This is part one in a series which will chronicle each season Terry Ryan was General Manager of the Minnesota Twins. Initially this was going to be one consolidated article, but to get a broader scope on his tenure I've decided to take it a year at a time. I readily admit this might be boring to some, but it's incredibly interesting to me. Sadly, I likes learnin'.
Where It Started
In the strike-shortened 1994, the Minnesota Twins finished 53-60; 14.5 games behind Chicago and in fourth place. While on a better pace than '93, the team was sliding further and further away from what made them a good team the two years prior. An offense that hit for average betrayed what would be years of a power drought, and the pitching provided no support by finishing with the American League's worst team ERA.
On September 13, 1994, Terry Ryan took over as Minnesota's new General Manager, taking over for the departed Any MacPhail who had moved on to the north side of Chicago. With an aging core and some mid-range talent filling out the roster, it was going to be a rough start. Kent Hrbek was going to retire; Dave Winfield was a free agent; Shane Mack would leave Major League Baseball for some time in Japan.
Free Agent Arrivals: Kevin Maas, Rich Robertson, Jerald Clark, Matt Merullo, Greg Harris
By the end of May, the Twins already had been blown out (lost by 5+ runs) nine times. Already 12.5 games out of first, it was going to be a rough summer for players and fans alike.
A 35-year old Kirby Puckett, in what would be his last season playing baseball, hit .314/.379/.515 in 137 games. His grand slam on June 16 launched the Twins to a rare blowout victory; a 3-run, 2-out homer in the bottom of the ninth on August 15 snatched a win from the jaws of defeat; in his last regular season game as a Twin, Kirby Puckett was hit in the face by a pitch in the first inning. He would return for spring training in 1996, belting the ball as expertly as ever, but the arrival of glaucoma kept him from playing again.
In addition to Puckett's great offensive season, there were some bright spots. Outfield partner Marty Cordova won Rookie of the Year as a 25-year old power hitter. His 24 bombs topped Puckett's 23 for the team high, he stole 20 bases and an .838 OPS held a lot of promise. Chuck Knoblauch, in his fifth Major League season, was only 26 and hit .333/.424/.487; he won the Silver Slugger award. Pat Meares was a solid, if unspectacular, shortstop. Brad Radke and LaTroy Hawkins made their debuts, and Eddie Guardado transitioned to the bullpen where he would eventually prosper.
But as we know, there wasn't much to be excited about in general in 1995. Scott Stahoviak was disappointing; Pedro Munoz produced, but only in part-time duties. Alex Cole, who had stolen 29 bases in '94 along with a .375 OBP, missed a vast majority of the season after a very hot start. A young pitching staff suffered growing pains, with 10 pitchers 25 or younger making appearances, and once again the Twins finished the season with the American League's worst team ERA. There were a lot of very mediocre performers on each side of the ball.
Ryan's First Trades
McCarty to Cincinnati On June 8, Dave McCarty was traded to Cincinnati for John Courtright. McCarty wasn't much of a power hitter, but had been viewed by some as the future of first base. For the lack of the longball in his minor league career, he still had been a good on-base style of hitter. His trade meant that the Twins believed Stahoviak to be a better option. Courtright pitched 117.1 innings between Salt Lake and New Britain, never reaching the Twins.
Aguilera to Boston On July 6, as the Twins were welcoming the Red Sox into town, closer Rick Aguilera was traded to Boston. Minnesota was 20-44 going into the game, and it wasn't as much a question of "if" the Twins would trade their few tradable commodities, but "when". Aguilera was the first to go, in exchange for J.J. Johnson and Frankie Rodriguez. Johnson posted promising numbers in the minors in '96, but never made it to the Twins.
Rodriguez had shot through the Boston system on a rocket, and at 22 was immediately placed into the Minnesota rotation. While he never achieved his potential, which could easily taint his subjective history, Rodriguez did provide largely league-average numbers for a starting pitcher. Injuries kept him from getting close to the 206 innings he pitched in '96, but when he was around he certainly wasn't bad (seven quality starts with the Twins in '95, five of seven in one stretch). He just wasn't good, either (more walks than strikeouts with the Twins in '95). His disappointing, if not average, tenure with Minnesota came to an end in May of 1999 when the Mariners claimed him off waivers.
