Monday, February 25, 2008
A Look Back: The 2002 Twins
Good Monday Morning! I posted a few notes on Sunday afternoon, so be sure to check those out, but for today, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look back. This won't be anything too in-depth, but just something to remind Twins fans of how far this organization has come in the last decade. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 2002 Twins, the team that won the Twins first division title since 1991. There are exactly two players remaining with the Twins who played for them that year, Michael Cuddyer and Juan Rincon. So where are the others, and do the Twins miss more than a couple of them? Let's take a look:
Catcher - AJ Pierzynski - I can't imagine there is anyone out there who actually misses AJ. In '02, he hit .300 with a .334 on-base percentage and six homers. I believe it was Gardy who said that AJ is a guy that the opponents hate, and his teammates hate just a little bit less. Let's not forget that during his season with the Giants, in a locker room with Barry Bonds, it was Pierzynski that was the bad guy, and deservedly so. I mean, the guy got hit in a spot no guy wants to get hit, then trainer came out and asked if he was OK. Instead of just saying, "Not really," AJ kneed him in that same section. Nice guy! And, of course, you can't mention AJ without reminding Twins fans that not only did they get rid of a bad guy, they were able to acquire Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and a throw-in named Francisco Liriano. Oh, and it cleared the way for Joe Mauer. Of course, there are those that will say that AJ has a ring with the White Sox. I think that the likes of Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye and oh, those pitchers had a lot to do with that.
First Base - Doug Mientkiewicz - Although he hit just .261 in 2002, Mientkiewicz still got on base 36% of the time. Yes, he had good range for a first baseman and he had an uncanny way of picking everything close to first base. I admit, he's as good a defensive first baseman as I have seen. However, he was another talker, and when things got tough before they traded him, he refused to play. He couldn't hit. The lingering injuries that have affected him since then. He was part of the Red Sox first World Series championship in like a billion years. Then he spent a year with the Mets, then one with the Royals and last year, he was with the Yankees. He recently signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oh, that World Series ring that Mientkiewicz got with the Sox... does that make him better than Justin Morneau? Again, I've heard so many people say such things and I just can't believe it.
Second Base - Luis Rivas - This is one that I had to eat a bunch of crow on. I kept thinking that it was just a matter of time before Rivas would be decent... He never was. Finally after the 2005 season, Rivas was let go. In 2007, he played with Buffalo, the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. They were nice to let him come up during September and let him play in four games. Like Mientkiewicz, Rivas signed a minor league deal with the Pirates and was invited to spring training.
Third Base - Corey Koskie - I think that Corey Koskie was vastly underrated by Twins fans. He could hit. He knew how to work counts, take walks and get good pitches. He also unfortunately found ways to get hurt. I hate the term "Injury Prone" when the player is not responsible for many of the injuries. For instance, Koskie was once spiked high on his ankle by a base stealer. He had to miss months. The term, however, is appropriate for Koskie. When Koskie signed a three year, $17 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, I was disappointed that the Twins didn't make the attempt to give him a solid offer. But, in the past three years, Koskie has continued to be hurt. Last year, he hit his head hard while trying to catch a popup down the 3B line. He had a concussion and the response his body has had to that cost him all of last season. I saw him at Twins Fest. He looks like he could still play, but no team has offered him even a minor league deal with an invite, so his career may be done.
Shortstop - Cristian Guzman - Man, he teased us in 2000 and 2001 with all that speed and more importantly, all that hustle. Remember when he used to visibly play hard? His last two years with the Twins, he had OPS+ of 78, 79 and 77. That's not good. Yes, he played superb defense at shortstop. He made all the plays that he could get to, but he didn't ever dive and didn't show much range. And, his error numbers were covered up thanks to Mientkieiwicz picking a lot of balls in the dirt. Guzman became a free agent at age 26. For some reason, Jim Bowden decided it was wise to give him a four year, $16 million deal. He hit .219 in 2005 in 142 games. He then had shoulder surgery and missed then entire 2006 season. He came back and hit over .300 in 2007 only to be hurt again. 2008 is another free agent season for Guzman, and he appears to be healthy.
