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  1. The Twins selected A.J. Pierzynski in the third round of the 1994 MLB Draft out of high school in Florida. He spent the next seven seasons working his way through the Twins system by hitting .288/.324/.415 (.739). His minor league batting line was almost identical to what he produced in his 19-year big–league career. In 1998, he spent time at Double- and Triple-A when he was only 21 years old. He was over five and a half years younger than the average age of the competition at Triple-A. Pierzynski got on base over 30% of the time and posted a .709 OPS. He got a brief September call-up that season and went 3-for-10 in 13 plate appearances. He got another brief taste of the MLB level in 1999, but he was limited to fewer than 80 games that season. The 2000 season became Pierzynski’s rookie campaign after posting an .819 OPS at Double- and Triple-A. He was called up in mid-August and took over the full-time catching duties. In 33 games, he hit .307/.354/.455 with eight extra-base hits. Minnesota had a solid young core, and Pierzynski looked to be part of the long-term solution. Over the next three seasons, Pierzynski played 114 games or more as the Twins returned to relevance from the brink of contraction. In his 430 games with the Twins, he hit .301/.341/.447, and he was named an All-Star in 2002. During the 2002 ALDS, he went 4-for-16 with a home run and a triple to help the Twins upset the Moneyball Oakland A’s. That series was the last time the Twins won a postseason series. Following the 2003 season, the Twins traded AJ Pierzynski to the Giants in one of the most famous trades in franchise history. Joe Mauer was widely considered baseball’s best prospect, and he was coming off a tremendous season at Double-A. Pierzynski’s value was likely at its highest point as he was coming off a season where he posted an .824 OPS with 49 extra-base hits. Pierzynski’s career took a dramatic turn from that point forward. His Giants tenure didn’t last long as he posted a .729 OPS in 131 games, but he became a distraction to the team. San Francisco released him following the season, and the White Sox were happy to pick him up. He’d play eight seasons in Chicago as he helped the club win the 2005 World Series in his first year on the team. His lone Silver Slugger and his second All-Star selection came with Chicago. For his career, Pierzynski hit .300 or higher in four different seasons, and he appeared in the ninth most games as a catcher. He is one of 10 players in baseball history who has played a minimum of 50 percent of his games at catcher while reaching at least 2,000 hits. Defensively, he led his league in fielding percentage in three different seasons. In October, he was part of eight Postseason series and hit .292 with 18 RBI and 11 walks in 32 games. Pierzynski’s Cooperstown case is tied significantly to his longevity. According to JAWS, Pierzynski is the 71st ranked catcher in baseball history, putting him behind names like Benito Santiago, Jason Varitek, and Carlos Ruiz. According to Baseball-Reference Similarity Scores, Yadier Molina is the most similar batter to Pierzynski and Molina is on pace for the Hall of Fame. However, Molina is one of the all-time best defensive catchers. Pierzynski was a durable player at one of baseball’s most demanding positions, but his credentials likely fall short of induction. Do you think Pierzynski deserves to be more than a one-and-done on the ballot? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES — David Ortiz — Joe Nathan — Torii Hunter — Justin Morneau
  2. Minnesota’s front office had to know what they were getting when they signed Josh Donaldson. He had a proven track record of being outspoken, but he was coming off being named the NL Comeback Player of the Year. The Twins were willing to deal with his on and off field behavior if he helped push the team to postseason success. Now two years into his massive deal and the outcome has been unfavorable to say the least. Last season, Donaldson played in less than half of the team’s games and his most memorable moment might have been being ejected after hitting a home run. This year he has been much healthier, but he has become the crusader for all batters in the battle against sticky substances. He called out the Yankees Gerrit Cole and then struck out twice against him later that week. Just this week he showboated a first inning home run against Lucas Giolito in a game the Twins ended up losing. Then he ended up confronting him in the parking lot after the game. These moments aside, Donaldson’s on field performance has come as advertised as he has been one of the game’s top offensive third basemen while also playing solid defense. So, do the distractions outweigh his other value to the team? And does that put him in the conversation for one of the all-time least likeable Twins players? There are plenty of former Twins in the conversation for least likeable player in team history. Lance Lynn has been one of baseball’s best pitchers in recent years, but his Twins tenure was filled with poor performances and a poor attitude. From the beginning, he seemed upset with the free agent process and that frustration came out in his