1997: The Chuck Knoblauch Trade

After years of speculation that Knoblauch may be moved, a deal was finally made that sent him to the Yankees following the 1997 season. It was a bit of an ugly separation, and turned violent for a short time in 2001.

In researching this, I found a couple of trade evaluations, one from a Twins perspective, and one from a Yankees perspective. Both are worth reading in their entirety, but I will excerpt just a bit…

First, the details from the hometown view:

Knoblauch would play four up-and-down seasons with the Yankees, but would win three World Series Championships.  He famously lost the ability to throw from second to first, and thus was no longer the overall excellent player he was in Minnesota.  He was still an excellent offensive player in ’98 and ’99.

Guzman became the Twins’ starting shortstop in 1999, at the age of 21.  He would remain in that role for six seasons and he was at times a very exciting player.  Milton immediately entered the rotation and gave the Twins 165 starts over the next six seasons.  He will also be the subject of one of these features in a few weeks.  Buchanan debuted in 2000, showed some power, but was gone by 2002.  Mota pitched 5.1 innings for the Twins in 2000 and was out of baseball after the following season.

How did I feel at the time?

Angry.  The Twins had completed their fifth straight losing season and now they were trading their best player?  What gives?  After the ’94 season, Kent Hrbek retired.  After the ’95 season, Kirby Puckett retired.  In ’95, the Twins traded Scott Erickson, Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera.  It was adding up to be too much.  I distinctly remember being very angry about this trade.

The bottom line analysis:

This was a fantastic trade for the Twins.  They unloaded an unhappy player and acquired two six-year starters.  Guzman did not develop as many had hoped, but he did provide good value at a premium position for over half a decade.  The trade worked for the Yankees too.  They got two very good offensive seasons from Knoblauch and he helped them win three straight World Series titles by filling a need on their team.  He retired much sooner than anyone would have guessed, but did so with four Championships on his resume.

…and from the evil empire:

Twelve years earlier, the Yanks made a similar trade, one that turned a weakness into a strength at the cost of minor league depth. After watching their second basemen hit .282-.331-.362 with just five homers in 1997, the worst production the team received from any position besides catcher, rookie GM Brian Cashman acquired All Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins. Cashman had succeeded Bob Watson as the team’s general manager just five days before the trade was completed, so he wasted no time making a big splash.

Of course, Knoblauch was very outspoken about his desire to be traded, forcing GM Terry Ryan’s hand. The Twins won just 68 games in 1997 and hadn’t made the playoffs in six years, and the 29-year-old didn’t want to spend his prime years duking it out for fourth place in the AL Central. So, in early February of 1998, just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers were due to report, the two sides consummated the following deal:

Yankees Received
2B Chuck Knoblauch

Twins Received
LHP Eric Milton
SS Cristian Guzman
OF Brian Buchanan
RHP Danny Mota
Cash (Wikipedia says $3M)

At the time of the trade, none of the four players the Twins received had yet to appear in the majors, while Knoblauch was coming off a four year stretch in which he hit .319-.413-.468 with 188 stolen bases while making four All Star appearances. His 127 OPS+ during those four years was higher than Roberto Alomar’s (124). The trade gave the Yanks a veteran lead off hitter, pushing young phenom Derek Jeter down to what would become his customary two-hole.

The final analysis from the Yankees:

The Twins quartet provided their team with a combined 17.1 wins above replacement, mostly thanks to Milton obviously. That doesn’t include the contributions they got from Silva, Punto, and Bartlett, but we can’t count that against the Yanks here because Minnesota might have made those trades anyway, just with different players.

While the Twins got the better end of the on-the-field production here – and there’s no denying that – the Yankees did win four pennants and three World Series with Knoblauch in the lineup every day. Unlike say the Brewers and CC Sabathia, the Yanks didn’t forfeit a significant part of the future for just one playoff appearance here.

In the end, this trade was a classic win-win. The Twins got exactly what they were looking for, two legitimate big leaguers and a little extra, while the Yankees got what they wanted in the form of championships. Minnesota’s reward is easily measured in WAR, but Knoblauch was a part of a dynasty in New York, and it’s impossible to put a number on that. Hindsight is 20-20, and I’d bet that both sides would do this deal again 100 times out of 100.

On more link of interest on the Knoblauch trade. This one includes a family tree chart of what became of the players the Twins acquired for Knoblauch. It is slightly dated now, but interesting nonetheless.

Knoblauch’s exit from Minnesota was a bit of a mess, but the trade Terry Ryan orchestrated was a very good one for the Twins. Knoblauch provided some value to the Yankees, then got a case of the yips and had a spotty last few years of his playing career. There have been a number of off the field issues as well.

Still, Knoblauch is among the all-time Twins greats, and will rightfully take his place in the Twins Hall of Fame this summer.



One Response to 1997: The Chuck Knoblauch Trade

  1. Thanks for another great post, Scot. Always enjoy perspective you add, and analysis.

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