FORT MYERS, Fla. — During the past 30 years, the Minnesota Twins have enjoyed two runs of success that made them an envied franchise, and two runs of failure that have cost them fans, credibility and, in terms of contraction, nearly the right to exist.
The Twins' successes and failures often have corresponded with the quality of trades they made in preceding years.
They would not have won the 1987 World Series if they hadn't traded for Bert Blyleven and Tom Brunansky, Jeff Reardon and Don Baylor. They would not have won the 1991 World Series if Andy MacPhail hadn't traded Frank Viola for Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera. They might not have won either if not for trades that acquired Greg Gagne and Dan Gladden.
When the Twins encountered their seemingly inevitable downturn following the 1992 season, they performed so poorly they eventually decided to trade off their best pitchers. Terry Ryan, then a novice general manager, dealt Scott Erickson, Tapani and Mark Guthrie. Their return on those deals? Let's skip the list of failures and call it Erickson, Tapani and Guthrie for Ron Coomer.
Those failed deals delayed the Twins' recovery, which didn't begin in earnest until Ryan traded Chuck Knoblauch for Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman in 1998. Ryan's later deals brought in Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Shannon Stewart, Francisco Liriano, Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto, David Ortiz, Kyle Lohse, Lew Ford, Rick Reed and Joe Mays. In all of those deals, Ryan traded away one good big-league player in his prime - catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was replaced in the Twins' lineup by Joe Mauer.
When Bill Smith replaced Ryan, he traded Santana for Carlos Gomez, Gomez for J.J. Hardy and Hardy for nothing. In the transitive property of trading, he traded Santana for nothing and replaced the void at shortstop with Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He traded Matt Garza for Delmon Young.
Those deals led to the Twins losing 90 or more games three consecutive seasons.
Smith had a chance to trade All-Star closer Joe Nathan at the trading deadline in 2011, but because he didn't ask for Nathan to waive his no-trade clause until the 11th hour, Nathan refused and left as a free agent.
To summarize: Ryan gave up nothing he needed to acquire Santana and Nathan, two of the best pitchers of the past 15 years. Smith turned Santana and Nathan into very little.
Since Ryan returned to the general manager position, he has traded Denard Span, a center fielder not in the team's long-range plans, for Alex Meyer, now the Twins' best pitching prospect and potential ace. He traded a lesser center fielder, Ben Revere, for Vance Worley and Trevor May. Worley is trying to save his career. May is considered a future part of the rotation.
This history lesson leads to today, when the Twins might be positioned to make more favorable deals. A year ago, they were desperate for third baseman Trevor Plouffe, second baseman Brian Dozier and Worley to play large roles. They were desperate for pitchers such as Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond, Worley and Sam Deduno to fill out their rotation. They were dependent on long reliever Anthony Swarzak to save their pitching staff.
It is a sign of improved organization depth that any of those players, this year, could be traded.
If Miguel Sano conquers Class AA, the Twins can call him up and trade Plouffe. If Eddie Rosario overcomes his 50-game suspension, the Twins might be able to trade second baseman Brian Dozier, although Dozier could win the job or have long-term value as a utility infielder.
If Josh Willingham performs well and doesn't accept a reasonable contract extension offer, the Twins could trade him this summer.
The season-opening rotation figures to be Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and either Diamond, Worley, Deduno or Kyle Gibson. When Gibson and Meyer make it to the bigs, the Twins could trade Correia.
Swarzak might have been the Twins' MVP last year. With Worley, Deduno and Diamond out of options, the Twins might be able to trade a couple of those pitchers at the end of spring training, using those remaining as bullpen depth.
Improved organizational depth means the Twins might be able to deal from strength, not out of desperation. Ryan and his staff have excelled at this before.