What a missed opportunity. The Twins could easily have acquired Troy Tulowitzki last week, could have the five-time All-Star playing shortstop and batting in the middle of their lineup in Toronto this week, rather than having to face him.
Then they could have traded for Cole Hamels and stuck the lefthander atop their rotation, ready to start the one-game wild-card playoff, should they get there. For that matter, it was entirely possible for the Twins to grab David Price, just two years removed from his Cy Young season. And what would their lineup look like with the speed (and occasional power) of Carlos Gomez restored to the leadoff spot? It was there for the taking.
A makeover like that — again, it could have happened, had Terry Ryan made a few calls — would have made the Twins a favorite to hold on to their wild-card spot, and made them one of 10 teams with a cross-your-fingers chance to win a World Series.
And all it would have cost was Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, perhaps Kohl Stewart or Nick Gordon, too.
If that sounds crazy, well, Ryan and most of his peers agree with you. But not every team, not every general manager, values young prospects like Van Gogh paintings, or views talented teenagers as untouchable. Some teams, dreaming of putting a championship parade on their October schedule, consider their best minor leaguers almost like gift cards, available to redeem for established (and usually hugely expensive) major leaguers.
“I can’t say enough about our scouting staff,” Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos told the Toronto Sun after his trading spree last week. “They’re giving us the players to go make these trades to add to our big-league team.”
Safe to say, that’s not exactly how Ryan would describe his scouts’ jobs.
The contrast made for an entertaining trade deadline last week, if not necessarily in the Twin Cities. Those four great players all wear new uniforms this week, along with stars of various brightness like Joakim Soria, Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Papelbon, David DeJesus, Scott Kazmir, Aramis Ramirez and more.
And while most casual fans might not know it, a wealth of future talent — nearly two dozen players ranked on their previous team’s top 10 prospects — found new homes, too. Brett Phillips is a 21-year-old outfielder with enough power potential to someday replace Ryan Braun for the Brewers. New Phillies catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, scouts say, has the big arm and big bat that could eventually turn him into another Yadier Molina, an almost priceless commodity in today’s game. And Daniel Norris might be the best of all the traded players, a lefthander with mid-90s stuff who arguably might someday not just be Price’s price, but his replacement.
It’s an interesting disparity in philosophies and intentions, and it will be fascinating to see who eventually regrets dealing away young, cheap talent — and who regrets not taking a big risk for a shot at glory. Championships live forever, after all.
The Blue Jays, only a .500 team at the deadline, were the biggest win-now gamblers, of course, swapping Norris, the top prospect in their system, in a package for Price, and two more top-10 talents (along with shortstop Jose Reyes) for Tulowitzki. They also sent five other younger minor leaguers away to get reliever Mark Lowe and outfielder Ben Revere.
The Rangers handed over three of their top-five prospects for Hamels, putting a big dent in one of the better farm systems. And the Astros, already flush with young, blossoming talent in the majors, dealt a package of four promising kids to land Gomez.
Meanwhile, teams like the Twins and Cubs, who might have the best stockpiles of young talent in the game, were careful not to disturb their futures, making only minor deals. It’s a smart play, but one that requires patience, and a bit of faith.
Check back in a couple of years to see whose approach paid off.
Jeff Samardzija: Still with the White Sox, who remain in contention.
All five AL Central teams made moves at the deadline. Here’s a look at how the Twins’ competition fared:
Indians: Having fallen into last place, the Indians cleared playing time for young players by dealing outfielder David Murphy (who was having a solid year) to the Angels, outfielder Brandon Moss (who was having a disappointing one) to St. Louis and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski to San Diego. In former first-rounder Rob Kaminsky, they at least received a nice return for Moss.
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Royals: Johnny Cueto is now their ace, and Ben Zobrist fills the void left by Alex Gordon, then likely moves to second base when Gordon returns from his groin injury. The cost was high — two top-five prospects — but not outrageous, since it makes Kansas City the favorite to repeat as AL champions.
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Tigers: They dumped soon-to-be-free agents Joakim Soria, Yoenis Cespedes and David Price and in doing so restocked their depleted farm system with a half-dozen good young players. But it’s a risk: None are close to major league-ready, and the window may be closing on a team built around aging Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.
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White Sox: Sold off disappointing infielder Conor Gillaspie to the Angels, but the real news is what they didn’t do. With their sudden surge in the wild-card standings, they held on to sought-after starter Jeff Samardzija, a pending free agent. Should they falter, he might still be dealt in August.
Someone used to drawing intentional walks: Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (203 in his career).
Taking a free one
There was some irony in the Mariners’ decision to intentionally walk Aaron Hicks on Thursday in order to pitch to Joe Mauer, given that Hicks had only been given a free pass once before in his career. Mauer has led the Twins in intentional walks for seven consecutive seasons, including this one (he has 10). Here are Twins all-time leaders in intentional walks:
153 Harmon Killebrew
131 Tony Oliva
125 Joe Mauer
110 Kent Hrbek
99 Rod Carew
Giving a free one
While we’re at it, who have the Twins issued the most intentional walks to in their history? It’s an interesting list:
20 George Brett
17 Miguel Cabrera
15 Cal Ripken Jr.
14 Frank Howard
14 Ken Griffey Jr.
The best there ever was
The 1965 Twins, champions of the American League, might have lost the World Series in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they were the winningest team in the franchise’s 55-year history in Minnesota. The best regular seasons ever by the Twins:
1965: 102-60 (AL champions)
1970: 98-64 (AL West champions)
1969: 97-65 (AL West champions)
2006: 96-66 (AL Central champions)
1991: 95-67 (World Series champions)