The Franchise 1997 (Pitchers)

May 6, 2014

SP Brad Radke 4.6 WAR
On June 2, Radke lost a decision to the Texas Rangers when he allowed 4 runs on 13 hits in 6 innings of work. The loss dropped his record to 4-5 on the season with an ERA of 5.00. He did not lose again for more than two months. During that time, he started 12 game, and won all 12 of them. During that time, opposing hitters hit .210/.254/.299/.553 off of him. He allowed 70 hits and just 24 runs in 91.1 innings pitched. It was as dominant of a stretch as any pitcher had had in the major leagues, and it made Brad Radke the focus of the baseball world for much of the summer, with his name being mentioned alongside Roger Clemens who had a similar streak earlier in the season. Radke probably had a couple of seasons in which he pitched better overall, but 1997 is the season he is still recognized for because of the streak and the magical 20-win milestone.

SP Bob Tewksbury 3.2 WAR
36-year-old Bob Tewksbury signed with the Twins as a free agent prior to the 1997 season. By that time, he had played for five different major league teams over the course of 12 seasons, but he was best known for his time with the Cardinals from 1989-1994. His underlying numbers were solid, but an 8-13 record meant the season was mostly seen as mediocre. Consider: Tewksbury FIP: 3.51; Radke FIP: 3.81.

SP Rich Robertson -0.4 WAR
Robertson pitched worse than he did in his 7-17 season of 1996. He joined Anaheim as a free agent but pitched only 5.1 innings in the major leagues after 1997.

SP LaTroy Hawkins -0.2 WAR
Hawkins was drafted by the Twins in the 7th round of the 1991 draft out of West Side High School in Gary, Indiana. He appeared in 13 games for the Twins in 1995 and 1996, but got his first extended major league time in 1997.

SP Scott Aldred -1.0 WAR
After a decent year with the Twins in 1996, Aldred had a rough time in 1997. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998.

CL Rick Aguilera 1.4 WAR
The Aguilera as a starter experiment ended after just one season. There was a lot of uncertainty in the spring as to whether Aguilera would start or close, and even whether he’d pitch at all due to some lingering injuries. His usage in spring made it clear that he had been moved back to the bullpen. Whether it was due to being back at his familiar role, or if it was because he was healthy again, Aggie was back to being one of the better closers in the game. The 35-year-old, however, was no longer as dominant as he had been in the early to mid 90’s.

RP Frank Rodriguez 1.0 WAR
Despite emerging as a league average starter for the Twins in 1996, the 24-year-old was mainly a long reliever for the Twins in 1997. After spending the first month and a half of the season in the rotation, Rodriguez was demoted because of a 6.49 ERA. Despite the terrible start and demotion, Rodriguez ended the year with about league average numbers, very similar to his 1996 performance.

RP Greg Swindell 2.7 WAR
Swindell was a 10-year veteran by the time he signed with the Twins as a free agent following the 1996 season. He was coming off a string of medicore to bad seasons, mostly with the Houston Astros. Somewhat quietly, Swindell emerged as a very good relief pitcher. 1997 was his most successful season since 1992 when he was a starter for the Cincinnati Reds.

RP Eddie Guardado 0.6 WAR
Every day Eddie “only” appeared in 69 games in 1997. It was, however, his best season as a major leaguer. His K/BB ratio was a major factor in his success. It jumped from the 1-2 range in his previous few seasons to 3.18 in 1997.

RP Todd Ritchie 0.5 WAR

RP Mike Trombley 0.6 WAR


1997: The Chuck Knoblauch Trade

May 1, 2014

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.



The Franchise 1997 (Position Players)

April 29, 2014

C Terry Steinbach 0.6 WAR
C Greg Myers 0.6 WARSteinbach was coming off of what everybody was calling his career year in Oakland, mostly due to the career high 34 HR/100 RBI (based on WAR his 1992 season was better – 1992: 4.0; 1996: 3.4). It seemed a slam dunk that the A’s should offer the 34-year-old arbitration, but Oakland seemed hesitant due to concerns with an overall team payroll approaching $25 million. Ultimately Steinbach signed with the Twins for slightly less than the A’s were offering. It seemed like a great fit, another case of a hometown hero coming to play for the Twins along the same lines as Morris, Winfield, and Molitor, and for his part Steinbach said that playing for his hometown team was the only factor behind the move. Whatever the reason, Steinbach did not produce the way he had in Oakland. In fact, it was by most measures his worst professional season.

