Ryan reflects on releasing Papi in 2003

On Groundhog Day, GM calls letting slugger go a 'mistake'

February 2nd, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rarely are there do-overs in life, but Bill Murray's 1993 film "Groundhog Day" offered a scenario where a person can receive multiple chances to get a day right before moving forward.
In the spirit of Groundhog Day, MLB.com is taking a look at one move each general manager would like a do-over of if he had the chance.
For Twins general manager Terry Ryan, it's an easy one: Minnesota famously released David Ortiz before the 2003 season and picked up shortstop Jose Morban in the Rule 5 Draft to take his place on the roster.
Morban never played with the Twins, as he was lost via waivers to the Orioles that Spring Training, while Ortiz is set to play in his final season of an illustrious career with the Red Sox that has seen him win three World Series rings and be named an All-Star nine times.
"There's no hiding that one," Ryan said. "You can put that one in there and lock it down. I'm not running from it. I'm proud of what he's done. Obviously, it was a mistake. The guy has been a great representation of the Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball for a long time. And it's Boston's gain and Minnesota's loss. And I take full responsibility."
Before Ortiz became the Big Papi we all know today, he was a colorful and powerful young slugger for Minnesota. Ortiz made his debut as a 21-year-old in 1997, just a year after the Twins acquired him from the Mariners for third baseman Dave Hollins.
Ortiz, though, battled through inconsistency and injuries with Minnesota, as he didn't play in more than 100 games until 2000. He showed plenty of promise in parts of six seasons with the Twins, hitting .266/.348/.461 with 58 homers, 108 doubles and 238 RBIs in 455 games, but he was limited defensively and couldn't quite put together a breakout year.
Ortiz's best season was his final one in Minnesota in 2002, when he batted .272/.339/.500 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 125 games. But the Twins decided to release him on Dec. 16 for various reasons, including that he was eligible for arbitration and was due a raise to roughly $2 million. The lineup also leaned heavily left-handed at the time. Minnesota had hopes for Matt LeCroy as the club's regular designated hitter. The Twins also had Doug Mientkiewicz entrenched at first base, with a young prospect on the way named Justin Morneau.
"There wasn't any one thing," Ryan said. "If you look at his numbers across the board, they were very respectable. And not that it was totally about money, but we were a little bit strapped. That would be a good excuse, but it wasn't that entirely. It was just a bad error in judgment of a guy's talent. How about a mistake?"
As Ryan said, it has been Boston's gain ever since the Red Sox took a flier on Ortiz with a contract that had a $1.25 million base salary. It should be noted that the Twins tried to find a trade partner for Ortiz but couldn't, and Ortiz didn't even sign with Boston until more than a month after he was released.
It turned out to be a franchise-altering move for the Red Sox, as Ortiz has hit .288/.385/.566 with 445 homers and 1,403 RBIs in 13 seasons with Boston. He has won six Silver Slugger Awards along the way and has a strong case to be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Ortiz also never seemed to let the Twins forget about the move any time he faced them. In 67 games against Minnesota, he's a career .323/.404/.638 hitter with 20 homers and 52 RBIs, including a .435 average with nine homers in 17 games at Target Field.