FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins traded veteran center fielder Denard Span to Washington for Alex Meyer, a starter alleged to have top of the rotation pitches, on Nov. 29, 2012.
Manager Ron Gardenhire was way too aware of the Twins’ need for strong-armed pitching to complain. Plus, Gardenhire figured that he had Ben Revere, a promising rookie during the 2012 season, to play center and lead off.
One week later, general manager Terry Ryan called Gardenhire to inform him the Twins were going to trade Revere to Philadephia for more pitching: Vance (The Vanimal) Worley and prospect Trevor May.
Gardenhire’s immediate reaction was to ask the following question: “Terry, who is my center fielder?’’
Aaron Hicks, the 14th overall choice in the 2008 draft for the Twins, had a solid spring training and opened the season in center. He was 23, had not played above Class AA and was overmatched, particularly when hitting lefty as a switch-hitter.
He batted .192 in that partial season, and .215 in the next partial season, and then Gardenhire was fired as manager and replaced by Paul Molitor.
Hicks was somewhat better for the Twins in 2015, batting .256, but then desperate for catching, they traded him to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. Hurrying Hicks to the big leagues didn’t work out for the Twins, and neither did trading him for Murphy.
He entered a crowded outfield situation with the Yankees, made himself a valuable fourth outfielder, and then a star-powered 2018 – with 27 home runs and 79 RBI – earned him a seven-year, $70 million Yankees contract that kicks in for this season.
“We weren’t able to fix Aaron in the two seasons our staff had him,’’ Gardenhire said. “Someone with the Yankees fixed him. That’s what we’re trying to do with JaCoby Jones, because we really need a center fielder with his abilities in Comerica [Park].’’
Gardenhire is in his second season as manager of the Detroit Tigers. Season one in 2018 was a full rebuild that turned into 64-98 – the fifth worst record among 30 major league teams, although merely the third worst record among five teams in the AL Central.
Jones was a third-rounder for Detroit in 2013. He has played parts of the past three seasons for the Tigers, with a .199 batting average and 219 strikeouts and 598 at-bats.
Gardenhire sent out Jones day-after-day in 2018 and there was mild improvement. “We have to cut down on the strikeouts,’’ Gardenhire said. “He can really play center field.’’
The Tigers need that with Nick Castellanos still making the conversion to right field, and rookie Christin Stewart as the left fielder.
“Stewart has work to do in the outfield, but he can hit,’’ Gardenhire said. “And Castellanos … what makes him a true hitter is that he hits good pitching. Nick hits their good stuff.’’
In the ongoing rebuild, the Tigers have decided to go with a veteran middle of the infield in shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Josh Harrison. Both were signed as free agents after leaving Pittsburgh.
Jeimer Candelario is the third baseman, inexperienced Grayson Greiner is the catcher and Miguel Cabrera is healthy at the moment at first base. He played first on Friday and will split time between there and DH – with Niko Goodrum, John Hicks and others.
This will look considerably better if JaCoby Jones can put the ball in play often enough to hold down center field. On Friday, he smacked a two-run bomb off lefty Taylor Rogers in the Tigers’ 3-0 victory over what was close to the Twins’ A team.
If that doesn’t happen, Gardenhire might be back to looking at a rush job with another center fielder: Daz Cameron, 22, and obtained from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade in the summer of 2017. Daz is the son of Mike Cameron, an all-timer as a fielder in center.
“Daz is a stud,’’ Gardenhire said. “We’re going to start him at Triple-A, playing for Dougie [Mientkiewicz]. Daz will be here; we just don’t know if it’s in one year or two.’’
The Tigers were playing the Twins in Fort Myers for the first time since 2006. The crowd of 9,030 was the largest of the exhibition season, as the Michigan retirees in this area took advantage of having the home-state team in town.
Kyle Gibson started for the Twins and managed three scoreless innings while allowing five hits. Nearly three hours before the game, Rick Anderson – now the Tigers’ pitching coach after 13 years in that job in Minnesota for Gardenhire – was talking with former Twins farm director Jim Rantz outside the visitors clubhouse.
Gibson walked up behind Anderson and put him in a bearhug. Anderson smiled and said: “There’s the old man of the Twins. I was thinking on the way over, ‘Who do I still know on this pitching staff?’ And I thought, ‘No, no, no … yeah, Gibby, he’s the one.’ ‘’
There was another Anderson acquaintance among the Twins’ eight pitchers on Monday: Trevor May.
Seven seasons after the Revere trade, the Twins are hoping for May to fill an important role in the bullpen.