performance. However, his stay in a Twins uniform was short so that hardly puts him at the top of the least likeable list. Other candidates for the least likeable Twins player include multiple players from the Metrodome Era. Kyle Lohse took a baseball bat to Ron Gardenhire’s office door. Needless to say, his days in Minnesota were numbered after that incident. A.J. Pierzynski was part of one of the greatest Twins trades of all-time, but his attitude didn’t fit well in multiple clubhouses during his big-league career. Both players went on to have careers outside of Minnesota, but they left on a sour note. Stretching even further back, Chuck Knoblauch had an infamous end to his Twins career. Since the team moved to Minnesota, he ranks in the top-10 for WAR, which puts him ahead of names like Johan Santana, Jim Kaat, and Torii Hunter. Eventually, he demanded a trade from the Twins and took shots at the city on his way out of town. Then there was the famous hot dog throwing incident when he returned as an outfielder for the Yankees. His off the field issues probably mean he won’t be welcomed back in Minnesota any time soon. Donaldson has rubbed some people the wrong way throughout his career. It’s hard to imagine him being in the same level as Knoblauch or Pierzynski, but there will be plenty of fans that aren’t happy with his attitude and the attention he is drawing on a last place team. How would you rank these players according to their likeability? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. Initial Deal: November 14, 2003 Joe Mauer was waiting in the wings to talk over as the team’s full-time catcher. During the previous minor league season, Mauer posted an .832 OPS with 37 extra-base hits while making it all the way to Double-A. He was widely considered baseball’s best prospect and Baseball America had awarded him their Minor League Player of the Year. Pierzynski was no slouch either as he was an All-Star in 2002 and he was coming off a season where he posted an .824 OPS with 49 extra-base hits. The three players acquired from the Giants were Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan. Nathan became one of the baseball’s best closers on the way to being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. Liriano was electric in the minor leagues and he went on to pitch part of seven seasons for the Twins. Even Bonser pitched nearly 400 innings in Minnesota and he became the next branch in this transaction tree. Bonser Trade: December 10, 2009 As a 28-year old, Bonser was on his way out in Minnesota after the Twins designated him for assignment. Carl Pavano agreed to go to arbitration with the club and this made Bonser expendable. Also, Bonser missed the entire 2009 campaign following shoulder surgery, so it was a surprise the team was able to get anything for him. Bonser was dealt for a player to be named later that turned out to be Chris Province, a 2007 fourth round pick. He pitched well in the Arizona Fall League that season as a 25-year old, but his time in the Twins organization would be short-lived. In 2010, he pitched most of the season at Double-A where he posted a 5.58 ERA with a 1.65 WHIP. He made a few Triple-A appearances, but his career was done after a brief stint in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Liriano Trade: July 28, 2012 Joe Nathan would leave the Twins after the 2011 season as the team declined to pick up his $12.5 million option but paid him a $2 million buyout. This ended his part of the transaction tree, but the Twins were able to leverage Liriano to add some pieces to the organization. At the 2012 trade deadline, Minnesota dealt Liriano to the White Sox for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez. Hernandez pitched just under 57 innings for the Twins and posted a 6.83 ERA with a 1.82 WHIP. He would only make one more big-league appearance and that came in 2014 with Colorado. Escobar was the key pick-up as he had 671 games in a Twins uniform while playing nearly every defensive position. At the plate, he posted a .729 OPS while getting on base 30.8% of the time. He was a solid contributor, but he was heading to free agency after the 2018 season. Escobar Trade: July 27, 2018 Minnesota was out of contention during the 2018 campaign, so the front office made multiple moves with the trade deadline approaching. Arizona sent three prospects to Minnesota in return for what could have been less than 200 at-bats from Escobar. He eventually resigned with the D-Backs, but that wasn’t a guarantee at the time of the deal. As I wrote about last week, Jhoan Duran was the biggest return for Escobar as he is considered one of the Twins top two starting pitching prospects. Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel have also added depth to the organization. When it comes to Duran, pitching prospects are never a sure thing. That being said, his ceiling seems to be a solid regular starting pitcher and if that doesn’t work, he projects to be a very good relief option. More than two and a half decades after taking Pierzynski in the 1994 MLB Draft, the Twins organization is still feeling the ramifications of his transaction tree. What are your thoughts on these deals? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  4. Eugene Bauer, 67, considers himself a realist. He keeps up on the news, he’s online a little too much, and enthusiastically consumes podcasts. He knows the continued rise of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in parts of the country will make it difficult for baseball to come back, much less continue for a “full” 60-game season. But from 6:45-6:50 pm on Thursday night, he stepped away from those intrusive thoughts and gave himself five full minutes of baseball-derived pleasure. “I share season tickets with some old work friends,” said the Maplewood retiree. “I thought about the team letting a handful of people into Target Field to watch a game and being able to see Josh Donaldson destroy a hanging curve in person. I have a Kramarczuk’s sausage in my hand. The ball lands on the plaza. I smile a smile bigger than when my daughter divorced her second husband. “He was a professional DJ who went by the name Nasty J, but his real name was Joshua, and he went to Moorhead State for 8 years,” he added. “I hated him.” In those 300 blissful seconds, Bauer’s imagination ran wild. “I’m up late. My wife (Marianne) is asleep. There are multiple west coast games on TV. Can you even imagine? Giants are playing the Rockies, Mariners are playing the A’s, and there’s a rain-delayed Cubs-Braves game in the 4th inning. I get a beer out of the fridge and open it. I’m going to fall asleep in the chair tonight.” Before he snapped out of it to solve the final puzzle on Wheel of Fortune, Bauer allowed himself a moment of true glee. “The day of the World Series parade is the last nice afternoon before it gets super cold. I’m wearing a light jacket and a mask that are the same powder blue as the ‘70s Twins uniforms. Everyone is keeping their distance and cheering. TC Bear throws me an autographed baseball. He removes his head and it’s A.J. Pierzynski. He swears at me, smiles, and keeps walking. “I know it’s unlikely. But it sure would be something.” Image license here.
  5. Mauer’s Presence In the 2003-04 off-season, Mauer was coming off a tremendous minor league season. Between High- and Double-A, he hit .338/.398/.434 (.832) with 37 extra-base hits in 135 games. Baseball America awarded him the Minor League Player of the Year and he would be named the number one prospect that off-season. St. Paul’s hometown boy seemed destined to take his place behind the plate at the Metrodome. Blocking Mauer was Minnesota’s starting catcher in 2003, AJ Pierzynski, and he was coming off a strong season himself. He had an All-Star season in 2002, but the 2003 campaign might have been his best in a Twins uniform. He slashed .312/.360/.464 (.824) with 49 extra-base hits in 137 games. He would only have one other season with a higher OPS in his entire 19-year career. Minnesota was ready to hand the reins to Mauer, which left Pierzynski as a tradeable commodity. Trade Time From the Giants perspective, the trade didn’t look that bad on paper. Pierzynski was in the prime of his career as a 26-year old catcher that was coming off a 4.5 WAR season. To top it off, he had three years of arbitration left, so he wasn’t just a rental player. Regardless of his attitude problems, he was a very good player at a tough position that should have gotten quite the return. From the Twins perspective, well… it’s tough to know what they were thinking at the time. Joe Nathan was a 28-year old reliever that was coming off his first decent season in the bullpen. There had been previous concerns about his shoulder and the possibility of those things lingering. Liriano hadn’t pitched more than 80 innings in any season of his professional career and he had injury concerns of his own. Boof Bonser saw his strikeout rate and velocity drop in the year before the trade. At the time of the trade it looked like San Francisco had fleeced the Twins, but baseball is a funny game. Hindsight is 20-20 Twins fans know what happened after the trade. AJ Pierzynski played one season in San Francisco and hit .272/.319/.410 with 41 extra-base hits. He was worth 0.3 WAR that season. Even though, he could have been arbitration eligible for two more seasons, he had caused so many headaches for the Giants that they let him go at season’s end. He ended up in Chicago and helped the White Sox to the 2005 World Series title. Minnesota got quite the value from their cast-off pitching trio. Nathan would turn into one of the best relievers in the game and accumulate 18.4 WAR during his seven years with the Twins. Liriano exploded onto the scene in 2006 and it looked like the Twins would be unstoppable with a Johan Santana and Liriano combo. Tommy John surgery stopped that dream from becoming a reality, but Liriano was still able to accumulate 9.3 WAR in his Twins tenure. Bonser pitched over 390 innings for the Twins, including one playoff start, and was worth -0.3 WAR. Terry Ryan and Minnesota’s scouting department must have known what they were getting in Nathan, Liriano, and Bonser. They also knew what they were giving up in Pierzynski. What do you remember about this trade? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  6. It’s easy to look back at the deal that brought Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski as an obvious one to make. Joe Mauer was coming off a solid season between A and AA, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would take over behind the plate sooner rather than later. For that to happen, Pierzynski needed to clear out or change positions, and the latter wasn’t happening, so of course Ryan would deal him to clear space for Mauer. But while Mauer was hitting well in the minors -- particularly for his age level -- he wasn’t beating down the doors. As a 20 year old, he hit .338/.398/.434 including a stint in the Arizona Fall League; Pierzynski hit .312/.360/.464 in the majors that season, earning a deserved All-Star selection. And at 26, it isn’t as though Pierzynski was at the end of his career, or even at the end of his prime, so Ryan’s decision to move him after back-to-back great season could have backfired badly had Mauer not made the jump as well as he did. As it turned out, Ryan moved Pierzynski at the absolute peak of his value. While he remained a solid catcher through his age-38 season -- which shouldn’t be glossed over, that’s an incredible achievement -- he never returned to the All-Star Game and only twice put up above-average offensive numbers. In return for this desirable asset, Ryan got a once-prized prospect who had lost a bit of his luster (Bonser), a converted outfielder who was coming off back-to-back seasons of injury issues (Liriano), and a former shortstop who wasn't far removed from shoulder surgery himself (Nathan). A former first-round pick, Bonser had the pedigree to succeed, and (just like many of Ryan’s other finds) he did make contributions to the major league team, even if he was clearly the worst of the acquired players. He gave the 2006 Twins 18 starts and ended the year fractionally above average by ERA+ and with a 1.0 fWAR. Great? Hardly. But he was just 24, so it would have been a solid foundation for him to build on as he rose to being a mid-rotation piece...except that those 18 starts marked the best year of his career. Even if he wasn’t spectacularly bad, Bonser neither generated enough groundballs nor missed enough bats to make it in the majors and a torn labrum in 20009 ended his time with the Twins. Liriano’s arm had already been an issue when the Twins acquired him and it would continue to plague him throughout his career, though to his credit, he has continued to rehab and make it back to the majors every time he has gone under the knife. Still, his career would be typified by terms like “serviceable” and “solid” were it not for his unforgettable rookie season in 2006. His 2006 line is staggering: 3.6 fWAR, 1.00 WHIP, 2.16 ERA, and 10.71 K/9, but that actually undersells how good he was that year. Liriano wasn’t well-suited to pitching out of the bullpen, but that’s how he began the season (even recording a three-out save in a game which the Twins won by 10 runs, because of course he did) which included a three-inning relief appearance after the Tigers bombed Carlos Silva out of an April game. Liriano fared little better, giving up 5 ER in just 3 IP. Look at his numbers once he joined the rotation full time in May, and they’re even better: 1.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 112/28 K/BB ratio, and opposing hitters hit a pathetic .181/.244/.281 off of him. But the arm issues caught up to him once again. He threw just six innings after July 28 and would miss all of the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season showed glimpses of the form that had made him so unbelievably dominant in 2006, and the fact that he had 31 healthy starts means his counting stats look better, but he never did fully recover the form he had shown. He gave everyone a season to dream on and enough flashes of brilliance to bounce around the league for another decade and counting, but the consistent excellence he showed once seems to be part of his legend rather than his actual legacy. The Baseball Prospectus comment on Nathan prior to the 2003 season began “Nathan continued his comeback from shoulder surgery in 2000, with a year that was impressive only relative to the year before. He was never a great prospect, even before the shoulder woes, but he could be a serviceable innings-eater in middle relief.” Put another way: If you don’t have a player like this in your minor league system, the cupboard is so impossibly bare, it beggars belief. You don’t trade for players like this, they just appear on your AAA roster as if placed there by an occult hand. And to be fair, eating innings is exactly what Nathan did in 2003: His first year as a full-time reliever in the majors, Nathan appeared in just shy of half the Giants’ games, racking up 79 innings in 78 starts. Prior to the 2004 season, Prospectus noted that Nathan had looked leaps and bounds better the previous year than he ever had before -- and how right they were! -- but cautioned that this could be an aberration because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Here, too, they were right: 2003 was an aberration for Nathan, because for the decade following, he never again had a season as bad as 2003 when he was healthy for a full year. 2004 started with a closer-by-committee set-up with Nathan, Juan Rincon, and even a fleeting appearance