• 20 Twins Trades: The Pierzynski Bonanza!

    The 2004 season marked two important Twins milestones. First, the team was coming off playoff runs in consecutive seasons for the first time in over thirty years. Second, the Baby Jesus, Joe Mauer was primed for his MLB debut. As a result of the second milestone, the Twins were looking to unload a popular, but expendable catcher, seemingly entering his prime.

    The Trade: BREAKDOWN!

    The Minnesota Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser.
    Originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed! I also reviewed the Dave Gassner trade, which you probably remember because Shannon Stewart and Bobby Kielty were involved. You can read it here.

    Nathan immediately became the Twins closer and a dominant closer to boot. He saved 260 games over seven seasons with the Twins, posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.956 WHIP. Liriano made his MLB debut in 2005, but really made waves in a thrilling 2006 season. He threw 121 innings, striking out 144 batters and posting a 2.16 ERA before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. He was never quite the same, but did post a very good 2010 season with the Twins. Bonser spent parts of three seasons with the Twins, finishing with a 5.12 ERA in just under 400 innings.

    Pierzynski had a disappointing 2004 season with the Giants, clashing with teammates and posting a mediocre 86 OPS+. He was released at the end of the season and signed by the White Sox, where he played for the next eight seasons.

    How did I feel at the time?

    I wasn't super happy, but I wasn't super upset either. I had taken to referring to Pierzynski as "All-Star A.J." because he made the All-Star team and I am super creative. I was also very aware that Joe Mauer was going to be with the Twins the following season and an expensive backup like Pierzynski wasn't a luxury the Twins would be willing to afford. Plus, getting three players for one seems like a good idea. It's literally three times the players.

    Why make the trade?

    "It's one of those things that was eventually going to happen," Pierzynski said, reached on a golf course in Hawaii. "I was one of the first guys people had talked about. And they've got the guy coming behind me."

    That quote is from an AP story I found in an ESPN archive. It's passive-aggressive enough, but not too disparaging. You know for a fact that he knew Mauer's name. However, it does perfectly explain why this trade made sense for the two teams.

    "That's all part of the reasons we decided to make this trade," general manager Terry Ryan said. "We're dealing from a position of strength. We've got some talent at catching come up and some financial concerns, as far as making sure the pieces fit."

    Again, "some talent" is Joe Mauer. Plus, Pierzynski was due salary arbitration and was set to make a huge raise. In fact, he went from $365,000 in 2003 to $3.5 million in 2004. That is not an insignificant number, considering Pierzynski would have likely split time with Mauer, and possibly even backed him up.

    This MLB.com story gives some great quotes about the players the Twins were acquiring. On Nathan:

    "He's got a good arm and gets people out," Ryan said. "He had a good year with the Giants and he's playoff tested."

    "He's a stud," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Everything I've heard is he's a horse with a great arm. He should be a big part of our bullpen."

    Like me, you're probably wondering if the Twins petitioned the league to allow a horse to pitch. Gardy was speaking figuratively. We all learned how playoff tested Nathan really was, right Alex Rodriguez? Ouch. That was cold.

    On Bonser, considered at that time to be a better prospect due to his closer proximity to the Majors:

    "He's a young right-handed pitcher with a good arm and good stuff," Ryan said. "We think he's got the strength and stamina to be a future starter in the big leagues."

    The stamina part was either wrong or a mean, sarcastic joke. He did have a fun name.

    On Liriano, the wild horse (figurative horse again):

    "The left-hander has an excellent arm," Ryan said. "We've got a good look at him in the instructional league and we liked what we saw."

    I'd say! It's borderline remarkable that they plucked a 20-year-old Liriano out of A ball and he made the impact that he did.

    From the Giants' perspective, this trade was logical:

    "While it didn't come up easy to give up Joe, we feel we've got some alternatives within the organization," San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. "It's not often you can send a right-handed reliever and two unproven prospects for a front-line, All-Star catcher."

