Heading into the 2003 All-Star festivities, the Minnesota Twins were a mess. On a 1-12 skid, the team had dropped to 44-49 and 7.5 GB the division-leading Kansas City Royals. Sure there was the occasional walk-off home run and wild finish, but for the most part the ‘02 bloom was clearly off the rose.
With the MLB trade deadline still a few weeks away, Twins GM Terry Ryan made two decisions: A. Not to throw in a towel and become a seller; and B. Not to wait until July 31 to pull out of the nosedive. As such, Shannon Stewart of the Toronto Blue Jays was acquired via trade on July 16 as the All-Stars gathered in Chicago’s South Side.
From 1995-2002, Stewart was as solid as they come for a professional hitter. His 162-game average during that span: 111 R, 197 H, 41 2B, 14 HR, 34 SB, .302 BA, .816 OPS, 110 OPS+. With the “Jacque Jones leading off” experiment having run its course, Stewart was targeted as a perfect leadoff man for the Twins’ offense.
Of course, every trade for a solid player has its price and this one was outfielder Bobby Kielty. Though seemingly a steal in hindsight, it wasn’t so clear-cut at the time. Kielty was coming off a fourth-place Rookie of the Year finish in ‘02 and had the pedigree of a speed-plus-power batsman.
But GM Ryan decided to pull the trigger on the trade—and it proved to be the right bullet. Not only did Kielty never quite blossom in Toronto—or later Oakland—but Stewart immediately jump-started the Twins offense as had been hoped.
Well, maybe not immediately. In a funny turn of events, Stewart made the first and third outs of a bat-around 1st inning as the Twins opened the unofficial second half of the season hosting the Athletics. But the Twins swept that series and Stewart was off and running!
As a Twin, the Stew-cat put up these ‘03 numbers: 304 PA, .322 BA, .854 OPS, 124 OPS+. Essentially, he was even a step better than the solid player Minnesota had expected. He garnered enough MVP votes to finish fourth in the AL—behind only Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, & Jorge Posada. There have perhaps been more influential trades in Twins franchise history—but none with as much immediate in-season impact as Shannon Stewart.
Right now, the Twins resemble their two-decades-ago counterparts—dragging themselves into the All-Star Break with a feeble offense that could use a boost. Will anything transpire as the home runs fly and the Stars shine in Seattle? In another echo from the past, we’ll find out Friday—against the A’s.