Herald Journal Columns
Feb. 6, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Thomas? No. Piazza? No. Sierra? Yes?

By Matt Kane

Now the Twins are set?

With Frank Thomas off the board after signing with the Oakland Athletics Jan. 25 and Mike Piazza heading to sunny San Diego four days later, Minnesota fans are scratching their heads wondering why the Twins didn’t make an effort to either of the future Hall of Famers.

A round of beers at the Metrodome could have covered the $500,000 base salary the A’s will pay Thomas (he could earn as much as $2.6 million with incentives) and Piazza’s $2 million seems well below what the 37-year-old’s career numbers are worth.

Nobody knows what Piazza and Thomas, also 37, will bring to their new teams after recent injury problems and a decline in productivity have pushed both players’ stocks down. But their value, especially to the power-starving Twins, is the threat they bring to a lineup.

No matter how old a guy is or what he has done lately, a career .300 hitter with 400 home runs is still a threat to any opposing pitcher. (Thomas has a career average of .307 with 448 home runs and Piazza’s career average is .311 with 397 home runs.)

But, instead, the Twins decide to sign 40-year-old Ruben Sierra, a career .268 hitter with 306 home runs to a minor league contract.

While he has come up with some big hits in his career, most recently a three-run home run off Twins reliever Juan Rincon in Game 4 of the 2004 Division Series, while with the New York Yankees, Sierra played in just 61 games last season for the Yankees, hitting .229 with four homers and 29 RBI.

By comparison, Thomas, who was hampered by injuries last season, finished with 12 home runs and 26 RBI in 34 games with the Chicago White Sox.

Early reports indicate the Twins will use Sierra as a veteran pinch-hitter off the bench, much the same way the Yankees used him.

One argument for Sierra over Thomas and Piazza is that he is a switch hitter. Thomas and Piazza are both right-handed hitters, something the Twins have a plethora of, especially at the designated hitter spot. But who really cares what side a guy hits from when he is 52 big flies away from 500 home runs like Thomas is. A feat the Metrodome has never hosted. And Piazza would give the Twins a third catcher on the big league roster, behind Joe Mauer and Mike Redman.

As for Sierra, the Twins get a player who was hyped as the next big thing when he came up with the Texas Rangers in 1986.

The invaluable five-tool player, Sierra did it all in his early seasons – run, throw, hit, catch and hit for power – but as his body bulged up, so did his injury problems.

After playing in over 150 games in each season from 1987 to 1993 (he played in 113 as a rookie in 1986), Sierra has not done so since and has only one season of over 140 games played – 1996 when he played in 142 with the Yankees (96) and Detroit Tigers (46).

Bringing him in as a pinch hitter, the Twins can’t expect Sierra to play in more than 100 games and it is doubtful he will be the difference maker in bringing the Twins another World Series.

So, as we Twins fans have done for the past 15 seasons, we will keep referring back to the 1991 World Series video – and the 1987 before that – when we want our fix of championship Twins. I think it’s about time to make a new video.

But, for Sierra, as long as he does his job when he is called upon, I guess his signing will be good.

Actually, I welcome Sierra to the Twins. I don’t often admit it, but back when he was having a breakout year with the Rangers in 1989 – 194 hits, 29 home runs, 119 RBI and a .306 batting average in 162 games – Sierra became one of my favorite players in the league.

The several dozen Sierra baseball cards in my collection still catch my eye every so often and I laugh to myself when I think of what kind of player he used to be.

So, because of this, I say welcome, Mr. Sierra.

Now, if the Twins will only sign the player I have collected the most over the years.

Does anybody know the whereabouts of Rickey Henderson?

I’m pretty sure he’s available.

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