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Who’s the Top Twins Prospect? Alex Kirilloff vs. Royce Lewis

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The Twins Worst Trades: Tom Brunansky

Looking back through MLB history, there have been plenty of trades that ended up being one-sided. One of Minnesota’s best trades in team history was extremely lopsided, but teams can’t always wind up on the winning end. Here’s a look back at one of the worst trades in team history and the reasons the front office felt like it was what the team needed at the time.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota was at the top of the baseball world in 1987 as the team had just secured their first World Series title. One of the key members of that team was right fielder, Tom Brunansky. Only three position players finished with a higher WAR than him that season and he seemed to be part of a young core that would continue winning in Minnesota. However, the front office had other plans.

Early in the 1988 season, general manager Andy MacPhail dealt Brunansky to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Tommy Herr. Brunansky had become a fan favorite in Minnesota and this trade certainly left fans scratching their heads. Herr was a second baseman and the Twins already had Steve Lombardozzi on the roster. Brunansky was off to a slow start and Lombardozzi was hitting under .100 at the time.

For Brunansky, the trade came as a shock. “They told me I had been traded and I had three days to report (to St. Louis). It was like bam, right in the gut. Then I walked back to my locker, and the guys knew something had happened. They said my face was white.”

Herr was equally shocked as he wanted to be a Cardinal for life. Said Herr, “Sure, I’m shocked. I’ve loved my years as a Cardinal and it’s hard to say goodbye.” After arriving in the Twin Cities, he told the Star Tribune, “I tried to take the trade like a man, but when the plane left St. Louis, I cried like a baby for a half hour.”

Herr was supposed to add to Minnesota’s infield depth and give them something extra at the top of the batting order. However, Herr wasn’t interested in being part of the Twins as his batting average and slugging percentage dropped lower than his career totals. Also, he became a distraction in the clubhouse as he was very open about his religious beliefs including convincing some members of the team that an apocalyptic event would occur on September 13, 1988. Needless to say, Herr didn’t last long in Minnesota.

From the Cardinal’s perspective, their top run producer Jack Clark had left in free agency and their Opening Day right fielder, Jim Lindeman, was on the disabled list. Brunansky was amid a stretch of six straight seasons where he hit 20 or more home runs. Herr was also in his final year of a four-year contract, so the Cardinals didn’t want to lose another player in free agency.

The trade had a chance to been much worse for the Twins when considering the Cardinals original asking price. Third baseman Gary Gaetti and outfielder Kirby Puckett were inquired about by St. Louis. MacPhail said, “I told [the Cardinals GM] I wouldn’t trade Gaetti and that my house would be burned to the ground if I traded Puckett.”


Herr didn’t want to play in Minnesota, and it was clear to all involved. Patrick Reusse wrote, Herr “came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship. Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.”

Over parts of three seasons in St. Louis, Brunansky hit .238/.327/.411 (.738) with 20 or more home runs in each full season he played with the club. He would be traded in May 1990 to the Red Sox for future Hall of Famer Lee Smith. He would resign with Boston that winter as a free agent and his last two full seasons came in a Red Sox uniform.

TV play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer shares an interesting story about the trade’s aftermath in his book Game Used. Bremer was sharing a cab with MacPhail in Seattle after the trade had occurred and the driver started asking the passengers about the deal.

Bremer wrote, “Oblivious to who his passengers were, [the driver] asked who the hell was running the show in Minnesota and why in the world they would trade a young slugger like Brunansky for a washed-up second baseman like Tom Herr.” To lighten the mood in the cab, Bremer told the driver, “You have to remember that the general manager in Minnesota was just an inexperienced kid who got lucky in winning the World Series the year before.”

What are your thoughts after looking back at this trade? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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34 Comments

I couldn't believe it at the time. Brunansky was a favorite of mine as well. Really stupid move as far as I could see.

    • LewFordLives and VOMG like this

Agreed. This was undoubtedly the Twins' worst move ever. This catastrophe of a trade was not only bad on the field but it crushed that team's soul. Brunansky's removal was like a death among brothers who had all struggled and fought and laughed together since '82.

 

And it wasn't just the loss of Bruno. The Twins chemistry was further damaged with the lobotomy-like change of its most raucous leader following the acutely impressionable Gaetti's born-again conversion and buy-in to the same rapture crap Herr had been proclaiming. Hrbek said it was like Gaetti had passed away.

