The Minnesota Twins created a lot of memorable on-field moments for its fans in 2002:
- Starting things off with a bang
- Perpetuating a curse
- Halting Moneyball (TM)
- Introducing a generation of Twins fans to playoff baseball
But in the dead of winter (December 16) that same year—some 20 solar circumnavigations ago—the Twins made an equally impactful move: releasing David Ortiz. It was a decision that has haunted the franchise since the papers were signed—and I believe now is the time to finally exorcise the demon.
In a certain sense, it is hard to lay all the blame for the Ortiz cut-loose at the feet of then-Twins GM Terry Ryan. In parts of six seasons with the organization, Ortiz never logged more than 500 PAs in any of them—seemingly always afflicted with various maladies sidelining him for indiscriminate periods of time. His .461 SLG, .809 OPS, & 108 OPS+ slashes were fine but not exactly indicative of a superstar.
Beyond the numbers, Ortiz was also a first baseman by trade—and not exactly of the soft hands variety (negative Runs Above Average & Defensive Runs Saved). At the time, the Twins had defensive wizard (and scrappy hitter) Doug Mientkiewicz—perhaps the heart and soul of the team—firmly entrenched at 1B.
Of course, when a player released at age 27 gloms on to another organization (Boston Red Sox), forges a Hall of Fame resume (.570 SLG, .956 OPS, 148 OPS+ with BOS) and perpetuates an iconic nickname (Big Papi), there are probably some lessons to be learned from the experience. Fortunately, the Twins—and baseball in general—seem to have learned those lessons pretty well.
Lesson #1: Let Papis be Papis
According to the man himself, Ortiz only started to flourish when Boston allowed him to discover his natural power stroke—this being diametrically opposed to the Tom Kelly or Twins Way (TM) of hitting the ball to the opposite field and advancing runners. I can’t imagine this happening in the current baseball atmosphere. Though analytics have made some aspects of MLB less exciting, their application towards unlocking individual swings or batting approaches is undeniable. Today, a young David Ortiz would be encouraged to tap into his strengths rather than ignore them in favor of a singular philosophy.
Lesson #2: Make the DH full-time w/benefits
Despite Mientkiewicz’s presence at first base, the Twins could have simply installed Ortiz as full-time designated hitter. But that was not an approach favored by Ryan or manager Ron Gardenhire. They seem to prefer the DH as a revolving door to keep non-starting players—like Bobby Kielty, Matthew LeCroy, or Brian Buchanan—fresh and engaged.
After using Jason Tyler—he of the one career Bomba—in the DH slot 19 times in 2007, the Twins finally began to change their thinking on this matter. Eventually, they would deploy multiple non-fielding sluggers—Jim Thome & Nelson Cruz—in that role, both of whom paid enormous dividends.
After 20 years of hand-wringing over the loss of a Hall of Fame talent, it is time to let ourselves off the hook. David Ortiz the Twin would have never become David Ortiz the Red Sock, and the lessons from such a blunder have clearly been learned.
So, if the current Falvine (TM) regime find themselves visited (not unlike one Ebenezer Scrooge) by a chain-carrying—yet gregarious, immaculately bearded, and shades-sporting— ghost this weekend, I hope they don’t pay it much mind. It’s ancient history.
Now, where exactly did Miguel Sano end up again?