Last team to deal a reigning batting champ? Also the Twins

January 21st, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- If it was jarring to see the reigning American League batting champion traded away, as became the case on Friday when the Twins sent Luis Arraez to Miami in exchange for Pablo López and a pair of prospects, that’s because it’s the kind of move with very little precedent in recent baseball history.

Friday’s deal marked only the third time in the divisional era (since 1969) that the reigning batting champion was traded the following offseason, per’s Sarah Langs and the Elias Sports Bureau. The last time such a trade happened was 44 years ago -- and believe it or not, the Minnesota Twins were the dealing team in that move, too.

The reigning batting champion involved in that long-ago trade was Hall of Famer Rod Carew, to whom Arraez has garnered plenty of comparisons since he made his big league debut and showcased his throwback, contact-oriented style of hitting.

But the circumstances under which those deals were made couldn’t have been more different.

The Arraez trade was purely a baseball move, with the Twins choosing to deal from their infield depth to bolster their starting rotation, which stands as perhaps the deepest in recent memory. The Twins had fixated on López for a long time, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said, while the Marlins were intent on acquiring Arraez.

The sides ultimately found a match, and the Twins dealt their fan favorite. The uncertainties around Arraez’s health -- his knees have been an issue throughout his professional career -- and his lack of defensive fit likely played into that.

“We tried to come up with different ways of navigating this,” Falvey said. “Ultimately, I think what it gets back to is, certainly we’d love to have Luis and Pablo on our team, but to get something as impactful as what Pablo brings to our team, you have to give something impactful. That’s what made this hard. It makes a trade that works on both sides.”

But back in February 1979, Carew had been dealt mostly for non-baseball reasons. At that point, he was a seven-time AL batting champion, 12-time All-Star and the ‘77 AL MVP, one of the most decorated players in the Major Leagues. But, as Carew detailed in his memoir, “One Tough Out,” owner Calvin Griffith and the Twins expressed little desire to pay him his market value on a new contract, making a trade seem likely.

Then, toward the end of the ‘78 season, Griffith made a speaking stop at the Lions Club in rural Waseca, Minn., and offered racist justifications for why he relocated the franchise from Washington, D.C., to the Twin Cities -- in addition to calling Carew a “damn fool” for agreeing to his current contract, as reported at the time by the Star Tribune.

When Carew, a Black Panamanian, heard of the remarks, he decided he could no longer play for the Twins -- and the next February, he headed to the Angels in a trade for Ken Landreaux, Dave Engle, Brad Havens and Paul Hartzell.

“Calvin had meant a lot to me since I was a Minor Leaguer,” Carew wrote in his memoir. “During my MVP acceptance speech the year before, I mentioned my respect and appreciation for him. But the statements in Waseca made it clear that it was time for me to leave.”

Carew has since reconciled with the Twins and has been an annual presence at Spring Training alongside best friend and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Oliva while also serving as chairman of the Twins Hall of Fame.

Arraez and Carew had already been linked in Twins fans’ minds due to their similar playing styles. Now they’ll be linked in baseball history, too.