The Best Twins Team That Ever Was(n't)
Image courtesy of Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY SportsInterestingly enough, after I compiled my list Seth Stohs wrote about the "Top 15 Minnesota Twins Players". You'll see a lot of overlap here, but I put it in the form of a 25-man roster.
Here is how I constructed the 25-man team.
- The roster had to be realistic. This specifically pertains to the bench and bullpen.
- The player had to spend over half their career with the Twins,
- The player had to play for the Twins for at least 5 years,
- The player had to play for the Twins between 1961 - current.
- The player had to play at that particular position for a majority of his career. The exception to this rule is the DH.
Catcher - Joe Mauer
Not a lot to say here. By far, Joe Mauer is the best offensive and defensive catcher in franchise history. He will go down as one of the best catcher to ever play the game, and arguably the best hitting catcher to ever play. Don't let the contract and the latter part of his career overshadow his impact on the field when he was at his best.
First Base - Kent Hrbek
When choosing between Hrbek and Killebrew I had to consider the defensive numbers. Hrbek was not a great defender himself but he was much better than Killebrew, so he gets slotted here. Behind Killebrew, he and Justin Morneau were the two players to consider here and Hrbek was an easy choice over Morneau. I mean who can pull a guy off first better than Herbie?
Second Base - Rod Carew
I wasn't around to watch Carew play but his number is retired for a reason. With the Twins he played mostly 2B, but later in his career he became a full time 1B for the Angels. Other than Knoblauch and Dozier, there really aren't any other options here. As much as he is known for his offense, he was an okay defender as well.
Third Base - Corey Koskie
This was a toss-up between Koskie and Gary Gaetti. From my perspective, Koskie was the better overall player and thus garnered the starting job. The former Canadian hockey goalie was a superb defender and also a good guy to have in the middle of a line up. It's too bad concussions limited his career as he could have been a solid player for a long time.
Shortstop - Roy Smalley
In the entire history of the Twins franchise, there are only three guys to even consider for this spot. Smalley, Zoilo Versalles and Greg Gagne. Smalley wins the job and it's not even close. The other two were better defenders but were non-factors at the plate. I'm the kind of guy who prefers a player who can contribute to both aspects of the game rather than one aspect really well.
Left Field - Shane Mack
Behind even shortstop, this is probably the weakest position in franchise history. Bob Allison would have been the shoo-in here but he spent a majority of his career in right field. Mack was the de facto left fielder. Hey, at least he brings some championship pedigree to the team.
Center Field - Kirby Puckett
Was there ever a doubt? Torii was great, but Kirby was greater. I was a little too young to watch much of his career before his unfortunate early retirement, but he may be the most popular and adored Twin of all time. I've never heard it live, but I can still hear Bob Casey announcing Kirby's name in the Dome.
Right Field - Tony Oliva
This one was easy. Obviously, Oliva was one of the best Twins of all time, as his number is retired. Bob Allison was the only other true contender at this spot. Oliva is one of only a few Twins to finish his career with a batting average above .300, was the Rookie of the Year in 1964 and finished second in MVP voting twice ('65 & '70).
DH - Harmon Killebrew
This is the perfect spot for him. He wasn't a good defender at all and he is one of the best hitters of all time. He is the best Twins hitter, probably even player, in franchise history.
I used innings pitched to determine if the player spent more than half his career as a Twin.
Ace - Johan Santana
This was a tough call. Arguably, he was the most dominant pitcher in Twins history but that was only for a stretch of five or so years. The two behind him weren't so much dominant, but were able to maintain consistently solid production over a longer period of time. Nonetheless, Johan is the ace. Over the five or so years he was the best pitcher in baseball winning two Cy Young Awards ('04 and '06) while garnering some MVP votes in those seasons as well. If I needed to win one game, I'd choose Johan in his prime.
Starting Pitcher No. 2 - Bert Blyleven
Excluding Steve Carlton, who didn't qualify for my list anyway, Bert is the only Twins pitcher to be elected to Cooperstown who also qualified for this list. When choosing between him and Jim Kaat that HoF honor was what gave Blyleven the edge. Bert spent just over half (51.6% IP) as a Minnesota Twin. In all, he pitched for 22 big league seasons. Never truly dominant but almost always a reliable pitcher.
Starting Pitcher No. 3 - Jim Kaat
If Bert is in the Hall of Fame, then Kaat needs to be. Their statistics are practically the same, although Kaat won only one World Series back in '82 with the Cardinals and he wasn't much of a contributor for them. That said, he holds the major league record for winning 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. Most pitchers' careers don't last 16 years.
