A switch hitter who could play every outfield position, Kielty, then 26, had nine homers and a .370 on-base percentage in 75 games for the Twins in 2003. He was making $325,000 and wasn't due for a major raise through arbitration until after the '04 season.
So the two teams had a match: Stewart for Kielty. The sticking point was money. "I wasn't in any position to take on [Stewart's] salary," said Ryan, whose payroll was $55 million then, compared to $74 million this year.
Toronto agreed to pay the remainder of Stewart's contract, and all the Twins did from the beginning of his arrival was win. They went 46-23 after the All-Star break, all the more remarkable considering they entered the break on a 1-12 skid.
"I still credit [Stewart] for helping us turn that season around," Ryan said.
Most thought Stewart would be a rental player, but the Twins signed him to a three-year, $18 million contract after the season. Meanwhile, Kielty didn't pan out for the Blue Jays and was traded to Oakland that November for lefthander Ted Lilly. One month later, the Twins received minor league lefthander David Gassner from Toronto as the player to be named.
Times have changed
When told the Twins haven't made an impact in-season trade since the Stewart deal, Ryan disagreed, pointing to the deal last Aug. 31 that sent Class AA pitcher Adam Harben to the Cubs for Phil Nevin.
"We gave up a pitcher we liked," Ryan said of Harben, who has since had reconstructive elbow surgery.
Nevin hit only .190 with one home run for the Twins, but Ryan said: "He was a big piece for us. He was a righthanded bat, a veteran, and he may have taken some pressure off some other guys."
Some close to Ryan say he's been in a difficult position in recent years because the Twins' most valuable trade chips have been pitching prospects such as Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey.
If the Twins have any hope of keeping Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana -- while still keeping their payroll under control in coming years -- they will need to surround them with young, inexpensive talent.
The Twins had serious discussions with the Nationals about Alfonso Soriano last year, for example. But insiders say Nationals GM Jim Bowden asked for a package of three prized pitchers: Garza, Slowey and Scott Baker. The Twins refused to trade Garza but made a counterproposal that included two top prospects.
In the end, Bowden didn't even trade Soriano, who then left for the Cubs as a free agent last offseason. As compensation, the Nationals received two compensatory picks between the first and second rounds of this year's draft.
More teams are choosing to keep prospective free agents, rather than trade them because they can turn those picks into inexpensive young players.
With salaries rising, the value of players in their first three years of service time -- making close to the major league minimum salary of $380,000 -- continues to rise.
Deals still possible
Ryan disagrees that it's getting tougher to make trades, and so does Krivsky, now in his second year as Reds general manager.
"It's always been tough to make trades," Krivsky said. "I don't think it's any more difficult now than it was then. It's tough to make trades period."