Introducing: The Minnesota Twins 2011-2018 All-Star Team
The purpose of this exercise is... well, first and foremost, it's to kill time while we wait for the offseason to get underway. But it's also to show that, over these past eight nondescript years, there have been some genuine highlights. And while no singular team has managed to stand out much, if you gather up all the best parts you can put together a pretty damn strong (and nostalgic) squad.
Here's my shot at assembling a Twins All-Star team from 2011 through 2018.
C: Joe Mauer, v.2013
Mauer's final season at catcher (post-MVP era) was his best, despite being cut short by the concussion that ultimately ended his career as a backstop. In just 113 games, he amassed 5.2 WAR by slashing .324/.404/.476 with 11 homers, 35 doubles and an .880 OPS. The 2012 version of Mauer has an argument here as well, but for my money, Joe was as good in 2013 as any time other than those GOAT seasons of 2006 and '09.
1B: Justin Morneau, v.2012
It's unfortunate we couldn't tap into the pre-2011 Morneau, as we narrowly miss out on one of the best five-year stretches of offense (2006-2010) in Twins history. Stupid weirdly specific time machine. However, despite his 2012 campaign reflecting Morneau's greatly reduced post-concussion capacity (he hit .267/.333/.440 with 19 homers and 77 RBIs in 134 games), it's slim pickings here. Mauer's 2017 would probably be the pick if available, but we can't very well bring back two different Joes and put them on the same field. It'd cause catastrophic rifts in the time-space continuum!
(Although I do love the idea of these two different Joe Mauers coming face-to-face, and the conversation that would take place:
Mauer #1: Hey, you're--
Mauer #2: Whoa, are you--
Mauer #1: Golly
Mauer #2: [chuckling quietly] Sheesh
Mauer #1: Well, good luck out there
Mauer #2: Yeah, thanks, you too
Mauer #1: [walking away] That was pretty neat)
2B: Brian Dozier, v.2016
Dozier's 2016 campaign stands out as the single best in this entire stretch. The second baseman produced 6.2 WAR (most for a Twin since Mauer's MVP season in '09) by slashing .268/.340/.546 with 42 home runs, 99 RBIs, 104 runs scored and 18 steals on 20 attempts. He also played strong defense at second. It's unfortunate his efforts were wasted for a 103-loss team, but now his monstrous production can be put to good use atop this studly lineup.
3B: Miguel Sano, v.2017
The best version of Sano we've seen thus far was probably his rookie year, in 2015, when he broke onto the scene as a 22-year-old and hit .269/.385/.530 with 18 homers in 80 games. But I'm channeling the 2017 version because he played more, and played third base. Despite a second-half drop-off and an eventual leg injury that ended his season in August, Sano was excellent last year and a weapon in the cleanup spot.
SS: Jorge Polanco, v.2017
Polanco's 2017 wasn't spotless by any means – in fact, it featured one of the worst calendar months (July) by any big-leaguer in the last decade – but on whole it was solid. His scorching finish left him with roughly average offensive numbers for the position, and his defense was vastly improved over a rocky rookie campaign in 2016. I also considered recruiting the 2014 or 2015 iterations of Eduardo Escobar for this position (not to mention the 2018 version for third base) but I think I'd keep Esco in a versatile utility role.
LF: Josh Willingham, v.2012
Talk about delivering. In the first season of a three-year free agent contract, Willingham showed up and set a new career high by launching 35 home runs, the biggest total by a Twins hitter in almost 50 years. His tremendous production at the plate made up for his shortcomings in the outfield (in fact, if I have my druthers I'm probably putting 2018 Eddie Rosario here and Willingham at DH, but we're adhering to original positions). Adding in 31 doubles, 76 walks and 110 RBIs, Hammer put up an .890 OPS in what'd be his last standout MLB season.
CF: Danny Santana, v.2014
As I started assembling this list, my presumption was that I'd be landing on 2017 Byron Buxton at this spot, for the same reasons I picked 2017 Polanco at short: an up-and-down season that rose above other uninspiring options. But I had forgotten just how good Danny Santana was when he arrived in 2014. Dispatched to center field with Escobar already holding down short, Santana proved stunningly adept at the new position, playing rock-solid defense while raking to the tune of .319/.353/.472 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 steals in 101 games. That's pretty much exactly the kinda production we'd all LOVE to see from Buxton, but of course in D-San's case it didn't sustain.
RF: Michael Cuddyer, v.2011
For all that went horribly, horribly wrong in 2011, Cuddyer did his part. Ending his Twins career on a high note, Cuddy posted a .284/.346/.459 line with 20 homers, making his first All-Star team. Plus, we get magic tricks.
DH: Jim Thome, v.2011
Once again we narrowly miss out on one of the most fun seasons in recent Twins history – hoo boy Thome was a bundle of joy in 2010 – but I'll still take the diminished 2011 version over anything else Minnesota has trotted out at DH since. Limited to 71 games by recurring back issues, Thome still managed to drill 12 homers, draw 35 walks, and post an .827 OPS. Ryan Doumit's 2012 (18 HR, .781 OPS in 134 games) was also an option here but he made more starts at catcher than DH. And besides, we need some sloppy taters on this squad.
#1: Ervin Santana, v.2017
#2: Phil Hughes, v.2014
#3: Jose Berrios, v.2018
#4: Kyle Gibson, v.2018
#5: Scott Diamond, v.2012
The top four were fairly easy choices. Erv's 2017 was probably the best all-around performance by a Twins starter since Johan left town. He's our innings-eating rotation fronter. Hughes, who set the all-time record for K/BB ratio in 2014, is our Radke-esque No. 2 starter. Breakout Berrios brings the filth as third starter, while breakout Gibson is a big asset in the fourth spot.
Determining a fifth starter was a bit tough. Scott Baker's 2011 (3.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 134 innings) merits strong consideration but was a tad short on volume. Instead I had to go with that classic flukey 2012 season from Diamond, who rode elite walk and grounder rates to a 3.54 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 173 innings. An efficient thrower like that seems like a nice fit at the back of the rotation, plus he adds a little left-handed balance.
Closer: Glen Perkins, v.2013
Setup: Brandon Kintzler, v.2017
Setup: Taylor Rogers, v.2018
Middle Reliever: Jared Burton, v.2012
Middle Reliever: Casey Fien, v.2013
Middle Reliever: Trevor Hildenberger, v.2017
Long Man: Trevor May v.2015
Perkins had a five-year stretch as one of the best closers in the game, but 2013 was his pinnacle (36 saves, 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP). Behind him I've sprinkled some of the very best reliever seasons during our time frame, adding the 2014 May (16 starts, 32 relief appearances) as my swingman.
Thoughts on these choices? Any glaring omissions?
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