    On paper, that does make a lot of sense. The players involved just didn't line up that way.

    Here's what Kyle Lohse thinks about the whole thing, if you care:

    "I like him. He did just about anything you could to get a win," starting pitcher Kyle Lohse said. "He called a great game for me. It's kind of sad. It makes you wonder who else they'll keep and who they won't try to sign. It'll be pretty interesting."

    No one effing cares what you think, Kyle Lohse. Sit down and shave that ridiculous soul patch.

    And of course, A.J. did manage a slight dig on his way out:

    "It's outside, so that'll be very nice," he said. "Playing in the Metrodome all these years gets kind of old and kind of stale."

    Boom! Roasted.

    Analysis

    I'm quite certain the Twins are happy with how this trade worked out. Pierzynski's a nice player, but he's no Joe Mauer. In addition, adding Joe Nathan stabilized the bullpen for about a million years. Honestly, if Mariano Rivera didn't exist, it's possible that Nathan would be considered the best closer of this generation. Liriano never fully reached his potential in Minnesota, but fans will never forget his rookie season when he set the Metrodome ablaze and dominated with that ridiculous slider. Boof is a silly name, which we all look back at fondly.

    The Giants would probably like a couple do-overs when it comes to this trade. First, they would probably not make it at all. Second, since they actually made the trade, they probably would not have released Pierzynski after one season. He was not great in 2004, but then, he wasn't that much better from 2005-2011. He never posted an above-average OPS+ during that time. In fact, he didn't have an above-average offensive season until 2012, when he posted a career-high 119 OPS+ at age 35.

    The perception of Pierzynski as a player was quite different with Chicago. He was a pain, but he was a productive and wily pain. It's amazing what a punch to the jaw and a terrible call from an ump can do to change a player's perception.

    Who won the WAR?

    Pierzynski for the Giants: 0.3
    Nathan for the Twins: 18.4
    Liriano for the Twins: 9.5
    Bonser for the Twins: -0.3

    WAR won by the Twins!

    One Sentence Summary

    Widely considered one of the best in Twins history, this trade ultimately netted the Twins arguably their best closer of all-time, one extremely talented and frustrating pitcher and a guy named Boof.
    This article was originally published in blog: 20 Twins Trades: The Pierzynski Bonanza! started by Brad Swanson
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Wasnt' Liriano a PTBNL in that trade? It's still one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history... I have to wonder if Sabean still gets twitches whenenver he calls or fields a call from Ryan.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I don't think so. He was identified specifically in the article that I found, which was published at the time of the trade. Even so, he was quite a find.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      I hate this discussion. The Giants were idiots for letting AJ go. If he had stayed there and produced what he did during those years he would be a top 10 catcher during that duration. Joe Nathan was obviously pretty good too. BOOF! and Liriano however, didn't produce much IMO. Liriano had a half season of elite play and another season of good ball. Besides that, he didn't do **** and was a constant headache. He is glorified because of his dominance in a small sample along with potential that he delivered on for one season. BOOF! was a terrible pitcher. His best season he had a lucky 4.22 ERA and was out of the league in 4 years.

      I will argue up and down about this trade. Sure Nathan was great, so was AJ. Liriano had great talent and his 1.5 great seasons combined with Nathan's career was more valuable than what AJ did. I just hate this argument as a feather in the cap of Terry Ryan. It is more a representation of how misguided the Giants were than Terry Ryan's ability to manage a team. Without that trade, he would not be the GM right now.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      It was a great trade....but......

      Nathan wasn't considered a closer. If he was, the Giants would've kept him and made him a closer. He was in pitching staff limbo. He was given the opportunity with Minnesota and shined. It seemed the trade got marks because the Giants were in need of a closer shortly after.

      Boof was actually considered a possible workhorse, mid-rotation guy.

      Liriano....ptbnl...a youngster.

