Minnesota Twins: Best/Worst Free Agent Moves 2000 to the Present

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Minnesota Twins: Best/Worst Free Agent Moves 2000 to the Present

Hindsight is always 20/20, says an old English proverb.

At the very best, signing a free agent is a crapshoot. Sometimes, you strike gold. Sometimes, you strike out.

The Minnesota Twins have excelled in the amateur baseball draft. Witness the selections of Justin Morneau (1999), Jason Kubel (2000), Joe Mauer (2001), Denard Span and Pat Neshek (2002), Scott Baker (2003), and Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey (2005).

Can the same be said about the Twins' involvement in the free-agent market?

Decide for yourself.

 

The Worst

5. Butch Huskey

The New York Mets made Butch Huskey their seventh-round pick in the 1989 draft. They had no illusions. They knew they were getting a raw talent who would need plenty of polish—and the willpower to say "no" to an occasional dessert—before he was ready for the big time.

Huskey posted big numbers in the minors. In 1993, he hit 25 home runs and drove in 98 for Class AA Binghamton. Two years later, he belted 28 home runs and knocked in 87 for AAA Norwalk.

The Mets deemed his apprenticeship over in 1996. They were sorely in need of a power hitter, and Huskey looked every bit the part as he clouted nine homers during Spring Training. In his first full season in the Majors, Huskey batted .278 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI.

Huskey looked like he was well on his way to stardom in 1997 (.287, 24, 81), but the Mets soured on him following a subpar 1998 (.252, 13, 59), and they traded him to Seattle that December for 20-year-old pitching prospect Lesli Brea.

Given another chance, Huskey responded with 15 home runs, 49 RBI, and a .290 batting average in just 262 plate appearances. He was picked up by the Boston Red Sox for their pennant drive and helped out wth seven home runs and 28 RBI over a 45-game span.

When the Red Sox didn't offer him a contract, the Twins figured Huskey was worth a gamble and signed him to a minor league deal on Jan. 27, 2000. Huskey proved to be a bust for the Twins. In 215 at-bats, Huskey hit .223 with just five home runs and 27 RBI.

Huskey and Todd Walker were traded to the Colorado Rockies on Jul. 15. Huskey enjoyed a brief resurgence in the rarefied air of Coors Field but never recovered his power stroke. When the 2000 season ended, so did Huskey's Major League career.

 

4. Mike Lamb

The Twins' signing of Mike Lamb on Dec. 14, 2007, looked like a coup. Finally, they would have an able bat at third base—something that Nick Punto didn't supply them the year before—with a .210 batting average in 472 at-bats with one home run and 25 RBI.

Lamb hit .289 in 2007 in 124 games for the Houston Astros with 11 home runs and 40 RBI. He had a career batting average of .281 with 68 homers and 313 RBI when he arrived in the Twin Cities for the 2007 season.

What happened?

He pulled a "Punto" at the plate. In 81 games, Lamb batted only .233 with a single homer and 32 RBI.

Lamb is now with the Milwaukee Brewers in the hopes of resurrecting his career.

 

3. Livan Hernandez

The former Florida Marlin, San Francisco Giant, Montreal Expo/Washington National, Arizona Diamondback Livan Hernandez belongs to a bumper crop of free-agent busts who found employment with Minnesota last season. Acquired as an innings-eater, Hernandez left Twins fans, hungry for an American League Central Division crown, with a bad taste in their mouths.

Signed as a free agent on Feb. 12, 2008, Hernandez had solid enough credentials. A two-time National League All-Star, he had won 10 or more games and pitched at least 200 innings nine times. By the time he arrived in Minnesota, the pop was gone from his pitches and all he could offer was guile.

Hernandez managed to win 10 of 18 decisions in 2007 for the Twins, but his 5.48 ERA shows that he was a magician worthy of comparison to David Copperfield or that he received plenty of run support on the mound.