 

    • DocBauer, VOMG, heresthething and 1 other like this

Never a big fan of Bruno. Seemed to be a guy that hitgreat when the Twins were leading or losing by a lot.I liked him ok but I remember liking the deal at the time. Herr should have been a bigger improvement over Lombo than Bruno was over Bush.As it turned out, Bush had a better year than all but two of Brunanski's years so that part actually worked out all right.The other part didn't work out at all but I blame Herr's attitude more than anything. I was ready to really like him and ended up hating him.I remember disliking trading away JJ Hardy way more.

    • woolywoolhouse and Bill Tanner like this

I loved the St Louis version of Tommy Herr... The Twinsversion... not so much. :)

    • Dantes929 and bobs like this
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Out State Twin
Jan 07 2021 07:04 AM

Curious what Bruno is talking about with Buxton?

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puckstopper1
Jan 07 2021 07:19 AM

 

Curious what Bruno is talking about with Buxton?

 

Hopefully it is how to stay healthy/on the field - which was one of Brunansky's strengths and part of the reason why he had the HR numbers he did. 

 

Bruno played at least 150 games and had over 600 at-bats in each of his 5 full seasons with the Twins.

 

Imagine how much better the Twins would be if Buxton could play that much...

    • BeatTheRich likes this
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puckstopper1
Jan 07 2021 07:25 AM

While I could see what he was trying to do, this was not one of MacPhail's best moments (He had MANY good ones)!

 

Had Herr wanted to play in Minnesota, perhaps this would have worked out better for the Twins.

 

To make things worse the Twins after the 1988 season traded Herr, Eric Bullock, and Tom Nieto to the Phillies for a washed up Shane Rawley and cash.

 

I hope the cash was significant as Rawley went 5-12 with a 5.12 ERA and 1.566 WHIP in his only season with the Twins, which was his last season in MLB.

Delmon Young

    • Dantes929 likes this
Matt Capps
    • LewFordLives, Major League Ready, Bill Tanner and 2 others like this
I remember being quite irritated as a young kid that they broke up the bruise brothers. I always wondered; (not so much at the time but later, like in the late 90's early 2000's with the way Tom Kelly treated guys like David Ortiz). I wondered how much input TK had in this trade? They just played the Cardinals in the WS, Tommy Herr was a classic slick fielding slap hitter which seemed to fit the TK mold to a T. Bruno was more of a, well David Ortiz type, but obviously he could field a little bit as he ran around in the OF tracking down fly balls and such. I could be way off, but after I learned more about TK and the way he was I just couldn't help myself to instinctively push some of that blame for that trade onto TK.
John Ryan Murphy
    • bobs likes this

Man, Tommy Herr was a disaster. It wasn't a good trade from the start; Herr was already on the downside and had zero pop in his bat and trading a younger player for an older one like that is iffy unless the old guy really has the track record. And Herr didn't: he was a 1-time all-star and never played that well before or after.

 

The change to clubhouse chemistry was more damaging than the loss of Brunansky's bat; Bruno wasn't a good fielder and was only a pretty good hitter. Drew walks, hit for some power but didn't have an elite tool. Herr wasn't even that bad on the field, considering how few 2Bs in MLB hit worth a damn back then and his D was fine. but it messed up the team and he didn't want to be there. Randy Bush was good enough with the stick that we didn't really miss Bruno's bat that much (Bush was almost Delmon-like in the field, though). 

 

Kicked off a run where the Twins really struggled to find a 2B until Knoblauch arrived: Herr (clubhouse cancer, but good on the field), Lombo (can't hit), Backman (couldn't hit the AL), Newman (couldn't hit). Three guys who couldn't hit and Tom Herr. Blech.

 

 

    • BeatTheRich likes this

The Bruno for Herr trade was plain heartbreaking for a kid sill riding high after the '87 championship run.Might have made sense on paper, but one of the things that stood out with the '87 Twins was their chemistry.Taking Bruno out of the equation naturally affected that.

That said, purely from a baseball perspective, I disliked the Ramos for Capps and Ryan-Murphy for Hicks trades a lot more.  