      A.J. left the Giants because he didn't produce and was in arbitration and the Giants weren't willing to overpay, considering the season he showed them. One of the issues of baseball, you can't sign a player for as cheap as you might like (shade of David Ortiz) so some otehr team can sign him for what you are willing to pay him.

      I always liked A.J. He calls a decent game. Puts the ball in play. Is hot and cold at throwing out runners. If Mauer wasn't in the wings...but with what happened to Mauer and we were forced to play Henry Blanco for most of a season....

      But, yes, Nathan turned out to be one fo the best closers of the decade and is still going strong......
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I don't know, if Ryan can't get credit for the good trades, then I guess he just can't win. Nathan may not have been a closer with the Giants, but the Twins clearly saw something in him, as they instituted him as the closer immediately and he saved 44 games in 2004.

      The quote I shared from Terry Ryan states that they specifically liked what they saw in Liriano in the instructional leagues. Sure, there was luck involved, but the Twins organization deserves credit for this one. That's even considering that Liriano's breakout was derailed by a major injury.

      The Twins sold from a position of strength. Even if they had only gotten Nathan, it would have been a smart trade. There was nowhere to play AJ and he was a below average offensive player from 2004-2011.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Nathan was converted to reliever the year before we got him and he excelled in that role. I have no doubt he would have taken over for Worrell if he had stayed in San Fran but they weren't going to hand him the closer reigns his first year as a reliever before they saw what he could do.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      It was a career defining, excellent deal, but I think it is fair to say over time that it lost some of its luster. Still a damn fine deal.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      It was a career defining, excellent deal, but I think it is fair to say over time that it lost some of its luster. Still a damn fine deal.
      It was a great deal, and there wasn't too much pressure since he had Mauer to replace AJ anyway, so even better. It was also a long time ago.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Of course there was luck involved, though I think I'd rather call it risk than luck. The Giants would have let these guys go had they known how it would have turned out. Ryan and company did their homework and did it well. Nathan might not have developed and Liriano might have gotten hurt, that's how trades work.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I don't know, if Ryan can't get credit for the good trades, then I guess he just can't win.
      Missed my point. I don't feel like this trade was as amazing as others. Ryan and his scouts identified some guys that had talent. It makes me wonder where these guys went, because he hasn't been able to identify it since. The trade worked out, and has been easily his best trade. That trade alone doesn't excuse the poor decisions and lack of effort he's shown since. I'm a hater, can't help it.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Hypothetical question.

      This will be good.

      Instead of dealing AJ, the Twins kept him and traded Mauer instead. The No. 1 prospect in baseball 2 years running.

      What did they get in return.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Hypothetical question.

      This will be good.

      Instead of dealing AJ, the Twins kept him and traded Mauer instead. The No. 1 prospect in baseball 2 years running.

      What did they get in return.
      That's a delicious scenario.

      Tim Hudson? It kind of seems like the type of trade Billy Beane would make.
    1. Danchat's Avatar
      Danchat -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I don't know, if Ryan can't get credit for the good trades, then I guess he just can't win. Nathan may not have been a closer with the Giants, but the Twins clearly saw something in him, as they instituted him as the closer immediately and he saved 44 games in 2004.

      The quote I shared from Terry Ryan states that they specifically liked what they saw in Liriano in the instructional leagues. Sure, there was luck involved, but the Twins organization deserves credit for this one. That's even considering that Liriano's breakout was derailed by a major injury.

      The Twins sold from a position of strength. Even if they had only gotten Nathan, it would have been a smart trade. There was nowhere to play AJ and he was a below average offensive player from 2004-2011.
      Yeah, it was a great trade, but we haven't had a great trade since then. Most of them have been meh..... or horrible.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Danchat View Post
      Yeah, it was a great trade, but we haven't had a great trade since then. Most of them have been meh..... or horrible.
      I've got ten more trades lined up to write about. I'd say that three or four can be considered positive. One or two were not bad. A couple aren't great and a few are simply awful. Quite a few elicit rage too. It's fun.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Hypothetical question.