Erickson to Baltimore The very next day, Ryan dealt Scott Erickson to the Orioles in exchange for Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee. Scott "He Who Loves Black" Erickson had become unhappy in Minnesota, and while he hadn't been nearly as effective as he had been earlier in his career, the fact that he was only 27 made him interesting to some clubs. Baltimore offered Klingenbeck, and won the sweepstakes.
Bartee never played with the Twins, but Klingenbeck went right to the bullpen. 24-years old with prospect status, like Rodriguez he never lived up to expectations. He allowed runs in more appearances than he didn't, and in general just had problems throwing strikes. Klingenbeck appeared sporadically in '96 with the Twins before being traded to the Reds in April of 1997.
Tapani, Guthrie to Los Angeles At the deadline, Ryan pulled off one more deal. This one involved Kevin Tapani (31), the final rotation layover from the '91 World Series, as well as 29-year old southpaw reliever Mark Guthrie. In return the Twins picked up Ron Coomer, Greg Hansell, Jose Parra and Chris Latham.
Hansell didn't amount to much, throwing 32.1 innings in AAA Salt Lake in '95 before burning out his welcome with the Twins in 74.1 innings in '96. Parra didn't fare any better, as a starter in 1995 and largely a bullpen man in 1996, and in the end was out of Minnesota after 130 innings. Latham at least showed some promise, flashing speed and on-base skills with Salt Lake from '96-'99. Unfortunately those skills didn't translate to Minnesota, where he collected only 138 at-bats in parts of three seasons.
Ron Coomer was the pick of the litter, becoming a regular player and fan favorite until he left after the 2000 season. He was elected to the All Star Game in 1999 as the Minnesota representative, led the team in home runs that year with 16, and provided some moderate offense in seasons that made moderate seem promising.
1995 Trade Review
Ryan really did make a couple of nice moves here, picking up Coomer, Rodriguez and Klingenbeck. Sadly, none of them lived up to some shimmering minor league numbers, and even though the Aguilera trade was done for free (he'd return to the Twins in 1996), the best you can say about these trades was that Ryan dumped veterans and their salaries to try and jumpstart a youth movement.
Dave McCarty turned out to be a nice bench/role player for a handful of seasons, most memorably for Boston in their World Series year. Erickson fought a lot of injuries in the latter stages of his career, but was more than a solid #3 pitcher for the Orioles the four seasons following his trade from Minnesota. Tapani was largely an average starting pitcher the remainder of his career, with the exception being his 19-win year in '98.
So, the Twins went younger and more inexpensive. For the experience and innings they lost in Tapani and Erickson, they received a little financial space (every cent mattered), some average performances by Frankie Rodriguez and a cornerstone of the dark years in Ron Coomer. Not the best moves Ryan ever made, but they were good decisions.
Pick Name Pos Age High Level MLB Years
13 Mark Redman P 21 MLB 1999-Present
43 Jason Bell P 20 AAA
72 A.J. Hinch C 21 MLB 1998-2004
100 Jay Hood SS 18 AA
128 Doug Mientkiewicz 1B 21 MLB 1998-Present
156 Shane Gunderson C/1B 21 AA
184 Mike Moriarty SS 21 MLB 2002-2002
212 Will Rushing P 22 AA
240 Joe McHenry OF 19 A
268 Kyle Kane OF 19 AAA
464 Robert Ramsay P 21 MLB 1999-2000
772 Jeff Harris P 21 MLB 2005-2006
When charting the Twins draft picks in this series, I'll include the top ten picks, along with any other selections that made it to The Show. Ramsay (17th round) and Harris (28th round) are the two survivors outside of the top ten rounds in 1995.
Two names on this list are familiar to fans who watched the Twins begin to bloom around 2000; Redman and Mientkiewicz had promising starts to their careers before becoming journeymen. Dougie Baseball is playing in the Bronx; Redman has thrown 27 innings between Colorado and Atlanta.
Finishing in last place, 44 games out of first, the Twins managed only 56 wins. They were blown out 34 times. Most of the veterans had been shipped off in a fire-sale or would otherwise not return. Kirby had been lost late in the season to a disastrous injury, but it was hoped he would be ready for the following spring. It would be hard to build a team around Knoblauch, Cordova and Puckett, but that was the task given to Terry Ryan on a very limited budget.
A plethora of young arms had made their debuts. Would there be hope for Pat Mahomes? Pitchers like Rodriguez, Klingenbeck and Parra were still young and had room to grow; could they survive being thrown into the fire of the major leagues? Hopefully the Twins had hit bottom, but that didn't mean they were anywhere near the end of their rebuild.