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woolywoolhouse
Jan 07 2021 12:58 PM

This trade still gives me nightmares that I'm going to wake up some day to see that Kepler or Sano have been traded for Logan Forsythe or Jeff McNeil.

    • LewFordLives likes this

Meh.Looking at the bWAR from these players after the trade, they each produced 1.5 for their new team in 1988.Next year, Herr was traded away, Bruno produced 1.7 bWAR, then -.5 in 1990 before they traded him for Lee Smith (over 4 WAR the next 3 years).  

 

If that's your 'worst move ever' your organization has an exceptional track record for trades.  

    • Nine of twelve likes this

Yeah, not overly bummed about this trade at the time but would have to say it is one of the top 5 worst trades all-time for the Twins. Bruno was ok but I thought Puckett, Hrbek and Gaetti were the main cogs and Bruno was just a side piece. Biggest problem was Herr didn't want to be here and that hurt more than the loss of Bruno. I would have to agree that the Capps and Ryan-Murphy trades were worse. 

    • Dantes929 likes this
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SkyBlueWaters
Jan 07 2021 03:28 PM

Trading the young Graig Nettles.

 

Nettles, Dean Chance, Ted Uhlaender, and Bob Miller to the Indians for one year of Luis Tiant and Stan Miller.

 

Then releasing Tiant the next spring.

 

Then watching Nettles go on to play in 6 all-star games, start on 2 world champ Yankee teams, and have years where he finished 5th and 6th in MVP voting. And hit 390 HRs.

 

Now I need some aspirin. 

    • Dantes929, Craig Arko, LewFordLives and 3 others like this

WPA and related statistics did not like Brunansky. 

Bruno wailed. Herr sucked. Was a horrible trade.Went to Twins fantasy camp, Bruno could not have been a nicer person.

The Twins originally got Bruno and Mike Walters (plus that guy named $400,000 cash) from the Angels for Doug Corbett, coming off two great Twin seasons, and Rob Wilfong. Walters was a two-inning relief arm that was just okay for two seasons.

 

Trading the young Graig Nettles.

Nettles, Dean Chance, Ted Uhlaender, and Bob Miller to the Indians for one year of Luis Tiant and Stan Miller.

Then releasing Tiant the next spring.

Then watching Nettles go on to play in 6 all-star games, start on 2 world champ Yankee teams, and have years where he finished 5th and 6th in MVP voting. And hit 390 HRs.

Now I need some aspirin.


Nettles immediately hit 26 and 28 home runs for Cleveland in the following two seasons. He was still playing when the Twins won the world series in 87. He would have solidified 3B for years.

Not to mention after Tiant was released he went on to have 3 20 win seasons plus many double digit win seasons.
    • Nine of twelve and SkyBlueWaters like this
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Dodecahedron
Jan 08 2021 01:11 PM

The Bruno trade came out of nowhere. We were all scratching our heads at the time.

 

A couple of years later, of course, we were all equally surprised that Bruno's seemed to not be quite as good as we thought. We wondered aloud how the Twins knew.

 

I never thought of this as a "bad trade" -- just a very strange, unexpected trade. This was about getting rid of Bruno and his salary, not anything else, and we will probably never know all the details as to why it happened or how the Twins' crystal ball was so correct.

I was too young to remember the trade.I was told about it when I got older about how bad Herr was.A trade like this would never happen in todays game.I think it shows how important a players desire to play for a particular team is important though.If your heart is not in it, you will do well.Also, paying attention to how they may affect others in club house is important. 

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SkyBlueWaters
Jan 08 2021 04:19 PM

 

Not to mention after Tiant was released he went on to have 3 20 win seasons plus many double digit win seasons.

 

Good point.

 

In fact, you could look at how many good games Nettles had against the Twins, and how many good innings Tiant had against the Twins as another measure of how miserable that trade was for us.

 

Ouch.

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Nine of twelve
Jan 09 2021 11:56 AM

We would need to do a full trade tree as has been done on other threads regarding other trades. This was certainly not a popular trade but it wasn't horrible.

Remembering the Nettles trade made me think of another one. We got Jerry Koosman from the Mets in exchange for Jesse Orosco in December of 1978. Look at the cumulative stats for those pitchers from 1979 forward and you'll see how bad that one was for our team.


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