Left Field - Jacque Jones - Ron Gardenhire came in and said that Jones deserved an opportunity to play every day, against lefties and righties, and he would be the team's leadoff hitter. I applauded the decision at the time, and I still do. To that point, he had too few at bats to completely say that he could not hit left-handed pitching. My problem is that Gardy never did seem to realize that Jones could not hit lefties. It got to the point where I stopped blaming Jones for flailing away against lefties instead deciding that it was Gardy who was continuing to play him and put him in positions in which he could not succeed. It was especially unfortunate since Michael Restovich and Michael Cuddyer, who mashed lefties, did not play. Jones hit .300 with 37 doubles and 27 homers in 2002, his best season. He hit 20 or more homers in four out of five years including his first with the Cubs after signing a three year, $15 million with them. But last year, despite batting for the same average and on-base percentage, he lost his power, hitting just five homers. The Cubs traded him early in the offseason to the Detroit Tigers where Jim Leyland is likely smart enough to platoon him in left field with Marcus Thames. Despite his flaws, I think that Jones was my favorite Twins player in this group.
Centerfield - Torii Hunter - Should I start out with my "There is no I in team, but there are two I's in Torii" comment? Probably not. 2002 was Torii's best year of his career to date. It was the season that saw him voted to start the All Star game in Milwaukee, where he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in the game. He won his second of seven straight Gold Glove Awards. On the year, Hunter hit 29 homers and drove in 94. Really, 2007 was the only season in which he has come even close to that level, although he has remained just a little better than league average. The mouth of the Twins after Mientkiewicz left, Hunter has been more than happy to bash everyone from Tom Kelly to other things Twins over the past year. He enjoyed his 2007 farewell tour with the Twins, happy to tell reporters in every city how much he would love to play for their team. Then on Thanksgiving Eve, Hunter signed a crazy five year, $90 million contract with the Angels where he will be their CF.
Right Field - Dustin Mohr - Half of the Dusty Kielmohr combo in right field, Mohr played in 120 games and did a nice job in the outfield. He wasn't a good outfielder, and he wasn't fast, but he dove a lot. Fans love that! He also had 23 doubles and 12 homers in splitting time. He spent 2004 with the San Francisco Giants, where despite a horrible start, he actually put up the best year in his career (115 OPS+). He spent 2005 with the Rockies. He played some for the Red Sox in 2006. He got into seven games with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last year.
Designated Hitter - David Ortiz - Yeah, I know, he turned out to be pretty good, huh? But the reality is that he never would have been this good with the Twins because Tom Kelly beat him down and told him to slap the ball to left. He played in 125 games for the Twins in 2002 and had 36 doubles and 20 homers. It was just the second time in six years with the Twins that he played in more than 89 games. He didn't take a lot of walks. The Twins weren't willing to offer him arbitration, and I agreed with that decision. On the turf, Ortiz would not have stayed healthy. In fact, the Red Sox didn't sign him until the end of January in 2003 for just $1.5 million... to be a platoon player. He ended up finishing fifth in the league MVP vote. Since then, he has finished fourth, second, third and fourth in MVP voting.
Bobby Kielty - Kielty played a lot of RF and some DH in 2002. The reality is that he was the Twins best hitter most of the year. His 136 OPS+ was the result of a Moneyball generation's dream season. He hit just .291, but his on base percentage was .405, and his 14 doubles and 12 homers in 289 at bats made for a .484 slugging percentage. The Twins were never real big on the idea of on-base percentage back then (Note - Matt Lawton, Corey Koskie), so right after the All-Star break in 2003, Kielty was traded to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart and Dave Gassner (later). I thought it was a horrible deal, and as much as people want to glorify Stewart, he was rather disappointing after signing a three year extension. After the 2003 season, Kielty was traded to the A's for Ted Lilly. Kielty was let go by the A's last summer and signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox calling for a call-up in August so he could be put on the post-season roster. He hit a big home run in the World Series. The Red Sox signed Kielty to a minor league deal earlier this month.
Denny Hocking - The utility infielder had his moments with the Twins. He was the quality utility guy after Jeff Reboulet, who was after Al Newman. Following Hocking was Nick Punto who... what? He has been a starter? You're kidding! Anyway, Hocking played 83 more games for the Twins in 2003. He played in 55 games for the Rockies in 2004, and just 23 games with the Royals in 2005 before calling it a career. He moved back to California where he works for Fox Sports Network. I wonder if he got journalism advice from Anne Hutchinson?
Matthew LeCroy - After spending parts of 2000-2005 with the Twins, he played for the Washington Nationals in 2006. Last year, he was back with the Twins, and hit under .200 at AAA. An injury to Jose Morales in September gave him a seven game call up. He recently signed a minor league deal with the A's.
Brian Buchanan - He was actually traded during the season to the Padres for Jason Bartlett. He stayed with the Padres until August of 2004 when he was released. The Mets signed him for two games. In 2005, he was released by the Devil Rays, the Rockies and the Twins. He was released by the Reds in May of 2006 and has played in Japan since. He signed a minor league deal with the Royals where he could be managed (if he makes the team) by Trey Hillman, who has been managing in Japan.
