10 years ago today a trade happened that really, truly, madly, deeply helped one team more than the other. This trade was special. Many trades are debacles on the field, but this one happened to be a debacle on and off the field. In fact, it’s arguable that the off-the-field stuff is what really makes this trade so special. It’s one of the most one-sided trades of the 21st century.
On Nov. 14, 2003, the Twins gave catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for three players, and that trio clearly helped Minnesota more than A.J. helped San Francisco.
Now, A.J. isn’t a bad player. In point of fact, he has had a very long and productive career, and this trade came right in the middle of it. You wouldn’t expect him to be the short end of the stick in a really one-sided trade. But nevertheless, this is a trade that gives Giants fans convulsions to this day.
While A.J. has his talents, he also has one big issue. He may very well be the most disliked player in baseball. Normally, that isn’t a big deal. Athletes are there to play and win games, not to knit quilts together. They don’t have to actually like each other. But Pierzynski—especially back then—had the knack for being extra-specially dislikable. There’s a reason why polls of all major leaguers continually show him to be the guy most people want to bean.
In fact, the first sign that Pierzysnki might be a problem for San Francisco came immediately after the trade’s announcement. To say the Twins players were happy with it would be an understatement. This went beyond the classic, “Great trade! Who’d we get?” reaction. The players all but united to form a giant conga line across Minnesota. My goodness they hated that man.
Eh, who cares? Like I said, athletes don’t have to like each other. True, but in San Francisco, A.J. got along even worse with his teammates. Regardless of how little the Twins liked him, they kept him around for three years as a starting catcher. One year was more than enough for San Francisco. They non-tendered him after the 2004 season.
It was an odd non-tendering. Sure, Pierzynski had a down year, but he still hit .272 with moderate power. No, he wasn’t great, but he certainly was the most talented catcher the Giants had at the time.
But that wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about talent. This was about his personality. The Giants thought he was such a clubhouse cancer, such a jerk, that they had to get rid of him. So they did.
To be fair, A.J. Pierzynski latched on with the White Sox where he became a franchise fixture for the better part of a decade. People still often dislike him, but he proved he wasn’t a malignant, fast-acting clubhouse poison. You can make a decent argument the Giants just overreacted when they dumped him.
But dump him they did, after just one season; a season where he had a WAR of 0.5.
And what did they give up for one season?
Well, the least important man going to Minnesota was minor league pitcher Boof Bonser. He had a decent rookie year in 2006, going 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA but he rapidly fell apart. The Twins soon dumped him. If that was all the Giants gave up, they would’ve clearly gotten the better of the deal.
But there was another minor league pitcher in the deal: Francisco Liriano. Here is where the hurt really comes for San Francisco. In 2006, F-bomb went 12-3 with a spectacular 2.16 ERA and an un-Twins like 144 strikeouts in 121 innings. He soon developed arm problems and has never been that good since, but he still had a few more solid moments for Minnesota. And with a big season like his 2006, that’s all it takes to put Minnesota well ahead of this trade.
But, alas for the Bay Area, Liriano wasn’t the gem the Twins unearthed in this deal.
Not only did the Giants send two pitching prospects, but they also added a hurler with major league experience; a failed started turned middle reliever Joe Nathan.
Well, he’d been a middle reliever in San Francisco. But Ron Gardenhire made Nathan the closer, and he turned into Super Joe. He made four All-Star teams in the next six years. In one of his years off the team, he posted a 1.58 ERA. In seven seasons with the club, he saved 260 games while posting a 2.16 ERA. With the exception of Mariano Rivera, he might have been the game’s best closer in that span.
In all, those three pitchers gave the Twins 27.4 WAR, which is nearly 55 times the value the Giants received.
So yeah, that was a really one-sided trade made 10 years ago today.