1B Scott Stahoviak -0.2 WAR
After a solid 1996, the Twins were hoping Stahoviak would continue to improve. 1997 didn’t start well for him. He broke a bone in his finger in the season opener and went on the disabled list. When he returned, he struggled. By the offseason, Stahoviak found himself off of the 40-man roster. Stahoviak appeared in 9-games in 1998, which turned out to be his final appearances in the major leagues.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 6.7 WAR
Prior to the final game of the season, Knoblauch made his feelings about playing for a losing team known when he called his agent and asked for a trade. He had once again been the sole All Star for a team that was just about to finish its fifth consecutive losing season. All-in-all 1997 wasn’t Knoblauch’s finest season, but he was still by far the most valuable asset on the team. When he was finally traded to the Yankees in the offseason, it marked the end of a 7-year stint with the Twins that included a World Series win. His final statline as a Twin: .304/.391/.416/.807. He will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame during the 2014 season. More about Knoblauch in a future post…

SS Pat Meares 2.1 WAR
Pat Meares continued to play solid short stop while struggling to hit. One thing he was among the league leaders in, however, was HBP with 16.

3B Ron Coomer 1.7 WAR
3B Todd Walker 0.3 WAR
Coomer hit 12 home runs in 253 PA’s in 1996, so it was expected that he would at least hit 20 in his first full major league season. That did not happen, however. In the middle of the season, Coomer went on drought in which he was homerless in 220 at bats. He ended the season with just 13.

“I don’t want to say I’m disappointed, but I’ve had three straight years where I’ve hit 20 or more, at different levels, and I expect to hit more homers than I have this season. I might not be a 40-homer guy, but I ought to hit more than this.”

LF Marty Cordova -0.1 WAR
Cordova fought a foot injury much of the season. It showed in his numbers, particularly career highs in strikeout rate and lows in walk rate.

CF Rich Becker 2.7 WAR
CF Darrin Jackson 0.3 WAR
Though he had another slow start at the plate, by the end of the year Rich Becker had put together another solid season. He did, however, strikeout 130 times in 443 at bats. At the end of the season, Becker was traded to the Mets for Alex Ochoa. He bounced around the league until playing his last major league game in 2000. The 33-year-0ld veteran Darrin Jackson signed as a free agent in the spring and was a PTBNL in a trade to Milwaukee before the summer was over.

RF Matt Lawton 1.0 WAR
RF Roberto Kelly 0.6 WAR
Lawton was essentially competing for the fourth outfielder spot in spring training, but made the roster and was the primary starter in right field in the 1997 season. Lawton had a very good season, and used a glove that belonged to Kirby Puckett when he played the field. Towards the end of his second season with the Twins, the veteran Roberto Kelly was traded to Seattle for two PTBNL’s, one of which turned out to be Joe Mays.

DH Paul Molitor 1.5 WAR
In his age 40 season, Molitor was still able to put up a .305/.351/.435/.786 slash line with 10 home runs. He was quoted in a TSN feature on his longevity:

The hardest part is before the game. I used to come out, hit and catch, and be ready to play. Some days my body doesn’t feel like it’s ready to respond. It’s a matter of getting ready to play. Once the game starts, I don’t feel anything.

Teammates had nothing but respect for him, including Marty Cordova

I look at him and I don’t see a 40-year-old guy. I see a young athlete the way he plays the game.

1B David Ortiz 0.1 WAR
UT Denny Hocking -0.1 WAR
A little glimpse into the future….


The Franchise 1997 (Part 1)

April 22, 2014

1997 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 12th season (12th with Minnesota 853-885)
68 W 94 L 772 RS 861 RA 4th AL Central 18.5 GB (Cleveland 86-75)
4.77 RPG (AL = 4.93) 5.00 ERA (AL = 4.56)
.681 DER (10th AL)

All Stars (1) Chuck Knoblauch

Franchise (1901-1997) 7133-7801-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1996) 2915-2937-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

If there was some hope for Twins fans based on 1996, it was dashed in 1997. The team suffered through its most miserable season since 1982 while marking the 10th anniversary of the 1987 World Series. There were some things that went right, including Brad Radke’s great season, but for the most part 1997 was forgettable. Terry Steinbach was the big offseason addition, but he failed to produce as he had the year before. Chuck Knoblauch had another great season but demanded a trade, and, perhaps worst of all, there was this.

1997 was the start of regular season interleague play. The Twins played their first game against a National League opponent on Friday, June 13 with an 8-1 victory over the Astros in Houston. Overall, the team went 7-8 in interleague play, but outscored NL opponents 76-59.