Tom Prince - He was the quality backup catcher for the team. He played in 51 games for the team and was generally revered in the same way that Mike Redmond is now. Like Redmond likely will do, Prince left the game of baseball after the 2003 season and became a manager in the Pirates system.
Less than 50 games - Jay Canizaro (Hasn't played since 2003), Michael Cuddyer (Just signed three + year extension to stay with Twins), Casey Blake (very solid career with Cleveland), Michael Restovich (Bounced all over, playing in Japan this year), Todd Sears (been at AAA with Marlins organization the last three years), Michael Ryan (Twins through '05, Braves AAA in '06, Pirates AAA in '07), David Lamb, Warren Morris (played in four games with Twins, spent '03 starting for the Tigers, that's it), Javier Valentin (rushed by Twins in '97-99, didn't resurface until 2002, become valuable Reds utility player the last four yeas, and will again in 2008).
Rick Reed - Terry Ryan busted up The Soul Patrol OF at the trade deadline in 2001, and it didn't pay off. Reed went 4-6 with a 5.19 ERA. In 2003, he also had an ERA over 5. But in 2002, he went 15-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 32 starts (188 innings). Not too shabby. He became a free agent after the 2003 season, signed a deal with the Pirates, but never pitched in the big leagues for them.
Kyle Lohse - Lohse was 23 years old and in his second season with the Twins. He went 13-8 with a 4.23 ERA in 180 innings. However, when the playoffs came, he was sent back to the bullpen. He stayed with the Twins through the trade deadline in 2006 when he was shipped to the Reds for Zach Ward. He went 9-17 in his time with the Reds. At the 2007 trade deadline he was sent to the Phillies where he went 3-0 (despite a 4.72 ERA) down the stretch. Many believed that along with Carlos Silva, Lohse would be the top free agent starting pitcher in the market because of his arm. Well, his head and his agent (Boras) have kept him by the phone. He is still awaiting a team to sign him.
Eric Milton - In 29 starts in 2002, Milton went 13-9 despite a 4.84 ERA. Not too good. But in the playoffs, he made a start in the ALDS, gaining a win with seven innings. He got a no decision in his ALCS start. In those 13 playoff innings, he gave up just three runs. He was hurt most of 2003, pitching only three games in the regular season before making a start in the playoffs. Somehow, Terry Ryan sold the Phillies on there being something left in the Milton tank. He was able to acquire Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and Bobby Korecky, PLUS the Phillies played all $9 million to Milton for the 2004 season. He has been with the Cincinnati Reds since, being one of the worst starters in baseball. Like Lohse, Milton remains unsigned right now.
Brad Radke - The Twins ace for so long, Radke missed a lot of time in 2002 with a pulled groin muscle. He went 9-5 with a 4.82 ERA in limited duty. It was the only season from 1996-2005 that he pitched less than 200 innings. Then in the post season, he showed what he was made of. He went 2-0 in the ALDS. He went 0-1 in the ALCS despite giving up just two runs in 6.2 innings. Radke stayed with the Twins through the 2006 season when he retired. His next stop should be a spot in the Twins Hall of Fame.
Joe Mays - He went 17-13 in 2001 against the bad teams like the Royals, White Sox and Tigers. He made 17 bad starts with the Twins in 2002 before having Tommy John Surgery. Maybe I was dumb back then, but they must have really rushed him back because in 2003, he pitched in 31 games. He split 2006 between the Royals and the Reds. He went to spring training with the Dodgers in 2007, but he retired after pitching a couple of months at AAA. He was a Twins Alumni guy at Twins Fest this year.
Johan Santana - He pitched in 27 games and made 14 starts. He went 8-6 with a 2.99 ERA. That's an ERA+ of 149! And yet, when Kenny Rogers was signed late in the offseason before the 2003 season, Santana went back to the bullpen. Crazy! Two Cy Young Awards later (and he should have won a third), Santana is considered the best pitcher in baseball. You may have head, but several weeks ago, he was traded to the New York Mets for four prospects. Oh, and he signed a huge extension. Good for him!
Matt Kinney - He made 12 starts for the team, and if I recall, he had a couple of huge starts against Cleveland late in the year. However, he was just 2-7 with a 4.64 ERA. He was traded to the Brewers where he pitched in 2003 and 2004. He went to the Giants in 2005, and got into five games for them in 2005. He has spent the last two years with the Giants AAA team.
