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Right-Handed Bat; Retrospective

 By: Derek Wetmore

Many people are of the belief that Johan Santana leaving was one of the biggest pains to this franchise in the Ron Gardenhire era. Santana, afterall, forced his way out to play in a bigger market and the Twins in return got Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra and Carlos Gomez from the Mets. Philip Humber has since left the organization for the Kansas City Royals minor league system, yielding no returns. Strike one. Kevin Mulvey was named as the player-to-be-named-later in a deal that brought Jon Rauch to Minnesota. Carlos Gomez was traded this past winter for J.J. Hardy, who has a year of team control left. Deolis Guerra was 18 at the time of the trade and remains a young, semi-promising arm who has advanced his way to Triple-A Rochester and was in the Red Wings rotation before being demoted back to Double-A New Britain earlier this month.

All told we can say this: Johan was swapped for a year and a half of a solid reliever who has become our closer, a solid fielder who has become our shortstop, and a young arm who will still be young for his level in three years. Not a great haul, but made a whole lot better by the subsequent moves that the Twins were able to make. And realistically, Johan's demand to be traded (or allowed to walk via free agency) forced Bill Smith's hand as it became clear Santana wanted to pitch on a bigger stage in the biggest market in the game.

That should sound familiar to Twins fans, as the second most popular center fielder to roam the main plains for Minnesota bolted for five years, ninety million, and the huge market that is Los Angeles, California.

Torii Hunter was actually the bigger loss, and that's without factoring in on-field production.

Santana took the hill every fifth day and was generally great. For 5 2/3 innings, you could count on one or two runs and plenty of strike outs. Hunter was a bat with pop in the middle of the lineup and in his time here, played a wonderful centerfield. It should be noted that Hunter was also right-handed, in a predominantly left-handed lineup. He provided not only power, but stability that kept opposing managers from attacking the Twins with primarily lefties. The Twins clearly made up their minds that they wouldn't be keeping Torii around, offering him a three-year, 45 million dollar deal that they knew wouldn't compare with free agent offers, and ultimately, the Angels swooped in and offered him $90 million and stardom coupled with a celebrity life that he couldn't live out here in Minnesota. The Twins received two draft choices for Hunter, as he was classified as a type-A free agent. The Twins received Anaheim's first round pick and a supplemental "sandwich pick", Nos. 27 and 31 overall, respectively in the 2008 MLB first year player draft. In that draft, the Twins selected Aaron Hicks with their own first-rounder, Carlos Gutierrez, the Miami Hurricane's closer at 27 and Shooter Hunt out of Tulane at 31. For Hunter, the Twins received Gutierrez and Hunt. I am here to argue that Hunter's departure hurt much more than Santana's, but for a different reason than you might think.

Though the return wasn't incredible for either All-Star player, the modest returns for both players helped shape a small part of the future of the Twins, a future that promises to be rather strong. It is Hunter's departure, however, that ended up costing the Twins much more in the long run.

Santana was an ace. There is no replacing an ace within the organization and every one knows that. The Twins didn't make any real strides to attempt to do so, and as such, haven't had a real "ace" since Johan left in the winter of 2007. Hunter was a right-handed bat with pop in a primarily left-handed lineup. He played a great defensive centerfield and was a great clubhouse guy. Finding one player to step in and take over for Hunter wasn't likely to happen. In an effort to replace Hunter's glove, the Twins included Carlos Gomez in the Santana deal. Gomez, a young, raw outfielder had every capability of becoming an elite defensive centerfielder. While he frustrated many Twins fans and coaches alike in his tenure here, he had done just that, becoming one of the game's premier defensive centerfielders. Gomez has since been shipped out, as I mentioned earlier, but it's the other portion of Torii's game that hurt the most in attempting to fill the hole.

To replace Hunter's right-handed bat in the lineup, the front office made an uncharacteristically aggressive trade on Nov. 28, 2007, sending Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay in exchange for Jason Pridie, Brendan Harris and Delmon Young.

Young struggled mightily in his first two years here. He didn't listen to the coaches, was unwilling or unable to pull a fastball on the inner half, didn't hit for much power, hit for high averages (though they were empty averages, rarely drawing walks and holding pretty ugly OBPs), he ran like his feet hurt on the bases and in the field, and he played just about the worst left field in the Major Leagues. Couple that with an apparently smug and cocky attitude, and you have a recipe for a fans'-least-favorite.

Well, the time has come to praise this young right-handed hitter, after years of chastisement. This post has been in the works for a while now, but after his performance over the weekend, his batting average has risen above .300, providing an excellent time-peg to talk about the career path of this once-rising star. Young's career path was though to be on a meteoric rise after reaching the big leagues full time at age 21 with the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays. His first season, he hit .288 with 13 homers and 93 RBI. And was still just 21 years old. Typically an age reserved for high Single-A, Young was mashing at the big league level, and drawing comparisons to Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Albert Belle. Needless to say, the hype got quite a bit out of hand and Young struggled mightily after the trade to the Twins and failed to live up to those lofty expectations. And fill that "right-handed bat with pop" label the Twins' front office pegged him with.

Gleeman posted his thoughts on Young and agrees that his performance is above what we as Twins fans have seen in the last two seasons collectively.

Fangraphs runs a series in which they look at disappointing players, look at their peripheral numbers and suggest that better times are to come. You guessed it, Delmon Young got the call recently.

For his lack of plate discipline and inability to get himself into a count in which he could drive the ball with authority over his first two season, his power began to be called into question. If you've ever seen him take BP, you know that he has the ability to crush the ball, he just wasn't able to show it on a consistent basis in games.

The first two years of Young's tenure here were by all accounts a disaster, but he's making strides in every facet of the game and becoming an asset to the Twins' lineup. His 8 homers in 61 games so far are impressive, but pale in comparison to his improved strikeout rate (cut in half from last year) and walk rate (doubled from last year). His shedding of 30 pounds this off season has also made him more agile in the outfield, improving his range and seemingly his routes, to go with what was already a solidly above-average throwing arm in terms of strength. It's a difficult one to avoid, but the Delmon is still young pun holds true, and it's really difficult for some people to grasp because he's been around for so long. Look at it this way: Delmon is still 24 years old, and won't turn 25 until September. At that age, most ball players are getting their first crack at the big leagues. The Twins new third base fill-in prospect, Danny Valencia, is 360 days older than Delmon. Valencia is getting his first big league cup of coffee this month, Delmon has already logged over 2,000 plate appearances, hitting .292/.325/.425 on his career. While those numbers aren't inspiring, his age and new developments certainly are. And if his 2010 improvements are legitimate, he has the capability to go from an average hitter through his age 21-24 seasons to a productive corner outfielder through his prime.

The return on my investment in a #21 jersey is not lost. The patience that a turn-around was coming has been rewarded. The conversation I had with Joe Christiansen this winter in which the two of us agreed that Young was the most poised for a breakout year proved valid.  And most importantly, Young's presence has deepened the lineup and vaulted the Twins into conversations about the League Championship Series for the first time in my lifetime.

Derek Wetmore is a sports reporter for the Minnesota Daily. He also operates his own Minnesota sports-centered blog, WetSocks.

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