The Franchise 1996 (Pitchers)

April 15, 2014

SP Brad Radke 3.5 WAR
In just his second season, Brad Radke had already established himself as the team’s ace pitcher. Despite a an ugly 11-16 record, Radke improved in just about every other area. Radke walked 2.2 batters/9 inning pitched in 1996 – a very strong number, but the last year in Radke’s career in which that number would be north of 2.0.

SP Rick Aguilera 0.8 WAR
See previous post. Aggie had a mediocre season as a starter, but injuries and other factors may have been involved. He returned as a closer in 1997.

SP Frankie Rodriguez 1.3 WAR
Prior to the season, the Twins felt they had three solid starters: Radke, Aguilera, and Rodriguez. Frankie, of course, came to the Twins in the Aguilera trade. This would be Frankie’s best major league season, and his last as a full time starter.

SP Rich Robertson 1.5 WAR
Lefty Rich Robertson was selected off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1994 season. He didn’t have a lot of playing time with Pittsburgh, making just 17 appearances in two seasons. Roberston split time between AAA and the majors in 1995 before being made a member of the rotation in 1996. As a starter, the Texas native could be an iron man. He led the league with three shutouts in 1996, and led the Twins with 5 complete games.

SP Scott Aldred 1.0 WAR
Aldred was already a veteran when the Twins plucked him off the waiver wire in May of 1996. The 28 year old had pitched for three different major league teams.

CL Dave Stevens 0.4 WAR
When Aguilera was traded to Boston in the middle of the 1995 season, Stevens became the team’s closer. He held the position for most of the 1996 season, but started to be used in fewer save situations as the season wound down. The problem was solved in 1997 when Aguilera was moved back to the bullpen. After pitching part of the 1997 season with the Twins, Stevens was taken off waivers by the Chicago Cubs.

RP Greg Hansell -0.1 WAR
Hansell, who was originally drafted by the Red Sox in 1989, came to the Twins as a part of the Kevin Tapani trade. He made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1995, and pitched his first and only full major league season with the Twins in 1996.

RP Eddie Guardado 0.2 WAR
Guardado appeared in 30 of the team’s first 50 games. For a while he was well on pace to break the major league record for appearances in a season. Though he fell off the pace for Mike Marshall’s record of 104 appearances, he still played in 83 games in 1996.

RP Mike Trombley 2.1 WAR
Trombley learned the forkball prior to the 1996 season, and the results were immediate. He improved in almost every category as a pitcher, including better strikeout, walk, and home run rates. The results earned him a two-year contract extension.

RP Dan Naulty 0.9 WAR
Naulty was drafted by the Twins in 1992. He made his major league debut in 1996, and was the top reliever on the team until his season was cut short in August due to circulatory problems in his arm. An offseason surgery that removed a rib was expected to fix the problem, and there was even talk of Naulty taking over as closer before the decision was made to move Aguilera back to his old job.



1996: Twins Re-sign Aguilera

April 13, 2014

One of the objectives of our organization was to try to add a veteran pitcher who would come in and help some of our younger pitchers. With Rick, we are very familiar with what we have to go upon. We asked if he would consider starting, and he responded favorably.

-Terry Ryan, quoted by Scott Miller in The Sporting News, 12/25/1995

Rick Aguilera did not want to be traded to Boston during the 1995 season. He was in the midst of a career season, even by the high standards he had set since the early 1990’s. It was hard to argue that the 33-year-old was not the top closer in baseball. Still, the Twins needed young starting pitching, so General Manager Terry Ryan sent Aggie to Boston for Frankie Rodriguez and a prospect in July of 1995.

While Aguilera was interested in returning to Minnesota as a free agent after the 1995 season, the Twins were not interested in acquiring a closer. What Ryan said the team needed was a veteran starter. Though Aguilera had not started a game since 1989, he was willing to make the move in order to return to Minnesota.

He was penciled in to the number two spot in the rotation, behind Brad Radke. A spring case of tendonitis in his wrist put off Aguilera’s first start, but he finally made it on April 20, a 7-6 loss against the New York Yankees. Aggie was on a pitch count and lasted just three innings. It turned out the start came too early, and the veteran was placed back on the disabled list. After a rehab assignment, Aggie made his next start on June 11, when he allowed five runs in the first inning to the Seattle Mariners. He finally got his first win in his next start against the Tigers.