Eddie Guardado - Although he had been with the Twins for nearly a decade already, Guardado did not become dominating until he became the Twins closer late in the 2001 season. In 2002, he was 1-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 45 saves! In 2003, he added 41 saves. Although I thought the Twins should have kept him after the 2003 season, they wisely let him go via free agency to the Seattle Mariners. He remained there until he was traded to the Reds in mid-2006. But he ended up having shoulder surgery so 2007 was a recovery year that saw him get into 15 more games for the Reds at the end of the season. This offseason, he signed with the Texas Rangers and has a chance to close games for them.
LaTroy Hawkins - He failed as a starter, and then he failed as a closer, but we all have found out that The Hawk is an incredible set up man. In 2002, he was 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA. In 2003, he was 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA. He went to the Cubs for the 2004 season where he had 25 saves, but he was largely scrutinized. Strange since for the year, he had a 2.93 ERA. In 2005, things got worse, so he was traded to the Giants for the remainder of the season. He spent 2006 with the Orioles. Last year, he was a big part of the Rockies strong bullpen. In earned him a big contract from the New York Yankees for 2008. He is known to be a great leader for a team.
JC Romero - 2002 was the one good year that Romero had before he became a head case. The lefty pitched in 81 games and went 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA. In 2003, he was 2-0 with an ERA of 5.00. In 2004 and 2005, he ERA was right around 3.50 which doesn't show that pretty much every inherited runner scored against him. Finally after the 2005 season, he was traded to the Angels for Alexi Casilla. With the Angels in '06, he went 1-2 with a 6.70 ERA in 65 games. He started the 2007 season with the Red Sox where he pitched in 23 games before being released. The Phillies signed him for the remainder of the season and he went 1-2 with a 1.24 ERA in 51 games. Despite 25 walks and 31 strikeouts in 36 innings, he somehow got a three year, $12 million contract from the Phillies to stay. This makes absolutely no sense and my guess is that the team will want to rid themselves of him by midseason.
Mike Jackson - The grizzly veteran pitched in 55 innings for the Twins and went 2-3 with a 3.27 ERA. Jackson missed the 2003 season completely, but he signed with the White Sox in 2004, his last season in the big leagues.
Bob Wells - Another veteran, Wells pitched in 58 innings despite a 5.90 ERA. The Twins were nice and let him be on the postseason roster. That was his last season in the big leagues.
Tony Fiore - "The vulture", Fiore went 10-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 91 innings. He really performed in the Carl Willis role for the Twins, throwing whatever he could toward the plate, trying to get hitters out. It worked in 2002, although not really after that. In 2003, he pitched in just 21 games before the Twins let him go. He continued playing ball through the 2006 season (with the Baltimore, Houston and Detroit organizations), but did not get back to the Major Leagues.
Less than 35 Innings Pitched - Jack Cressand (big leagues for Cleveland in '03 and '04, AAA for Red Sox in '05), Juan Rincon (somehow still with Twins), Kevin Frederick (8 games with Twins in '02, 22 games with Blue Jays in 2004, 2006 with Red Sox AA), Travis Miller (split 2003 with the Brewers and Reds AAA teams), Mike Trombley (had been with Twins from '92-'98, this stint lasted just five games), Jose Rodriguez (does anyone remember this guy?).
I think moving forward is so important in life, in general, but it is also important to a Twins fan. The reality is that the Twins don't play in the same market as the big spenders and shouldn't spend in the same way. That means player turnover. As much as we don't like it. But I also think we have to take a look back to see where we've come. The 2002 Twins were a solid team, a very good team. They won some division titles, in part, because of a weak division. However, it is also important to look at it to notice that, the Twins are so much better right now. Yes, they play in a division that is much more difficult to succeed in. Yes, they have lost three important players from last year. But where the Twins are right now is so far beyond where they were in 2002. And how far is it above where they were in 1998?
Maybe Twins fans have become too picky. The Twins didn't get to the playoffs from 1992 through 2002. The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans have not been to the playoffs in a LONG time. The Twins have been to the playoffs in four of the last six years. That is pretty good. The farm system has come through. The Twins have been able to get past losing quality players and have replaced them well. How many of these players listed above are better than what the Twins have right now. Sure, you can't replace a Johan Santana, you can't. But the Twins now have six to ten pitchers who could perform as well as any of the other starters did in 2002. The bullpen remains strong, probably even better than the 2002 version. The Twins are stronger at catcher, 1B, 2B (unless Punto starts), SS, and RF. 3B and LF are probably a wash. And CF is not as good, right now. The 2007 team is very talented, but more exciting, it has the potential to get much, much better.
Sometimes it is not only fun, but important, to look back at the past to realize that things are not so bad!