As the baseball world was treated to a Texas Rangers World Series championship, Minnesota Twins fans watched former Twin and fan favorite Mitch Garver perform well throughout the playoffs. His highlights included a golf-shot home run off of Merrill Kelly in Game 2 and an RBI single to break open the scoring in the title-clinching game. With the Rangers' incredible run fresh in mind, let’s take a trip back to examine the trade that landed Garver in Texas.
The trade followed a 2021 season with the Twins where Garver had played in only 68 games but hit for an .875 OPS and 139 OPS+ in those limited plate appearances. That left the front office with a decision to make. Could they rely on the often-injured Garver, was it time to hand the reins to the rising Ryan Jeffers? Or, could they both share the catching load?
With other needs to fill on the roster, the decision ultimately was made to trade Garver away. A deal with the Rangers materialized and resulted in Garver leaving with Ronny Henriquez and Isiah Kiner-Falefa coming to Minnesota. This trade will always be challenging to analyze on its own because it set off a string of moves, which included trading away Josh Donaldson and eventually signing Carlos Correa.
The Immediate Move
Based on the holes on the Twins roster at the time, it was understood that either Garver or Jeffers could be traded at some point in the 2021-2022 offseason. The return of Henriquez and Kiner-Falefa did feel light for what fans had hoped to see in a return for Garver.
Kiner-Falefa was an example of the front office setting a floor at an empty position. His bat has never been that impactful, boasting a meager 84 and 78 OPS+ over the past two seasons. What IKF does provide is above-average defense across the infield and, most notably, at shortstop, which was a hole on the roster heading into the 2021-2022 offseason.
There is still a chance that Henriquez will turn into a bullpen arm for the Twins. He came to the organization as a potential starter but, due to his struggle to stay healthy, has shifted primarily to the bullpen. While there is still a chance for Henriquez to impact the Twins roster, he will need to rise the ranks to meet the value of Garver when the two are placed side by side.
The Long-Term Ripple Effects
The positive of this move comes from the chain reaction it set off. The trade allowed the Twins to send out Josh Donaldson, his contract, and his negative clubhouse presence to the Yankees, who were keen on acquiring Kiner-Falefa. Donaldson’s absence opened up payroll space to bring in Carlos Correa for his initial deal, paving the way for this year's long-term contract.
Garver has also seemingly had the judgment passed on him that between injuries and performance, others should be playing catcher over him. The Twins did pass on Garver in favor of Jeffers, and the Rangers chose Jonah Heim and trade deadline acquisition Austin Hedges behind the plate. While they were two of the three best defensive catchers in the game, according to Baseball Savant, it is still worth noting that the Rangers saw a need to acquire Hedges when Garver was in the locker room.
Even as just a right-handed bat, Garver could have helped the Twins, especially considering his .938 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 2023. The only issue would be roster space and playing time. The Twins are currently seeing a roster crunch when all players are available at designated hitter (and corner positions if he was willing to play first base), and Garver would only add to that crunch.
In the end, the initial deal looked like a short-sighted one. Thankfully for the Twins and us as fans, the Yankees were desperate to grab IKF and created all those other moves. Moves that, in ways, laid the groundwork for 2023 and beyond. Now, Garver will hit the free agent market, and we will see if everyone views him simply as a designated hitter or if someone will give him a chance to catch again.
How did watching Garver win a championship with another team sit with you? How do you feel about the trade a couple of years later? Let us know below!