Aguilera ended the season with an 8-6 record in 19 starts for the Twins. His ERA+ as a starter was 94 (compared with a 188 ERA+ as a closer the season before). In the winter, Aguilera told Terry Ryan that he preferred to stay in the starting rotation, but ultimately was moved back to the closer role by the end of spring training 1997.

It is difficult to say how much of Aguilera’s mediocre performance as a starter in 1996 was due to the wrist injury that he never really shook. Nagging inuries continued to plague Aggie in 1997, but as a closer he was well above league average (121 ERA+), though not as dominant as he had been.

The Franchise 1996 (Position Players)

April 8, 2014

C Greg Myers 1.1 WAR
C Matt Walbeck -0.7 WAR
A comparison:
Walbeck 1994-1996 OPS+/WAR 37-0.7;  61/-0.1; 38/-0.7
Drew Butera 2010-2012 OPS+/WAR 46/0.2; 24/-1.5; 53/0.2

Even with the poor performance the prior two years and the signing of free agent Greg Myers, the catcher position was considered Walbeck’s going into the season. The 30-year-old Myers wasn’t great, but was an improvement over Walbeck. Following the season the Twins traded Walbeck to Detroit. He hung around the majors until 2003, and did have some better seasons.

1B Scott Stahoviak 1.4 WAR
Stahoviak had his career season at the age of 26. He didn’t grab many headlines, but quietly it seemed that he was positioning himself to be there first baseman for the near future. An injury plagued 1997 ended that, but it is easy to forget that Stahoviak seemed to be on a path towards being a solid player.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 8.6 WAR
As Knoblauch had another outstanding season, the noise in the papers was mostly about potential trades. The Twins put him through waivers at the trade deadline, but the Yankees made a claim to block potential playoff opponents from acquiring the 27-year-old. The trade talk quieted a bit when Knoblauch signed a five-year deal with the Twins in late August. 1996 was the on-field peak of Knoblauch’s career. Over the course of his time with the Twins, Knoblauch had a .416 slugging percentage. In 1996, he slugged .517 while leading the league with 14 triples and setting a then career high mark with 13 home runs. In 1994 and 1995, his K/BB rates were 1.37 and 1.22. In 1996 it was 0.76.

SS Pat Meares 0.5 WAR
Meares was the quintessential light-hitting good-glove shortstop. The only problem was, in 1996, he was simply a +1 shortstop.

3B Dave Hollins 3.1 WAR
Dave Hollins may have been one of the best moves the Twins made in the late 1990’s. Hollins signed as a free agent in January, and proceeded to be a solid third baseman who provided some power that the Twins lacked elsewhere. At the end of August Terry Ryan traded Hollins to Seattle for a player to be named later. The Mariners completed the deal in September by sending minor leaguer David Ortiz to the Twins.

LF Marty Cordova 2.6 WAR
Cordova’s power numbers took a small hit from his ROY season, but he improved his strikeout rate and knocked in 111 runs.

CF Rich Becker 4.3 WAR
When Alex Cole was released prior to 1996, the Twins made it clear that this was the year that Becker would be given the chance as the full time lead off man and center fielder. He did not disappoint. While he had an average-looking 103 OPS+, he got on base at a .372 clip and was a +12 player in center field (-2 in LF and RF combined). Becker changed to a full-time left-handed hitter in 1996. He did get off to a slow start with the bat, but recovered in the summer months.

RF Matt Lawton 0.6 WAR
Lawton also had a slow start at the plate. He blamed it on tinkering with his stance in the Arizona Fall League before the season. In particular, he said, the St. Louis Cardinals batters were to blame because they convinced him to crouch lower.

DH Paul Molitor 3.7 WAR
I wrote this a few years ago:

Paul Molitor had signed with the Twins before the 1996 season excited to play for his hometown team and looking forward to being in the same lineup with Kirby Puckett (which of course didn’t work out). He came into the season with 2,789 career hits. The Twins started a nine-game home stand on September 6 with Molitor 13 hits away from the milestone. While it appeared unlikely that he would reach it in front of the Metrodome crowd (the Twins started a nine-game road trip immediately following the homestand), there was some hope.

Molitor ended up with 11 hits in the nine games, and took to the road with the team only two hits short. In the first game of the road trip at Kaufmann Stadium, Molitor became the first player to triple for his 3000th hit as mentioned by Souhan above; but also became the first player to reach 3000 in a year in which he had 200 or more hits on the season.

