DL in the middle of the season, though many on the team and in the media privately believed that the injury may have been in Herr’s head.

The Twin Cities media had passed judgment on Herr, and the writing was on the wall. Herr was eventually traded to Philadelphia as part of the deal that brought Shane Rawley to the Twins. The Twins had some trouble filling the second base position for several years, and didn’t really settle on a regular until Chuck Knoblauch’s rookie season in 1991.

The immediate impact of the trade looked horrible for the Twins, but as the years passed history was a little more kind to MacPhail. Brunansky lasted in the majors until 1994. Aside from a mini-resurgence with the Red Sox in 1992, he never really returned the the form that had made him a favorite in Minnesota. The Twins ultimately got one poor season from Tom Herr and one poor season from Shane Rawley in exchange for Bruno. While it wasn’t as bad as it initially looked, it is not one of the proudest trades in Twins’ history.

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One Response to 1988: Brunansky for Herr

  1. GM says:

    Isn’t the right comparision how Bush + Herr compare to Bruno + Lombardozzi? I have no idea how that comes out — maybe even worse for the Twins — but it seems to me one has to look at the total change made to the starting lineup. I would imagine MacPhail’s thought was along the lines of: we might nearly break even in right field, but we’ll be much better at 2B.

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