Monday, August 02, 2004

Dealing Mientkiewicz: A Second Opinion

We all knew it was inevitable, but when it actually happened, it all seemed so surreal.

The news was released early last week. We said our goodbyes on Monday. We waited for the news, some of us refreshing the sports wire every so five minutes to see if it had happened yet.

But when Saturday's 3 p.m. deadline came and went with no definitive news either way, most Twins fans either braced for the backlash or let out a sigh of relief. However, they didn't hold their breath for long.

Approximately 40 minutes later, it was official: Doug Mientkiewicz had been traded to the Boston Red Sox in a four-team trade that saw the Twins land Chicago Cubs' prospect Justin Jones.

Doug was forced to make the same 12 foot journey that Rick Aguilera made nine years ago, and received a very nice standing ovation from the home crowd when he came to bat against longtime teammate Brad Radke. No matter what your feelings on Mientkiewicz, Carl Pohlad, Ron Gardenhire, or Terry Ryan are, if you didn't feel anything during that moment, you aren't a true Twins fan.

However, what's done is done. Despite the fact that numerous people were critical of this trade (including Sir Sidney, who came off as particularly ignorant in Sunday's paper), I actually think that Terry Ryan made the most of what was a very precarious situation. First of all, let's get this straight: if you don't think Justin Morneau absolutely NEEDS to play every day on this team, you are a fool. The guy is a pure power threat, exactly what this team has been lacking for the past three and a half years. He has some obvious deficiencies, to be certain: he will probably never win a Gold Glove at first, his plate discipline isn't as developed as it could be, and he strikes out too much for my taste. But make no mistake, the kid can mash, and the Twins are in desperate need of a masher. Second of all, Doug was not going to be happy as a backup. He was becoming a distraction in the media, and did not hide his displeasure for his potential new role. After the Benson trade went down on Friday night, one veteran Twin went so far as to say, "Does this mean Dougie is stuck here?" This isn't exactly conducive to the argument that Mientkiewicz was an invaluable part of the team's "clubhouse chemistry", is it?

Last, but certainly not least, was the fact that Mint and Gardy were not seeing eye to eye. Now I think both parties deserve some blame here. Gardenhire probably should have used his better judgment and not told Dougie that he would probably be traded, and Mientkiewicz probably should have handled the news a little more professionally and not turned it into a potential distraction. Either way, the issue is currently moot and both parties (the Twins and Doug) can move on. Justin Morneau gets to play every day, an opportunity he probably deserved as early as last year. Dougie gets to play almost every day for a contender, one where he even has at least one good friend (Ortiz). As an added bonus, the Twins received a very promising young pitching prospect from the Cubs. Justin Jones was ranked the second best prospect in what is a strong Chicago farm system before the season began, according to Baseball America. He is young (19), throws hard (89-94 mph), and is lefthanded. What more can you ask for? Here's what Baseball America had to say about Jones in their minor league prospect issue earlier this year:

Background: Jones looked like a possible first-round pick early in 2002 but didn’t pitch well in front of crosscheckers, so the Cubs were able to grab him in the second. They planned on pitching him at short-season Boise in 2003 before injuries created an opening at low Class A Lansing. Jones excelled as one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League.

Strengths: Jones' 89-94 mph fastball and his curveball are both plus pitches. With his age and frame, he projects to add velocity. His changeup is advanced for his age, as is most of his package. He also throws an occasional splitter. Lefties went 5-for-58 (.086) with no extra-base hits against him in 2003.

Weaknesses: Like several of Chicago's top pitching prospects, Jones didn't make it through the full season. He was shut down twice with a tired arm and didn't pitch after Aug. 5. He didn't need surgery but needs to get stronger. His command can get better.

The Future: The Cubs have sought a good lefty starter for years, and Jones will race Andy Sisco and Luke Hagerty to Wrigley Field. Jones should be 100 percent for spring training and will spend 2004 at high Class A Daytona.

2003 3-5 2.28 71 59 18 32 87
2004 3-3 3.78 64.1 62 27 22 59

Those numbers are drawn from a smaller sample size than would be expected due to the fact that Jones didn't join his single A team in 2004 until May, simply because the Cubs were being very cautious with their prized lefty. He has struggled with some tendinitis this season, but I heard Terry Ryan say on Sunday that the club had Jones take an MRI and he was deemed healthy. It might be two or three or four years, but Justin Jones sounds like he will become an impact pitcher in the major leagues someday.

Meanwhile, your Minnesota Twins extended their recent run of solid play by taking two of three from the visiting Red Sox this weekend, including two nice come-from-behind victories on Saturday and Sunday. Not only was I encouraged by the Twins' performance over the weekend (Kyle Lohse's lackluster outing on Friday notwithstanding), but I was extremely pleased with the attendance figures. The Twins drew crowds of 34,263, 40,283, and 38,751 for the three game series, the highest total for any three game set since August of 2002. I was at Friday's game and it was great to see such large crowds, despite the omnipresent traffic headaches. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come. At the very least, the Twins' front office can stop complaining about sagging attendance figures for the time being.

I realize that was a mouthful, but I appreciate that you took the time to stop by Twins Chatter for today. The Twins have an impressive five game lead in the division, but there is always room for improvement. Later this week, I'll take a in-depth look at the current 25-man roster, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and possible moves. After all, it is my sworn duty as a Twins blogger to do everything within my power to help the team succeed, even if that contribution is merely presenting opinions that the real front office will never see. Good night everyone.