Starting Pitcher No. 4 - Camilo Pascual
Camilo is another guy who wasn't too dominant, but was able to consistently produce over a long career. He was the franchise's first "ace" and deserves to be in the rotation. To be fair, the candidates drop off pretty quick after the top 3 or 4.
Starting Pitcher No. 5 - Frank Viola
Viola was key to the 1987 World Series championship (he was the MVP) and followed that up by winning the Cy Young in 1988. If it wasn't for being traded, he probably would have been slotted as the No. 4, but it hurt his Twins resume a little bit that he wasn't here longer. That said, we did end up getting a key piece back who will show up later in this list.
Long Relief - Jim Perry
Admittedly, I just took the Twins starting pitcher who just missed the cut and put him here. Honestly, I think Pascual, Viola and Perry could all be put in whatever order you wanted. He fits the description of most Twins pitchers, which is not dominant but consistently solid. The two best years of his career were in '69 and '70 where he finished third and first in Cy Young voting, respectively.
Middle Relief No. 1 - Tom Hall
Hall spent the Twins portion of his career bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation. He had a very nondescript career, never garnering an award vote of any kind and never making an All-Star Game. That said, as a reliever Hall could give you multiple innings and averaged over a strikeout per inning.
Middle Relief No. 2 - LaTroy Hawkins
If you can last as long as LaTroy did in the era that he did it, then you are one of the best to do it. He pitched for 21 seasons in the big leagues and was solid all the way through his retirement season in 2015 with the Blue Jays. Hawkins was converted to a relief pitcher after five largely unsuccessful seasons as a starter. As with Hall, he never garnered an award vote of any kind and never made an ASG.
Set up No. 1 - Glen Perkins
The Twins second-best closer of all time would be my first choice as the set up guy. Perkins was unsuccessful as a starter, but found his niche as a fire-throwing closer. It's unfortunate that injuries derailed the last few years of his career and forced him into an early retirement. I have to imagine the highlight of his career (for himself and Twins fans) was seeing him close out the 2014 All-Star Game in his home stadium.
Set up No. 2 - Rick Aguilera
Aguilera came to the Twins in the trade that sent Viola to the Mets in '89. Although he made 11 starts that year, he made 460 relief appearances as a member of the Twins. He did well with the Twins as he made the ASG three times, garnered MVP votes in 1991, and was a key contributor to the '91 World Series title.
Set up No. 3 - Juan Rincon
Rincon had a pretty good stretch from 2004 - 2006. When in a crunch, the Twins could relied upon Rincon to get them out of a jam. Obviously, a key skill to have as a set up guy.
Closer - Joe Nathan
Not much to say here. He is the best Twins closer of all time, finished his career with the most saves in Twins history and was one of the best in the game when he was in his prime. In '04 and '06 he was actually in the Cy Young and MVP talks a little bit. In all of baseball, there aren't many closers that were as good as he was.
Honorable Mentions (Bench)
OF/1B - Bob Allison
He primarily played right field, which disqualified him from the left field spot. I feel like he is one of the overlooked Twins greats. No, his number isn't retired, but he spent all of his 13 years in a Senators/Twins uniform and hit 256 home runs in that time. If it wasn't for injuries I think his career could have been longer and he could have passed the 300 HR plateau.
C - Early Battey
Any realistic roster needs a back-up catcher. Battey is the guy. While with the Senators/Twins franchise he won three Gold Gloves, made four ASGs and finished top 10 in MVP voting three times.
2B/SS - Chuck Knoblauch
A key cog to the 1991 World Series and a good player for the Twins over 7 years. He'll be a good guy to have off the bench when we need speed on the base paths.
Utility - Gary Gaetti
He was Nick Punto before Nick Punto was Nick Punto. The only two positions he didn't play throughout his career were CF and C. He wasn't necessarily a great player, but was solid for the Twins. He was another important piece in the '87 World Series team.
In my eyes, my biggest "snub" was Torii Hunter. When constructing a realistic 25-man roster I needed to have a back-up catcher which is where Battey made the list over Hunter. Another area I struggled with was the bullpen construction. After Perry, Nathan, Aguilera, and Perkins the pickins' got slim and I ended up having to consider individual seasons over career stats. Carl Willis was a name that almost made the cut.
So what do you think? Who did I miss? Let the debate begin!
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