Trade Retrospective: A.J. Pierzynski

This week’s trade retrospective concerns an oft-discussed trade: A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser on 11/14/2003.

The Background

The Twins were waiting for the coming promotion of top prospect catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer had spent 2003 split between High-A and AA, posting a combined line of .338/.398/.434 with 5 HR and 85 RBI. They had a solid if not amazing player at that position in AJ Pierzynski. Pierzynski was going to be a free agent within the next two seasons, and they figured that they would want to move him at some point to make space for Mauer.

The Giants had been to the World Series two years prior, and had won 100 games in the 2003 season. Despite winning all those games, they had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champions, the Florida Marlins. The catcher for the Giants that year had been Benito Santiago, who was 38 years old, and also a free agent.

The Moving Pieces

A.J. Pierzynski was slotted in to be the everyday catcher for the Giants, and it was hoped would hold down the position for many years.

Joe Nathan was slotted into the bullpen for the Twins, and immediately was named as the closer for the team. Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano were both sent to the minor leagues.

What Happened Next

Pierzysnki had a solid season for the Giants, hitting .272 with 11 homeruns and 77 RBI. The team fell short of its goal of a return to the playoffs, as they finished a game back in the race for the Wild Card in spite of winning 91 games. However, he was not well liked in the clubhouse by the Giants pitchers. As a result, he was not tendered a contract by the Giants after the season, and became a free agent.

Joe Nathan took to his role as the closer immediately, saving 44 games in 2004, posting a 1.62 ERA, and finishing 4th in the Cy Young voting for the American League. He helped to lead the Twins to the AL Central division title, although they were eliminated in the first round by the Yankees.

Boof Bonser spent the 2004 season split between AA and AAA for the Twins, posting a 13-9 record with a 4.24 ERA in 161 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 153 and walked 57 batters in that time.

Francisco Liriano spent the season split between High-A and AA, posting a 9-9 record with a 3.79 ERA in 156 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out 174 and walked 60 batters.

The Net Moves

Giants – First Level

  • Pierzynski only spent the 2004 season with the Giants, posting a .272/.319/.410 with 11 homeruns and 77 RBI
  • He was not tendered a contract after the 2004 season, and became a free agent. He signed with the Chicago White Sox.

Twins – First Level

  • Nathan has been a cornerstone closer for the Twins. In 6 seasons, he has posted 246 saves, a 1.87 ERA, and 518 strikeouts in 418 2/3 innings pitched. He is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, and is not expected to return to the team until sometime in 2011.
  • Boof Bonser did not make his major league debut with the Twins until 2006, and was in the starting rotation for 3 seasons. He posted a lackluster 18-25 record with a 5.12 ERA in 391 2/3 innings. He was traded to the Red Sox on 12/10/2009 for minor leaguer Chris Province.
  • Francisco Liriano made his debut in 2005, and had his first full season in 2006. He missed the 2007 season due to having Tommy John surgery. He appears to have put it back together in the 2010 season so far, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.63 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched. To date, he has a 28-24 record with the Twins, 412 strikeouts and a 3.97 ERA in 405 1/3 innings pitched.

Overall Reactions

This trade has widely been viewed as a complete disaster for the Giants. As well it should be. Nathan had been an effective reliever with the Giants, notching 12 wins in the season before the trade. However, the Giants didn’t view him as a closer, and the Twins did. This trade may have been slightly better had the Giants retained Pierzynski for longer than the single season. However, Liriano continues to be a high-upside, high-risk pitcher for the Twins, and will hopefully be able to stay healthy and effective for the whole season this time around.  Pierzynski has become a solid catcher for the White Sox, and for the most part they have been happy with the time he has spent there.

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