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The best SS in Twins history?

Posted by mikelink45 , 19 February 2019 · 1,480 views

cardenas versalles smalley thompson shortstop
The best SS in Twins history? The best Shortstop in Twins history This is a challenging position. No HOF candidates.
Danny Thompson
Album: The Best Twins Shortstops
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The first year of the Twins Zoilo Vesalles was the dominate Shortstop – 129 games. Jose Valivielso backed him up. Versalles was in 160 games in 1962, 159 – 1963, 160 – 1964, 160 in the World Series year of 1965 when he was the MVP of the league, he dropped to 135 with Cesar Tovar behind him in 1966, 159 in 1967. After developing a Hemotoma on his back, a lifelong condition, his average dropped and he was sent with Mudcat Grant to the Dodgers for an old Johnny Roseboro, Bob Miller, and Ron Perranoski. But Zoilo, nicknamed Zorro set the Twins standard.


Versalles played 9 of his 12 years with the club including two in DC before the move. .250/.296/.383/.679 14.7 WAR.


1968 was a scrum year. Lots of players trying to establish themselves at SS – Jackie Hernandez, Ron Clark, Rick Renick and Cesar Tovar. Even Frank Quilici and Rod Carew got in some games at SS. Then in 1969 we found the next infield anchor – Leo Cardenas who played there 160 games. Then he came back for 160 in 1970, and 153 in 1971. A five time all – star and slick fielder, he tied the American League record with 570 assists and his fielding percentage was the highest in AL history. Then Calvin traded him for relief pitcher Dave LaRoche. This allowed the Angels to then trade Jim Fregosi, their shortstop to the Mets for Nolan Ryan. Just think if we had skipped that intermediary step and sent Cardenas for Ryan!


In three years out of a 16 year career Cardenas hit .263/.325/.394/.719 with 11.1 WAR.
Danny Thompson took over at SS in 1972 and had the looks of a really good player, but of course, he died of Leukemia at the Mayo in Rochester at age 29. In 1973 he played in 95 games at short and Jerry Terrell 81. In 1974, the Leukemia weakening him he played 88 games at short, Luiz Gomez got in 74, Jerry Terrell 34, and Sergio Ferrer 20. Then in 195, the year before he died, he played 100 games at SS with the same three coming in late game or starting the other games. In 1976 Danny played in 34 games and then he was gone.


Danny Thompson’s line for six years .251/.289/.316/.605 with 2.4 WAR.


Next to grab hold of the position was Roy Smalley in 1976. We got Smalley in a trade along with Mike Cubbage and pitchers Jim Gideon and Bill Singer for Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson. Why he would or could trade Thompson is another Calvin mystery. Why we traded Blyleven was a difficult thing to do, but a SS is important. Smalley was in 103 games under his uncle, manager Gene Mauch. He played in 150 games in 1977, 157 in 1978, 161 in 1979, and 125 in 1980 with Pete Mackinin, John Castino, and Lenny Faedo playing in the rest. In 1981 injuries limited him to 37 games and in 1982 he got in 4 games and was traded for Greg Gagne, and Pitchers Paul Boris and Ron Davis from the Yankees.


The rest of 1981 saw Chuck Baker, Pete Mackinin, Ron Washington, and Lenny Faedo at SS. In 1982 Ron Washington was our primary SS, Lenny Faedo the backup. In 1983 Washington remained number one, but there were multiple players getting time at short. Faedo was in 51 games, Houston Jiminez in 36, the newly acquired Gagne 10, and Gaetti 3.


Then in 1984 this streak of forgettables continued with Houston Jiminez and the number one, Washington number two then Faedo and Chris Speier. Finally, in 1985 Greg Gagne grabbed the position. With Roy Smalley back having been with the Yankees and the White Sox. He got in 49 games, Espinoza 31 and Ron Washington 31. The same four held the position in 1986 and Smalley took over DH with 114 games there.


In the championship season of 1987 Gagne was backed up by Al Newman and Smalley played there 4 games with the rest as DH or PH. This ended the Smalley era.


Roy Smalley in his two stints with the Twins played for us 10 years 262/.350/.401/.750 20.9 WAR


Gagne had no one looking over his shoulder in 1988 The others to play short were Al Newman – 28, Steve Lombardozzi – 11 and then Doug Baker, Gary Gaetti, and Tommy Herr. In 1989 the same top two with Baker the only other SS.


Starting the new decade – 1990 the top two stayed the same and Scott Leius became the third option. That stayed the same in 1991 with Knoblauch getting in 2 games at short. 1992 Gagne stayed at Short, but Al Newman was replaced by Jeff Reboulet and Donnie Hill. Gagne had been on both world series teams and hit a three run homer in game one of 1991, but in 1992 the Twins were only going to give out one big contract – Kirby Puckett and refused to give Gagne a raise. He left for KC.


Greg Gagne played 10 years for the Twins .249/.292/.385/.677 12.7 WAR.


Pat Meares was the next player that the Twins put at SS along with Reboulet, Hocking and Lieu in 1993. The same four were at the top of the list in 1994, 1995, 1996, and in 1997.1998 it was just Meares and Hocking. Meares left in FA to Pittsburgh.


Pat Meares was a 12th round draft choice and played six years with the Twins .265/.301/.381/.682 6.0 WAR
1999 became the year of Cristian Guzman with Denny Hocking the back up. The same two in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and in 2004 the back up was Nick Punto. Guzman had come from the Yankees in the Knoblauch trade. He led the league in triples three times and it was a pleasure to see him on the bases. The year he had 20 triples was the first time that number had been reached in 70 years. He left as a FA


Guzman played six years with the Twins .266/.303/.382/.685 WAR 7.5


In 2005 Juan Castro and Jason Bartlett split SS with Punto behind them. The same three in 2006, but Bartlett asserted himself as number one. Bartlett was SS in 138 games in 2007, with Punto and Casilla playing the rest.


