Monday, May 30, 2016

David Ortiz: A Minnesota Retrospective

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson- USA Today Sports
David Ortiz will always have a lasting place in Twins lore. He's the "one that got away for nothing" before becoming a legend in Boston. Ortiz is likely on his way to the Hall of Fame and the Twins released him. Even Terry Ryan has admitted that letting the slugger go was a "mistake."

Boston is making their lone 2016 trek to Target Field next week and Ortiz is planning on retiring at season's end. This means he will be making his final appearance in Minnesota, the place where he made his big league debut.

The Twins weren't the only team to give up on Ortiz before he reached his full potential. Around Thanksgiving in 1992, Ortiz was signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners. He'd play three seasons in the Mariners system and he hit 18 home runs in the Midwest League as a 20-year old.

Minnesota liked what they saw in Ortiz and he was dealt from Seattle as a player to be named later in a trade for Dave Hollins. He would fly through Minnesota's three highest minor league levels during the next season and he even made his debut by season's end. In 140 minor league games, he cracked 31 home runs, drove in 124, and posted a .940 OPS. He's was only 21-years old and it looked like he might be one of the players to help turn around Minnesota's losing ways.

Prior to the 1998 season, Baseball America ranked him as the 84th best prospect in the game. It was the only time he would be featured on their prospect list. During that season, he was limited to 97 games but 86 of those games came at the big league level. He combined to hit .277/.371/.446 with 29 extra-base hits but he struck out in over a 25% of his at-bats.

Minnesota couldn't find a place for Ortiz in the 1999 line-up as he played all but 10 games at the Triple-A level. Keep in mind, the 1998 Twins were on their way to finishing with a 63-97 record and their leading home run hitter was Ron Coomer. Meanwhile at Triple-A, Ortiz slugged 30 home runs and 35 double while posting a .315/.412/.590 batting line.

As the calendar turned to a new century, Ortiz was given his first full season of MLB action. He posted a .810 OPS with 47 extra-base hits. He finished second on the team in doubles, third in OPS, and he was one of four Twins to hit double-digit home runs.

Things started changing in 2001. Ortiz was hurt again for a chunk of the season as he was limited to 89 games. Even with the limited number of games, he was able to hit 18 home runs and 17 doubles. However, the Twins were looking for Ortiz to have a breakout season and he hadn't been able to do that up to that point.

2002 would be the final season for Ortiz in Minnesota. He put up very respectable numbers as he collected 20 home runs for the first time in his career and hit .272/.339/.500. The Twins won 94 games and made it all the way to the ALCS before falling to the eventual World Series Champions, the Angels. Ortiz hit .313 in that ALCS with a pair of RBI but it wasn't enough.

Minnesota entered the off-season at an interesting point in their franchise. They were on the brink of a string of six division titles in nine seasons. Ortiz was eligible for arbitration and would likely get a bump in pay to around $2 million. Matt LeCroy, a former first round pick, was a much cheaper option at designated hitter. The club also had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and budding first base prospect Justin Morneau. Oritz was getting pushed out by other options.

The Twins still needed to be contentious of how they were spending their money and Ortiz was getting expensive. He had yet to produce a breakout season at the big league level and there had been some injury concerns in the past. It was the cheap choice but that's where the Twins were at in the Metrodome era.

Boston would sign Ortiz for $1.25 million, a figure that was almost half of what he would have made in arbitration. The Red Sox took a flyer on him and it was a franchise altering move. He has gone on to win multiple World Series rings and was a vital reason the Red Sox were able to break their championship drought. After nine All-Star Game appearances and six Silver Slugger Awards, Ortiz is a legend.

It was a mistake and you'd be tough pressed to find anyone that didn't come to the same conclusion. Every team has skeletons in their closet but the Ortiz decision will live on in Twins Territory for years to come.

1 comment:

TT said...

That 1999 season at Salt Lake City is misleading. Salt Lake City was an extreme hitters park and he was actually second on the team in slugging, behind Matt LeCroy. Even players like Chris Latham were hitting double digits in home runs. The number that really stands out is his 20 errors at first base. It portended the reality that Ortiz was a one dimensional slugger with no real position in the field. That, combined with lingering suspicions about his sudden emergence in the era of juice, may keep him from making the hall-of-fame. Of course, he played for the Red Sox, not the Mariners like Edgar Martinez.