 

2. Sidney Ponson

Jeff Suppan, Ted Lilly, and Gil Meche were among the pitchers available in the free-agent market. Instead, the Twins took the plunge by signing Sidney Ponson on Jan. 3, 2007.

Suppan won 12 and lost 12 for the Brewers in 2007 with a so-so 4.62 ERA. Lilly went 15-8 for the Cubs and Gil Meche, signed by the Kansas City Royals, was 9-13, but he boasted a sterling 3.67 ERA.

These performances were all better than Ponson, who won two and lost five in seven starts for the Twins with a mammoth 6.93 ERA. The Twins realized their mistake and jettisoned Ponson on May 13, before he could inflict further damage.

 

1. Tony Batista

Tony Batista's descent from stardom to mediocrity must rank as one of the swiftest in baseball history.

A two-time All-Star, Batista averaged 25 homers and 87 RBI from 1999-2004. He put together his best year in 2000 for the Toronto Blue Jays, batting .263 with 41 home runs and 114 RBI.

In 2005, Batista signed a contract with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. Despite hitting 27 home runs and driving in 90, he was released after the season.

This didn't deter the Twins from signing Batista on Dec. 15, 2005.

It took only 50 games for the Twins to come to their senses. After batting just .236 with five home runs and 21 RBI, Batista was released on Jun. 19, 2006.

 

The Best

5. Jason Tyner

A former New York Mets first-round draft selection, Jason Tyner had toiled for parts of four seasons with the New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Rays when he signed a free-agent contract with the Twins on Nov. 15, 2004.

Tyner was signed as a backup outfielder and he performed his role admirably. In three seasons with the Twins, Tyner never hit less than .286. However, his slugging percentage never rose above .367. And perhaps that's why the Twins deemed him expendable following the conclusion of the 2007 season.

Tyner also provided Twins fans with one magic moment before he left the Twin Cites. On Jul. 28, 2007, Tyner blasted his first—and only—home run of his career off Jake Westbrook of the Cleveland Indians. It took 1,200 Major League at-bats for him to accomplish the feat.

 

4. Kenny Rogers

A perfect game...one of the best pick-off moves in baseball...two Gold Gloves...and the ability to seemingly pitch forever.

Kenny Rogers, at 38, had a solid resume going for him when the Twins signed him as a free agent on Mar. 17, 2003.

And he didn't disappoint, helping the Twins to an American League Central Division title by pitching nearly 200 innings with a 13-8 record.

 

3. Dennys Reyes

Signed as a free agent on Feb. 21, 2006, Dennys Reyes, a left-handed relief specialist, posted numbers that—well, let the statistics speak for themselves:

2006—In 66 games, Reyes won all five of his decisions with a microscopic 0.89 ERA.

2007—Reyes pitched only 29.1 innings but still won two of three decisions with a 3.89 ERA.

2008—Reyes pitched in 75 games, won all three of his decisions, and returned to form with a 2.33 ERA.

 

2. Mike Redmond

In four seasons as a part-time catcher and designated hitter with the Twins, Redmond has never hit less than .286.

As Joe Mauer's primary backup behind the plate, Redmond hasn't committed an error and allowed only one passed ball in 174 games.

Redmond's value may increase this season given Mauer's uncertain physical status.

 

1. Shannon Stewart

The Blue Jays traded Shannon Stewart and a player to be named later to the Twins for Bobby Kielty on Jul. 16, 2003. In 65 games for the Twins, Stewart batted .322 with six home runs and 38 RBI.

Stewart was granted free agency on Oct. 16, 2003, but the Twins re-signed him on Dec. 7.

Stewart gave the Twins everything he had for three seasons, although it fell somewhat short of the stout numbers he had posted for the Blue Jays. In 2004, Stewart batted .304 with 11 homers and 47 RBI. He followed that up in 2005 with a .274 batting average that included 10 home runs and 56 RBI. In his final season with the Twins, Stewart batted .293, belting two homers and driving in 21. 

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