UT Ron Coomer 0.7 WAR
IF Jeff Roboulet -0.8 WAR
OF Roberto Kelly 1.2 WAR

1996: Kirby Puckett is Forced to Retire

April 3, 2014

I wrote this several years ago:

March 28, 1996

The concern over Kirby Puckett in the spring of 1996 was starting to change to optimism. Puckett took a Dennis Martinez pitch to the jaw at the end of the 1995 season, and there was some fear among Twins’ fans that Puckett may never be the same.

Spring training 1996 was a chance for Puckett to show that he was the same hitter he had always been. The spring numbers seemed to foreshadow another great season for Puckett. That all changed one day before the team planned to break camp.

On Thursday morning, March 28, Puckett woke up with a strange spot in the middle of his vision on the right side, and everything seemed just a bit blurry. From Jim Souhan’s story a few days later in the Star Tribune:

Puckett sounded doubtful that he will be able to play on Monday, when the Twins will open the season at the Metrodome against the Detroit Tigers.

“My right eye is my dominant eye,” he said. “If it was my left eye, then I think I’d be able to hit. But I need my right eye. I can’t hit right now. I’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Puckett was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and all indication suggested that he would return when that time was up, April 12. As the date approached, it became more clear that Puckett’s vision problem was not going away as soon as expected.

The saga played out through the first half of the Twins’ 1996 season. Puckett was eventually diagnosed with glaucoma, and the severity was such that he ultimately retired from baseball in July.


Baseball Library

Souhan, Jim. “Vision problems might keep Puckett from Twins’ opener” Star Tribune 3/29/1996.

Kirby Puckett retirement, though sudden and unexpected, ended up being a hero’s retirement in Minnesota. His career, though cut short, was good enough to get him elected into the Hall of Fame in 2001. For Twins fans, it would be nice if that is where the Kirby Puckett story ended.

That’s not where it ended, however. Frank DeFord detailed the sad facts and allegations in his 2003 Sports Illustrated report.

In the final analysis, all they really know now in Minnesota is that he was one whale of a baseball player. They’ll never be so sure of anyone else again. So, maybe that’s a tough lesson well learned. The dazzling creatures are still just ballplayers; don’t wrap them in gauze and tie them up with the pretty ribbons of Nice Guy or Boy Next Door (and certainly not of Knight in Shining Armor).

On the other hand, what a price did fans pay to lose their dear illusions. You see, when the hero falls, maybe the hero worshipers fall harder. After all, Kirby Puckett always knew who he was. Well, he probably did. Nothing seemed to faze him. It was all the other folks who decided he must be someone else, something more. Yeah, the lovable little Puck was living a lie, but whose lie was it?

While the story caused a bit of an uproar of defensiveness and denial among Twins fans, it was difficult even for the most ardent Puckett supporter to dismiss the allegations altogether. Kirby Puckett died after suffering a stroke in March of 2006, just before his 46th birthday. The public ceremony, though attended by some 15,000 at the Metrodome, was an awkward event in which baseball accomplishments were celebrated and speeches focused on a public image that was very much at odds with the picture of Puckett that the allegations painted.

Puckett’s legacy is still an uncomfortable one, particularly for people like me who grew up watching him play; who fell in love with baseball in part because of the enthusiasm that he exuded on the field.

The Franchise 1996 (Part 1)

April 1, 2014

1996 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 11th season (11th with Minnesota 785-791)
78 W 84 L 877 RS 900 RA 4th AL Central 21.5 GB (Cleveland 99-62)
5.41 RPG (AL = 5.39) 5.28 ERA (AL = 4.99)
.694 DER (1st AL)

All Stars (1) Chuck Knoblauch

Franchise (1901-1996) 7065-7707-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1996) 2847-2843-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

I found a Baseball Prospectus report on the 1996 Twins in a corner of the internet. Of interest was the author’s profile of Tom Kelly:

Tom Kelly has nothing to say to you, and if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. TK has a well-earned reputation for being close-mouthed, but there seems to be a method behind the taciturn demeanor. I think of him as Buck Showalter’s media doppelganger, in that like Showalter, he has no time to waste on rehashing the same tired old generalizations and observations that managers have been spouting for the public’s benefit since Cap Anson. Unlike Showalter, who’s known for his thoughtful insights and fresh responses to tired questions, Kelly simply doesn’t say anything, and why blame him? If you’ve been asked for the twelve thousandth time what your team has to do to win, you wouldn’t be human if didn’t want to tell the reporter to look up what you said last year or remember what you said fifteen minutes ago.

There’s more at the link, but the gist of the report is that the 1996 Twins had only one remaining tie to the World Series teams (Kirby Puckett, who actually wouldn’t be on the team) but were in rebuilding mode.