from Joe Roa before he was relegated to mop-up duty, but by mid-April, the job was Nathan’s to lose. The next time someone besides Nathan would lead the team in saves was 2010, when Jon Rausch stepped in while Nathan was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Like Liriano, there were serious concerns about Nathan’s ability to stay healthy during his time in the minors, but after he moved to the bullpen, those concerns all but vanished. He finished his career with the eighth most saves of all time and appeared in the 54th most games. Of the three players acquired for Pierzynski following the 2003 season, Nathan had by far the best career; taking everyone involved in the deal, only Mauer has a claim at being a better player than Nathan. Whatever the Twins thought they were getting in Nathan, no matter how much Ryan and his staff believed that 2003 was indicative of what he could be, Nathan exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. He filled a hole that had existed since the end of Rick Aguilera’s second stint with the team (Mike Trombley notwithstanding) and held it down through some of the team’s best years post-1991. It’s fitting to see him end such a stellar career as a Twin. The Pierzynski-for-prospects deal is widely considered a heist, Ryan’s Robbery if you will. Some of that is due to Pierzysnki’s decline and some is due to Liriano’s apotheosis in 2006, but given that Bonser added almost nothing and Liriano was more frustration than fulfillment, the idea that the trade was as lopsided as it was confirms just how good Nathan was: If the deal had been a straight Nathan-for-Pierzynski swap, would the reviews be all that much less glowing?
  7. The San Francisco Giants started Joe Nathan's professional baseball career by making him a sixth-round pick in the 1995 MLB Draft. Nathan played his high school and college career as a shortstop and he became only the second player ever selected out of Stony Brook University. It was a humble beginning for who would become one of baseball's all-time best closers. Nathan began his professional career as a 20-year old in Low-A. In 56 games, he hit .232/.320/.345 with 12 extra-base hits. He struggled on the defensive side of the ball by committing 26 errors in 252 chances (.897 fielding percentage). The Giants had seen enough, as this would be Nathan's lone professional season at shortstop. He would spend the 1996 season transitioning to the pitching mound. Transitioning To The Mound His pitching debut would come a full season later (1997) at the Low-A level where he split time as a starter and a relief pitcher. He posted a very good 2.47 ERA but his other numbers showed he was still transitioning to pitching. In 62 innings, he posted a 1.26 WHIP and only had 6.4 strikeouts per nine. There were positive signs but still plenty of areas for improvement. San Francisco envisioned Nathan as a starter and he spent the entire 1998 season in that role. His time at High-A saw him compile a 3.32 ERA with 1.21 WHIP. He had a 118 to 48 strikeout to walk ratio over 122 innings. After being promoted to Double-A, he struggled in four starts. He allowed 15 runs in 15.1 innings with 10 strikeouts and nine walks. He was almost a year and a half younger than the competition in the Texas League so the Giants still viewed him as a strong prospect. During the next season, Nathan spent more time at the big league level than in the minor leagues. At Double-A and Triple-A, he posted 4.32 ERA and struggled with a 1.39 WHIP. His MLB time wasn't much better as he allowed 42 runs in 90.1 innings (4.18 ERA). In 14 of his 19 appearances, he was used as a starter but he did finish two games and earn his first big league save. Broken Prospect There was still hope for Nathan's prospect status as the calendar turned to 2000. However, he would become a broken prospect over the next handful of seasons. By the end of 2001, he was a 26-year old coming off shoulder surgery with a 7.29 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. During this time he walked 70 and struck out just 54 in 108 innings. There were plenty of red flags surrounding him. These red flags wouldn't go away in 2002. Nathan was a year older at age-27 and he was a year removed from major shoulder surgery. He got hit around for a 5.60 ERA while walking 74 and striking out 117 in 146 innings. For his final two seasons at Triple-A, he was not a good pitcher and he was already in his late 20's. As a scout, this would not exactly scream that this was the type of pitcher a team should go after. Diamond In The Rough Luckily, the Twins saw something in Nathan that the Giants might have missed. During his last season in San Francisco, he played the entire year at the big league level, making 78 appearances out of the bullpen. He posted an ERA under 3.00 for the first time at any level since 1997. This was enough for Minnesota to consider him a potential closer and get him included in the trade for AJ Pierzynski. Bullpen pitchers can take a lot of routes to becoming effective big league players. Nathan's minor league journey was full of ups and downs before he transformed into one of the best relievers in baseball history.
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