Friday, November 28, 2014

The Knoblauch legacy

We can trace Brian
Duensing's presence on
the Twins roster to
Chuck Knoblauch.
A few years ago I wrote a print column on the "Knoblauch tree," in which I traced the impact on the Twins of their 1989 decision to draft Chuck Knoblauch in the first round.

As detailed in this Grantland piece by Ben Lindbergh, the Twins are still benefiting from that move.

Knoblauch's personal travails notwithstanding, he had an excellent seven-year run in Minnesota: Starting second baseman on the 1991 World Series team, Rookie of the Year that year, four All-Star teams, a cumulative slash line of .304/..391/.416.

The Twins traded him to the Yankees and got back Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota (and cash). Mota washed out. The others:

  • Guzman was the Twins regular shortstop for six years, during which time they won three division titles. Guzy led the league in triples three times, made an All-Star team, slashed .226/.303/.383. 
  • Milton spent six years -- or five really, considering an injury that wiped out most of his final season in Minnesota -- in the Twins rotation, racking up a 57-51 record with a 4.76 ERA and one All-Star season.
  • Buchanan wasn't so much of a much. The Twins gave the big outfielder 455 plate appearances over three seasons, in which he hit .258 with 16 homers. But he still matters in this saga.
Guzman left as a free agent; under the prevailing rules, the Twins got a third-round draft pick from the Nationals. (Lindbergh's flow chart says it was the Mariners, but that's an error.) That pick turned into Brian Duensing, still a member of the pitching staff. Duensing to date is 37-36 with a 4.12 ERA with the Twins, splitting his time between the rotation (61 starts) and the bullpen (238 relief outings).

Milton was traded to Philadelphia for Nick Punto, Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky.

  • Korecky's still hanging around at age 35; the Blue Jays gave him 3.1 innings last season. He made just 16 appearances with the Twins before they cut him loose. 
  • Punto's also still going; he was with Oakland last year as a reserve infielder. In seven years with the Twins he slashed .248/.323/.324 and drove a vocal contingent of the fan base nuts by repeatedly winding up the regular at one of the infield spots. Third base, second base, shortstop. He left as a free agent and hasn't missed the postseason since.
  • Silva spent four years in the Twins rotation, compiling a 47-45, 442 mark and averaging more than 190 innings a year.
That's where these guys' contributions end. Korecky was released, and Punto and Silva's departures as free agents did not bring back any compensation picks.

Buchanan was traded to San Diego for a Class A infielder: Jason Bartlett. Bartlett was with the Twins for three partial seasons and one full one, slashing .272/.341/.362 in those four seasons. His belated emergence as the full-time shortstop was a key to the division title run in 2006, in my opinion the best of the Ron Gardenhire teams.

Bartlett was traded to Tampa Bay. Unlike the previous trades listed here, this wasn't a clean, one-player for this package. The Twins included Matt Garza and Eduardo Moran in the trade and got back Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

  • Pridie was the outfield equivalent of Korecky; A short, ineffectual stint with the Twins (11 games, six plate appearances), then cut loose. (Like Korecky, he's still playing; he got four at-bats with Colorado in 2014).
  • Harris spent three years with the Twins, playing some shortstop and some third base. He hit .252/.309/.360 with more than 1,000 plate appearances.
  • Young had one big season in 2010 and three mediocre ones for the Twins, with a combined slash line of .287/.324/.429. 
Harris was included in the notorious J.J. Hardy trade: Hardy and Harris to Baltimore for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. The Twins released Jacobson after the 212 season, he stalled out in Double A for the Twins. Hoey had one lousy season with the Twins and was claimed on waivers by Toronto. So this branch of the Knoblauch tree ends there.

Lester Oliveros might
be the best bet to
keep the tree growing.
Young was traded to Detroit for Lester Oliveros and Cole Nelson. Nelson has been released; the Minnesota native pitched for the independent St. Paul Saints last summer. Oliveros, still only 26, has spent the past two years recovering from Tommy John surgery and is regarded as a serious candidate for the Twins bullpen in 2015.

So that's the Knoblauch tree so far. By Lindbergh's computation, it's the seventh-longest current tree in the majors. The longest is an incredible one: The Mets used a 1967 -- that's right, 1967 -- draft pick on Jon Matlack, and almost a half century later have David Wright to show for it. 

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