Ardent fans have memorized the poor trades the Minnesota Twins have made over the years. Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. Aaron Hicks for John Ryan Murphy. The Delmon Young Trade. Dumping J.J. Hardy. Johan Santana to the Mets.
Some look better in retrospect — nobody expected Eduardo Escobar to make the impact he did when the Twins dealt Francisco Liriano to get him — and in the case of Santana, for example, the team management was forced by ownership that did not want to spend to retain players until a new stadium was built.
While Ramos may still be the Twins catcher today if he had not been traded, and Santana — who Minnesota just welcomed into its Hall of Fame — could have retired a Twin, the Hicks trade seems to hurt worse because it helped, gulp, the New York Yankees.
Well, for what it’s worth, dealing for Jake Cave is working out. Minnesota sent Luis Gil, a 20-year-old righty out of the Dominican Republic to the Yankees for Cave, who they had just cleared from their 40-man roster.
Cave hit his first-ever grand slam off Kansas City Royals starter Danny Duffy in the Twins 6-5 win on Sunday. He said he has not hit a grand slam at any level, except for maybe high school.
“I know he has good stuff, he’s a competitor and he’s going to come right at me at some point with the heater,” said Cave. “I got it, just stayed short and didn’t try to do too much. I was rewarded with something happening.”
“You know, it surprised me a little, given how the at-bat went,” said Molitor. “He hasn’t played against lefties a lot, but he was battling.”
Cave is hitting .298/.323/.479 against righties this year, and just .158/.238/.368 against lefties. He’s made 100 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers this year, and only 21 against southpaws.
“I am pumped that Molly trusted me to start today against a good lefty,” said Cave.
“He took some tough pitches to get full in the count, and he got a fastball that looked like it was in his wheelhouse,” said Molitor. “I’m not sure if it was gonna hit the wall, but got just enough of it, and it turned out to be the biggest hit of the game.”
Cave was added to New York’s 40-man in the offseason but was designated for assignment when the Yankees signed Neil Walker on March 12. Four days later the Twins traded for him.
It was a low-wattage move at the time. Cave is a 25-year-old sixth-rounder out of Hampton, Va., who hit .305/.351/.542 in Double-A and Triple-A last year but never got called up.
The signings of Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney, Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi got more press, but the Cave trade was a win-now move. If Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn’t think the Twins were capable of making the playoffs again this year, they probably would not have dealt a young pitching prospect to acquire an outfielder when they had Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario in the outfield to begin the year.
But the deal is paying dividends.
Cave is hitting .274/.308/.460 this season while filling in for Buxton at center. He’s prone to adventures in the outfield and some overly-ambitious dives for sinking liners, but he’s capable with the bat and an upgrade over, say, Zack Granite as depth insurance.
“He’s got a little moxie to his game,” said Molitor. “He’s not afraid to take some chances on the bases, defensively, which is good, because when he got up here, we said ‘Don’t play tentative.’ You play timid, and the game will bite you.”
“I love it, this is my dream,” said Cave, who grew up a Baltimore Orioles fan. “I am going out there, playing big league baseball. I am starting every day for a big league baseball club, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The move should give Twins fans some confidence that the new front office is capable of turning things around, which is important given that Falvey and Levine executed five trades at this year’s deadline. Unless Gil, who is 1-1 with a 1.78 ERA in eight rookie ball stars, turns out to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, the Twins got Cave at a good value.
Even if Gil becomes part of the Yankees rotation, it will likely be in the distant future.
Cave is unlikely to be a regular outfielder, given that Buxton, Rosario and Kepler are all improving young players. But in a year when Buxton gets injured, like this season, or if Rosario regresses or Kepler does not continue to develop, Cave is good insurance.
Perhaps he plays himself into a more regular role, or maybe he platoons with another player. Time will tell. But for now, he’s provided a spark and much-needed depth for the Twins, especially with the news that Robbie Grossman will be headed to the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
“Energy is good, not everybody needs to have that external thing to be effective,” said Molitor, speaking about Cave’s moxie again. “But you get a couple guys on your club and they walk through that dugout pregame and they can feel it and know they are ready to play. It’s nice to [have] some youthful exuberance in that regard, and he fits the bill.”
With the way he’s playing, expect Cave’s enthusiasm to continue to provide energy for a clubhouse in need of some after yet another sell-off at the trade deadline.
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