The introduction of free agency to the game of baseball changed the course of the game dramatically. Even that might be an understatement. On the heels of the 1975 season, teams who would lose a player would be granted an extra pick in the following season's draft. That should sound familiar, even if it lacked the nuances of later free agent compensation plans.
For a few years there existed a free agent compensation draft, in which any team that lost a free agent would be allowed to take a player of roughly equal value from the signing club. As you might guess this meant that the impact of free agency was minimized; it was probably what ownership wanted, but it wasn't what the players wanted. This was one of the issues around which the strike in 1981 was based.
Baseball's solution was to categorize free agents into three tiers (Types A, B, and C). Type A's would activate a version of the compensation draft from other Major League teams; Type B's would be compensated with draft picks; Type C's were everyone else and garnered nothing when they signed elsewhere. But there were issues with this system as well (neither the Twins nor the Yankees were happy with the fallout from the Tim Belcher episode), and in the end the free agent compensation draft was done away with altogether.
From the mid 1980s through today, all compensation is done via the draft - even if that, too, has changed over the years. Here are the five best players the Twins have chosen as a compensation draft pick.
(Note: For the purposes of this exercise we have ommitted selections made due to failing to sign a pick the year prior - think Jason Varitek and Travis Lee)
#5 - Matt Fox
Year selected: 2004
Compensation for: Eddie Guardado
Twins fWAR: 0.1
This tells you just how difficult it is to land any draft pick, much less a compensatory one. In the last 30 years, the fifth-best pick is a guy who gave Minnesota a single start in 2010. It's unfortunate, because he did look like he might have something for a while - when he was finally healthy enough to start climbing the ladder.
He's out of baseball now, but he had a nice minor league career and made four Major League plate appearances. That's a pretty cool story to tell the grandkids.
#4 - Scott Stahoviak
Year selected: 1991
Compensation for: Gary Gaetti
Twins fWAR: 1.0
The Twins tried to turn Stahoviak into the club's post-Kent Hrbek first baseman. That was going to be a virtually impossible task by any stretch of the imagination, but he made a good run of it in 1996 when he logged 130 games and hit .284/.376/.469. In the steroid-logged era it was only worth a 111 wRC+ and 1.5fWAR, but for a 26-year old with his future ahead of him it wasn't a bad start.
Pitchers had Stahoviak pretty well figured out by 1997 however, and after struggling a great deal that year he was only back for nine games in 1998. He was around for those heavy late-90s collapses, but the truth is that he was a bit of a bright spot before the scouting reports caught up with him.
#3 - Jose Berrios
Year selected: 2012
Compensation for: Michael Cuddyer
Twins fWAR: n/a
Berrios has yet to appear for the Twins, but everything we've seen so far indicates he'll be a Major Leaguer. That's good enough to bump him up to third as far as I'm concerned. Also, he threw a complete-game shutout for Double-A Chattanooga yesterday. He walked two and gave up a pair of hits, but he also struck out eight. He now has the most strikeouts in the minor leagues (53), and owns a 2.60 ERA through 45 innings.
Can you hear that? It's Triple-A calling. And this kid is 20 years old (like Rick Porcello).
#2 - Glen Perkins
Year selected: 2004
Compensation for: Eddie Guardado
Twins fWAR: 7.5
Aaron Gleeman has a must-read on the greatness that is Glen Perkins. He might not be able to pass the top guy on this list, but considering the way he's pitching and the years still in front of him there's no reason to think that he won't be one of the best two closers in franchise history by the time he's done. The only question is whether he'll finish the list at number one or number two. There's a bit of poetry here too, since one of the guys that Perkins has to pass on his way up the ladder is the guy who left.
Also, Gleeman's quip on Perkins' neck beard: seconded.
#1 - Torii Hunter
Year selected: 1993
Compensation for: John Smiley
Twins fWAR: 22.7
198 home runs in the organization's history. A leader on four division winners. Seven-time Gold Glove winner. And a full-circle return to where he started, completing a narrative that doesn't happen nearly as often as we'd like it to happen in sports.
Hunter has been a great player for the Twins. There's a very real possibility that he has his number retired in Minnesota once he's done.
Finally, here's a full list of Minnesota's compensation picks through the years, along with the fWAR they generated while playing for the Twins.
|Player Lost||Player Drafted||Year||Twins fWAR|
|Dave Goltz||Jim Weaver||1980||0|
|Jose Morales||Craig Henderson||1981||0.2|
|Geoff Zahn||John Marzano||1981||0|
|Mike Cubbage||Curt Wardle||1981||-0.6|
|Jeff Reardon||Midre Cummings||1990||-0.1|
|Gary Gaetti||Scott Stahoviak||1991||1.0|
|Dan Gladden||Tom Knauss||1992||0|
|John Smiley||Torii Hunter||1993||22.7|
|John Smiley||Marc Barcelo||1993||0|
|Greg Gagne||Kelcey Mucker||1993||0|
|Greg Gagne||Troy Carrasco||1993||0|
|Failure to sign Jason Varitek in 1993||Travis Miller||1994||2.4|
|Failure to sign Travis Lee in 1996||Matthew LeCroy||1997||0.3|
|Mike Trombley||Aaron Heilman||2000||0|
|Mike Trombley||J.D. Durbin||2000||0|
|Eddie Guardado||Glen Perkins||2004||7.5|
|LaTroy Hawkins||Kyle Waldrop||2004||-0.3|
|Eddie Guardado||Matt Fox||2004||0.1|
|LaTroy Hawkins||Jay Rainville||2004||0|
|Corey Koskie||Hank Sanchez||2005||0|
|Corey Koskie||Paul Kelly||2005||0|
|Henry Blanco||Drew Thompson||2005||0|
|Torii Hunter||Carlos Gutierrez||2008||0|
|Torii Hunter||Shooter Hunt||2008||0|
|Dennys Reyes||Matt Bashore||2009||0|
|Orlando Hudson||Travis Harrison||2011||n/a|
|Jesse Crain||Hudson Boyd||2011||n/a|
|Michael Cuddyer||Jose Berrios||2012||n/a|
|Jason Kubel||Luke Bard||2012||n/a|