The only thing sadder than trading Justin Morneau will be getting little in return for him.
Public opinion seems to be that it was embarrassing the Twins had eight former players in the All-Star game. The embarrassment is what the Twins have gotten in return for players in recent years. Morneau is almost certain to be the latest star to leave town as a squandered asset.
The Twins aren’t headed for a third consecutive 90-loss season because of the size of their payroll. You can’t blame payroll size when the A’s and Rays are better than the Yankees and Dodgers.
The Twins are in the midst of another lost season because they are no longer masters of the trade market.
Sentimentality, false hope and bad timing kept the Twins from trading so many of their departing players, or from trading them for equitable value. They also suffered from the curse of winning teams: Low draft choices and an unwillingness to trade away players during competitive seasons.
The Twins’ drafting and player development positioned the team to succeed in the 2000s; trades put them over the top. Terry Ryan’s trade of Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees in 1998 led to a franchise revival. Trading A.J. Pierzynski for Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano, trading Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart, and trading for Johan Santana in the Rule V draft were the kinds of deals that led to a decade of success.
When Ryan retired temporarily and Bill Smith took over as GM, the Twins stopped making the kinds of trades that may have prevented their three-season slump.
David Ortiz is, to many, a symbol of Twins’ negligence, but the Twins made the same judgment on Ortiz as 31 other teams. The Twins waived him. No other team signed him as a starting first baseman or DH. The Red Sox signed him as a backup for $1.25 million, the price of a mediocre utility infielder.
The Twins’ true mistakes occurred much later.
They allowed Michael Cuddyer to leave at the end of a 99-loss season. They should have traded him.
They traded Delmon Young at the low point of his value.
They traded Santana to the wrong team at the wrong time, then traded their only usable player from that deal, Carlos Gomez, for J.J. Hardy, and then traded him for two worthless relievers. Sum total: Santana for nothing. The Twins needed to trade Santana for quality young pitching. They at least should have kept Hardy, even if only to trade him for better pitchers at a later date.
They can’t be criticized for losing Nathan, Jesse Crain, Gomez, Grant Balfour or Torii Hunter. Nathan had little value while recovering from surgery, Crain was part of a 2010 team that went to the playoffs, Gomez brought decent value in the Hardy trade, Balfour didn’t have success until four seasons after the Twins released him, two of which he didn’t spend in the majors, and Hunter was part of a competitive team.
What has been missing from the Twins is the Magic Trade. For nine years, Ryan was a burglar, trading players he didn’t want or need for the likes of Ortiz, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Stewart, Nathan, Liriano, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Silva and Rick Reed.
The most symbolic trade of Bill Smith’s tenure was dealing Matt Garza and Bartlett, an ace and a starting shortstop, to Tampa Bay for Young and Brendan Harris, an average corner outfielder with an attitude problem and a mediocre utility infielder.
The Twins need to trade Morneau. At 32 and three years removed from his concussion, he’s having a lesser season than he did last year. He’ll be 33 next year, and he has one of the lowest slugging percentages of any regular first baseman in the big leagues. He’s a great competitor and teammate who was on his way to becoming one of the best Twins of all time before taking a knee to the helmet in 2010.
Ryan might not be able to trade Morneau for much. Then again, he once traded a player he didn’t want, Dave Hollins, for an A-ball prospect named David Ortiz.