      This will be good.

      Instead of dealing AJ, the Twins kept him and traded Mauer instead. The No. 1 prospect in baseball 2 years running.

      What did they get in return.
      That is so hard to answer. To SF I'd say Matt Cain, Joe Nathan and Liriano (I would have done that deal instead). That might have actually produced some playoff wins with Matt Cain. To ATL (would be right before they got McCann) Wainwright, Francoeur. And those would be the only two I could make sense.

      It would be difficult to trade Joe for what he would be worth since he hadn't actually had any success yet. So far he's had a HOF career and I doubt the Twins would have received that kind of value for him.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      That's a delicious scenario.

      Tim Hudson? It kind of seems like the type of trade Billy Beane would make.
      Yeah I could see that.

      Actually, for sake of argument, I'll run with it. Because in a way is the nightmare scenario: Trade a top prospect on the doorstep of a HoF career for a guy who never again regains the form of his thrilling days of yesteryear.

      Obviously everything would be different. Mauer's career would have been different. Maybe he never gets bilateral leg weakness. Maybe Pierzynski dyes his hair black instead of going with blonde tips. But to keep it simple, assume that nothing would have gone differently production-wise and...

      Who would have won the WAR?

      bb-Ref WAR: 28.9 to 43.5 - A's wins the WAR
      Fangraphs WAR: 40.9 to 43.0 - A's wins the WAR

      So even in a borderline nightmare scenario like this, the trade still could have worked out fairly close to being a wash.

      --

      Other guys traded the offseason following 2003:

      Javier Vazquez
      Alfonso Soriano
      Arod
      Livan Hernandez
      Carlos Guillen
      Billy Wagner
      Nick Johnson
      Randy Choate
      Juan Rivera
      Maicer Izturis
      Chris Reitsma

      edit: I should clarify, those are the combined WAR totals of Hudson + Pierzynski versus Mauer over 2004-2013.

      Strictly judging the trade in terms of Mauer's WAR versus Hudson, its a lot more lopsided

      bb-ref: 14.6 to 43.5
      fangraphs: 25.5 to 43.0
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Yeah I could see that.

      Actually, for sake of argument, I'll run with it. Because in a way is the nightmare scenario: Trade a top prospect on the doorstep of a HoF career for a guy who never again regains the form of his thrilling days of yesteryear.

      Obviously everything would be different. Mauer's career would have been different. Maybe he never gets bilateral leg weakness. Maybe Pierzynski dyes his hair black instead of going with blonde tips. But to keep it simple, assume that nothing would have gone differently production-wise and...

      Who would have won the WAR?

      bb-Ref WAR: 28.9 to 43.5 - A's wins the WAR
      Fangraphs WAR: 40.9 to 43.0 - A's wins the WAR

      So even in a borderline nightmare scenario like this, the trade still could have worked out fairly close to being a wash.

      --

      Other guys traded the offseason following 2003:

      Javier Vazquez
      Alfonso Soriano
      Arod
      Livan Hernandez
      Carlos Guillen
      Billy Wagner
      Nick Johnson
      Randy Choate
      Juan Rivera
      Maicer Izturis
      Chris Reitsma

      edit: I should clarify, those are the combined WAR totals of Hudson + Pierzynski versus Mauer over 2004-2013.

      Strictly judging the trade in terms of Mauer's WAR versus Hudson, its a lot more lopsided

      bb-ref: 14.6 to 43.5
      fangraphs: 25.5 to 43.0
      The 2004 Twins would have been really interesting with Hudson and Pierzynski instead of Mauer. Mauer got hurt, so AJ would have been a huge upgrade over Henry Blanco. Hudson would have started instead of the combo of Terry Mullholland and Seth Greisinger, who combined for an ERA around 5.5. That would almost have to lead to a few more wins.

      A few extra wins and the Twins host the Red Sox in the first round instead of going to New York. Boston probably still wins that series with Schilling and Pedro.
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