Early arrivals to Target Field on Tuesday unaware the Twins traded Brian Dozier to the Dodgers figured it out quickly. Around 3 p.m., well before batting practice, third base coach Gene Glynn was out hitting ground balls to the presumed starting infielders. The sight of utility man Ehire Adrianza at second base instead of Dozier suggested something was up, and a quick scroll through Twitter confirmed it.
Back in the clubhouse, Dozier said hasty goodbyes while packing for a dash to the airport and a flight to Los Angeles. Kyle Gibson, the Twins starting pitcher that night, hurried to the ballpark as soon as he heard the news and caught Dozier before he left. Dozier inherited the Twins leadership mantle from Torii Hunter, and Gibson said Dozier told him, “Don’t let these guys quit.” Gibson wondered how to tell his three-year-old daughter, Hayden, that one of her favorites no longer played here.
Then Dozier was gone, leaving a clubhouse of angry teammates and an even angrier Twins fan base. It takes a lot to piss off Twins fans, but the Dozier deal — the fifth by chief baseball officer Derek Falvey before the July 31 trade deadline — triggered an understandably hostile response on social media. Some of the comments were so vile that the face of a young female Twins employee turned ashen as I watched her read them.
The ever-positive Dozier was a throwback Twin, shaking off a failed trial at shortstop to remake himself into a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and right-handed power hitter. Dozier and his wife Renee took on multiple charitable endeavors here and in Central America, and Dozier rarely turned down a reasonable request. Teammates held Dozier and the equally popular Eduardo Escobar, traded to Arizona in the first of Falvey’s deals, in the highest regard.
Here’s all you need to know about Dozier: The Twins assign the four corner lockers in the home clubhouse to respected veterans; Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan occupied them when Target Field opened. Dozier never claimed one, preferring to locker next to his buddy Escobar.
So it was especially weird Tuesday to see the nameplate gone from Dozier’s locker, leaving a pile of cleats and a roll of game socks on a hook as the only reminders of its former occupant. Escobar’s locker, of course, had been cleaned out. Thankfully the Twins did not ship Dozier out the day before, when Renee stopped by the radio booth to promote a Twins Wives silent auction.
“It’s been a tough couple of days,” said Mauer, at 36 the senior Twin. “We’ve lost some really good people, really good players, and really close friends. It doesn’t feel good. This is a part of the game, and we just try to do what we can to get ready for tonight.”
First baseman/DH Logan Morrison, who left Tampa Bay as a free agent last winter as part of a similar organizational makeover, put it more succinctly. “It sucks,” he said.
Clearly, the Twins never counted Dozier, 31, or Escobar, 29, in their long-term plans, regardless how their teammates and Twins fans felt.
Major-league organizations traditionally undervalue second basemen. As a scout once told me, every team thinks they have one in their system, so it’s rarely a priority. It became one for the Dodgers because their second basemen hit .211, worst in the National League per baseball-reference.com, and it’s hard to get back to the World Series with a second automatic out beside the pitcher in your lineup. The Dodgers tried to pry Dozier from the Twins two winters ago but instead signed Logan Forsythe, the lone major-leaguer the Twins received in the Dozier swap.
Escobar, meanwhile, never shook the utility label, even though he led the majors in doubles and had 63 RBI at the time of his deal.
“I think the reality always stings a little bit more as you think about it potentially going down,” said manager Paul Molitor, who as a Twins special instructor guided Dozier’s conversion from short to second. “Kind of like with Esco, you’ve got a guy (Dozier) who’s meant a lot to this organization…What Brian’s brought here in Minnesota, I don’t know if there’s too much better than that, what he’s done in the community and the example he set for the young players throughout. We’ll miss all that.”
Falvey and general manager Thad Levine inherited a thin farm system behind the Miguel Sano/Byron Buxton/Eddie Rosario/Max Kepler crew breaking in at the time, with little pitching close to major-league ready. That’s why they brought in veterans arms Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney this season on one- or two-year deals, essentially stalling for time to restock the system. Jake Odorizzi, acquired in a trade from Tampa Bay, served a similar purpose.
In the short term, it made sense. If those veterans excelled, the Twins were back in the playoffs. If they failed, Falvey had assets to trade for prospects. A losing team with a 7-18 mark in one-run games and ten walk-off losses by the end of July qualifies as a failure. But the full-on garage sale, more voluminous than any selloff in the Terry Ryan era, was jarring in its ruthlessness.
“At the deadline, you really have two choices to make,” Falvey said. “You’re either in or pushing and grabbing players to help you push toward the finish, or you aren’t. You don’t want to get caught in the middle. We knew we had to make a difficult decision. We knew it would be unpopular with some players. After talking with a number of guys, they get the challenge around it. But we thought this was the best decision for our organization going forward.”
The trades for Lynn, Duke, Escobar, Dozier and Ryan Pressly returned one underperforming major leaguer in Forsythe (.207), one productive Class AAA hitter in Tyler Austin, who couldn’t stick with the Yankees, and ten players (five of them pitchers) loosely described as prospects. By “prospect,” we’ll go with the definition favored by older scouts— someone with a chance to play one major-league game. Deadline deals often feature multiple minor-leaguers to increase the chances of one of them breaking through; the Twins should be ecstatic if three of the ten help the major-league club at some point.
Organizations, fans and grassroots websites frequently overvalue prospects, so impartial evaluations can be elusive. Fangraphs.com, whose writers consult with major-league scouts and executives, offered one. It listed only two new Twins among the best 20 prospects obtained MLB-wide at the deadline.
So what does this mean for Mauer, in the final months of his eight-year, $184 million contract? Mauer said Tuesday the Twins haven’t asked him to waive his no-trade clause. There’s no sense in Falvey approaching Mauer about it unless a potential deal is close, and contending teams are generally set at first base.
The Twins intend to build around budding stars Jose Berrios, Rosario, Kepler and Kyle Gibson, who all could be in line for long-term deals. Gibson showed what can happen when a bright guy with major-league stuff embraces the club’s newest scouting and analysis tools. A lot still rides on Buxton and Sano, whom the Twins need to stay healthy, produce and anchor the lineup.
It’s hard to imagine Mauer, the St. Paul homebody with a third child on the way, in another uniform. But with Dozier and Escobar gone, would the Twins retain a .276-hitting first baseman who hasn’t come close to 20 homers since his 2009 MVP season? A lot can happen in the final two months to sway this either way. But it’s worth noting Falvey just shed two of his most popular players, seemingly without compunction.
Mauer dreamed of winning a World Series with the team he rooted for as a boy, and that loyalty supersedes all; I can see him retiring before playing for a different team. His future is less about money (he’s got plenty) and more about how much the Twins value his bat, glove, integrity and behind-the-scenes leadership.
Tuesday wasn’t a day for answers.