These Twins have a solid farm system, some good major league talent, and some genuine opportunities for young pitchers; opportunities created by the worst pitching staffs in Twins/Senators history. The horrors of the last few seasons have let Ryan and manager Tom Kelly get ambitious in their use of minor league pitchers, in the wake of the profound incompetence of the team’s veterans.

Expectations were not high for that season, but the feeling was that the Twins would be contenders again before the new millennium.

Unfortunately, the rebuilding process took a hit when the Twins, with the second overall pick in the draft, landed exactly nobody. They selected Travis Lee, but agent Scott Boras found a technical loophole and claimed the Twins did not offer Lee a contract within 15 days of the draft, so Lee was declared a free agent and ultimately signed with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 1996 version of the team ended up 78-84. As expected, the offense was league average and the pitching was bad, though not quite as bad as the previous two years. What is interesting is the defensive improvement from 1995. The 1996 Twins could field with very few exceptions. Chuck Knoblauch (+11 Runs TZ) was among the league’s best at second base, and Rich Becker (+ 12) graded out as a top center fielder. Dave Hollins was very solid at 3B (+9) and despite a poor reputation Matt Lawton had a good season in right field (+5). The rest of the every day players were average or slightly above average. There were no actively bad defenders on the 1996 team.

Of course, the story of the 1996 team ended up being the sudden and surprising retirement of Kirby Puckett, who was tearing it up in spring training when he woke up one morning in late March and could not see out of his left eye. More on that later…

The Franchise 1995 (Pitchers)

March 25, 2014

SP Brad Radke 1.6 WAR
Brad Radke was drafted in the 8th round of the 1991 draft. He wasn’t a highly regarded prospect when he was drafted, and hadn’t played any higher than double-A ball when he broke camp with the Twins in 1995. Radke was a pleasant surprise for a team that needed something. By the end of the season he had a reputation that followed him his entire career: he threw a lot of strikes and worked fast. By the end of the his rookie year, Radke had already established himself as the ace of the Twins pitching staff.

SP Scott Erickson 0.1 WAR
When Scott Erickson was traded to Baltimore on July 7, he had some parting shots for the organization: “I feel bad for the guys. It’s like the organization has given up on the team. It’s a joke.” Specifically aimed at owner Carl Pohlad: “I think they should turn the team over to somebody who wants a winning team. Somebody who likes baseball.” Erickson pitched for six season with the Twins. He left with a 61-60 record and a 103 ERA+. Erickson stayed in Baltimore until 2002, and pitched pretty well, going 79-68 in 7 seasons. He bounced around the majors after that, and finally retired in 2006. Erickson also predicted after his trade that teammate Kevin Tapani would be the next to go…

SP Kevin Tapani 1.5 WAR
The Tapani trade was made within hours of the trading deadline. Unlike teammate Erickson, Tapani didn’t have any parting shots “I’ve got nothing negative to say at all about the Twins organization.” When Tapani left the Twins, he had played 7 seasons. During that time, he had a 75-63 record with a 108 ERA+. Tapani was traded to the Dodgers for the remainder of 1995, then moved on to the White Sox in 1996, and finally landed with the Cubs from 1997 until his retirement after the 2001 season.

SP Mike Trombley 0.1 WAR
In three previous seasons with the Twins, Trombley started 17 games. In 1995, he started 18 games. Trombley kept the job primarily due to lack of other options after Tapani and Erickson were traded away. After this season, Trombley became a full time relief pitcher.

SP Frankie Rodriguez 0.0 WAR
Rodriguez came to the Twins as part of the Rick Aguilera trade. Rodriguez was 22 at the time and it was hoped by the Twins that his upside would show in the next couple of years.

CL Rick Aguilera 1.2 WAR
Even though his 1995 season was split between two teams, based on the numbers it may have been Aguilera’s best. His ERA+ in 22 appearances with the Twins was 193. Aguilera pitched nearly as well with the Red Sox for the final half of the season. Unlike Erickson, Aguilera didn’t burn any bridges on the way out and made it clear that he wanted to return to the Twins as a free agent at the end of the season.

RP Pat Mahomes -1.6 WAR
Mahomes moved from his role as a starter to the bullpen in 1995. While he improved his K/BB ratio from 0.85 in 1994 to 1.43 in 1995, it didn’t translate into better overall numbers.

RP Eddie Guardado 0.5 WAR
Guardado made 51 appearances and pitched 91 innings in 1995. He wasn’t quite “everyday” yet, but well on his way.