In late December, the Twins made a bit of a surprise move when they signed right-handed reliever Tim Stauffer to a one-year contract. Although they had just released Anthony Swarzak, it sure looked like the bullpen would already be overflowing with options and thus there wouldn't be room for any other players. Alex Meyer and Trevor May were possibilities to start the season as long relievers, as were Mike Pelfrey or Tommy Milone. Michael Tonkin, Lester Oliveros, and J.R. Graham were a trio of hard-throwing righties that would be competing for spots as well. Yet through it all, Terry Ryan still saw it fit to guarantee one spot to a free agent.
Now, I'm not chastising the move. In spite of some Twins analysts thinking that Stauffer's road splits mean he's doomed to fail in Minnesota, I've been in favor of the acquisition and I think he will be a solid addition to the team. And if he does indeed become a disaster, well, we've grown accustomed to this in the Terry Ryan era.
Remember, the Twins were/are such a small market team that the largest free agent contracts handed out in team history currently belong to Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Josh Willingham. All of those contracts have been signed within the past five years. Before then, it was a slew of minute contracts that were constantly handed out every year. Sure, there were multi-year contract extensions thrown out to Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, and the like, but every year Ryan looked to boost the team with slight tweaks from outside the organization, only to see them crash and burn.
I started a decade ago (because ten years sounded like a nice, round number) and looked at the short-term acquisitions Terry Ryan made that didn't work out. Additionally, just for fun I added in the player that ended up supplanting the guy that was released/designated for assignment/Old Yeller'd.
Acquired: Traded a player-to-be-named-later to the Seattle Mariners on July 11th
Result: Released August 1st after hitting .170/.241/.170 in 58 plate appearances
Replaced by: Jason Bartlett, who started the season with the big league club, was sent down to Triple-A for roughly 2 1/2 months, and then finished the season as the club's starting shortstop
Acquired: Signed to a one-year contract on December 15th, 2005
Result: Designated for assignment on June 14th after hitting .236/.303/.388 in 195 plate appearances
Replaced by: Jason Bartlett, who started the season in the minors but finished the season as the starting shortstop
Perspective: Welcome to Minnesota, Tony Bautista
Acquired: Signed a minor league contract on January 31st
Result: Released on July 10th after hitting .179/.273/.214 in 33 plate appearances, primarily as a pinch-hitter and occasional DH
Replaced by: Scott Baker, who bounced up and down between the majors and minors all year, tossing a 6.37 ERA (4.99 FIP) and 1.84 HR/9, although he also had a 6.7 K/9 and 1.73 BB/9
Note: Jason Kubel started the season with the Twins but was quickly sent down to the minors in favor of Sierra. When Sierra hit the DL in late April, it was Dennys Reyes that got the call instead of a return for Kubel. He did eventually return in late May when Shannon Stewart hit the DL, though.
Acquired: Traded cash to the Chicago Cubs on August 31st
Result: Hit .190/.340/.286 in 54 plate apperances
Replaced by: N/A, finished the season with the team
Note: In retrospect, I think acquiring Nevin was perfectly defensible. All these other players that were acquired performed about as poorly as we could have expected, but Nevin had been hitting .274/.335/.497 in nearly 200 PA with the Cubs before the trade.
Perspective: Cubs trade Phil Nevin to Twins
Acquired: Re-signed to a one-year contract on December 20th, 2006
Result: Continued sucking, hit .174/.235/.321 in 119 plate appearances after hitting .246/.276/.365 the prior season while constantly dealing with nagging injuries
Replaced by: N/A, the Twins inexplicably did not cut their losses on White.
Perspective: The Ballad of Rondell White
Acquired: Signed a minor league contract on January 3rd
Result: Designated for assignment on May 13th after tossing a 6.93 ERA (6.03 FIP) in only 7 starts, was a disaster in every facet of pitching. The original Jason Marquis.
Replaced by: Garrett Jones, who made his major-league debut and was shortly sent back to the minors within the week to make room for Scott Baker, who then had his first of five consecutive 2.5+ fWAR seasons.
Acquired: Signed a one-year contract on January 22nd
Result: Traded to Rockies for IF Matt Macri on August 15th after tossing a 5.14 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 91 innings, showed unusually excellent control but was terrible in everything else.
Replaced by: Garrett Jones, making his third stint in his debut season. He finished the year hitting .208/.262/.338 in 84 plate appearances.
Note: Hindsight is 20/20, but no wonder this team was terrible.
Perspective: Ponson VS Ortiz
Now, this post isn't entirely to show that the Twins (and more specifically Terry Ryan) have had zero luck with short-term players. Jeff Cirillo was one that was perfectly adequate and oddly the Twins allowed the Diamondbacks to acquire him off waivers in 2007. Dennys Reyes was a minor league signing that turned in two solid seasons in three years. However, the disasters continued with Bill Smith at the helm. Even if we ignore the Johan Santana trade, here's what the Twins signed or acquired in smaller trades.
In the Bill Smith era, here were the moves that did work. Something I find interesting is that Smith's tenure actually started out pretty well, but all the moves listed below were prior to 2011.
Joe Crede (even though he was hurt all the time)
Out of all the players I've listed here, even the ones that benefited the Twins, not any single one was originally acquired by way of a multi-year deal. Certainly we remember that Pavano spent several years in Minnesota, but he was re-signed a couple times. Mike Pelfrey looks awful right now, but he was originally signed for one year and then was misguidedly handed a two-year contract afterwards.
Basically, my whole point here is to show that sometimes (in Jason Bartlett's case) a veteran blocked a younger guy from getting time in the majors. Often times, a stopgap blew up in our faces and someone else had to be called in to clean up the mess. But, through it all it was always a small mess, a one-year deal that didn't work out or a trade for an expiring, over-the-hill player. Tim Stauffer may have taken a spot away - or at the least made it very tougher to earn a spot - from Tonkin, Oliveros, or Graham, but why does that hurt? Though Graham used to be a top prospect, he lost his status thanks to injuries. Tonkin and Oliveros aren't anything that special. Besides, if Stauffer does happen to fail, the Twins are only out a couple million to dump him for someone else.
Overall, I don't think it's a big deal unless Stauffer was blocking Nick Burdi or another minor league reliever with a high ceiling, but currently we don't see them breaking camp with the Twins. Tonkin and Oliveros may have proven themselves in the minors, but they don't project to be shutdown relievers, and while Stauffer doesn't either, he at least already has a track record of success in the majors.
Oh, and from my research, I now proclaim the new winner of the "Most Obscure Twin" Award to Carmen Cali.