In 2007 Bartlett lead the league in errors – 26 and then was part of the trade to get us Delmon Young!
Bartlett played 5 or his 10 years as a Twin 271/.340/.361/.702 8.9 WAR


2008 Nick Punto (the leader of the Piranhas) 61, Brendan Harris 55, Adam Everett 44, and Matt Tolber 14 split the SS position. 2009 saw Punto and Harris split the position with Orlando Cabrera. Then in 2010 we had a lead SS again – JJ Hardy with the other SS candidates sliding down the list.


2011 and Hardy is gone – that was quick, but we had Tsuyoshi Nishioki and he started 60 games, Trever Plouffe 45, Alexi Casilla 36 and Matt Tolber 31. Lots of maneuvering! With Nishioki gone, Hardy gone, we turned to our minor leagues and stared Brian Dozier at SS 83 games. Hard to remember or easy to forget. Others had innings and games at SS too in 2012. Pedro Florimon 43, Jamey Carroll (our oldest SS ever) 37, and Eduardo Escobar 6.
Lets call that a bad year too.


2013 Pedro Florimon takes the position 133 games, Escobar 38, and Doug Bernier 20. 2014 Escobar takes the position with Danny Santana playing in 34 games and Florimon 31 plus Eduardo Nunez 20. 2015 Escobar and Santana split the position with Nunez filling in and Polanco getting 4 games.


2016 Escobar gets the most games, but Nunez gets in 51 at short and Polanco 47. Polanco takes over in 2017, Adrianza is primary back up and Escobar gets only 16 because he is not primarily at third.
I just cannot choose the best out of the mess that is ten years of revolving door at SS and Polanco has a ways to go year.


Who is best – here are the candidates and my ranking – what do you think?
1. Cardenas 3 years .263/.325/.394/.719 with 11.1 WAR
2. Versalles 9 years 250/.296/.383/.679 14.7 WAR.
3. Roy Smalley 10 years 262/.350/.401/.750 20.9 WAR
4. Greg Gagne10 years .249/.292/.385/.677 12.7 WAR.
5. Bartlett 5 years 271/.340/.361/.702 8.9 WAR
6. Guzman 6 years.266/.303/.382/.685 WAR 7.5
7. Pat Meares 6 years.265/.301/.381/.682 6.0 WAR
8. Danny Thompson 6 years .251/.289/.316/.605 2.4 WAR.






Entry
The Twins best second baseman.
Last Update Feb 16 2019 10:53 AM



  • Oldgoat_MN and dbminn like this



In 1968 I ushered a few games at the Met. One pre-game Jackie Hernandez was making very bad throws to the first baseman - a lefthander - wish I could remember his name. A coach emerged from the dugout and said (I wasn't real close so this may not be word-for-word): "Mr. Hernandez, why are you throwing so badly?" Hernandez, pointing to the first baseman, said, "He wanted me to do that." Coach replied (again, I wasn't real close) "Please refrain from doing that."

    • mikelink45 likes this
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Longdistancetwins
Feb 19 2019 04:10 PM

I did love Cardenas's steadiness, and the way he played in so many games.I remember the LaRoche trade but didn't connect it to the Nolan Ryan deal.Nice bit of trivia!Some of Thompson's problems were less to do with the disease and more to do with management's discomfort with relying on someone with such a terrible prognosis to play shortstop, of all things. It was frustrating for me as a fan, and immensely frustrating for him.  

    • mikelink45 likes this
Hey Mike, just really wanted to thank you for all these greatest/retrospect posts. I have really enjoyed them! I feel a tad guilty as I haven't posted, until now, despite my enjoyment. Been a little more quiet as of late, gearing up for ST I think! LOL But these have been wonderful and very well thought out! For context purposes, I'm 53 and been a Twins fan since my father introduced me them ata be 5. You wouldn't guess my age to look at me, nobody does, and I certainly don't act my age a lot of days, lol. But I've been an avid fan for 48yrs. Wow, how time flies! What I really enjoy is reading about guys that were before my time, and their place in Twins history, as well as reading about some guys I had forgotten about. I find it fun and interesting when I remember someone that you don't. Just brings back a lot of memories scrounging through limited paper information before the internet, and so many years listening to AM radio, sometimes filled with static. I wish I had had the time to comment on each of these posts, but alas, I haven't had the opportunity to do so. And at this point, going back would probably fall on deaf ears. All of this being said I wanted to jump on this positional post. I'm not a big WAR guy for various reasons that are unimportant here. Due to context, I am leaving Cardenas out of the equation. From the history of the Twins, I'd have to place Versalles as the best overall SS. My memories of Smalley are two-fold. His initial time with the Twins and his homecoming. Wondering...in case I missed it somehow...is your WAR ranking skewed because his second time around was more of a DH/utility role? Offense and defense, production and memory, I would make a shorter list of the following: 1] Versalles 2A] Gagne 2B] Smalley 3] Guzman Rea)y torn between Bartlett and Mears limited time.
    • mikelink45 likes this
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Pius Jefferson
Feb 20 2019 05:43 AM

It feels like Gagne benefits greatly for being SS for two World Series teams.The numbers are bad and he was also a terrible base stealer despite being fast.

    • mikelink45 likes this

 

Hey Mike, just really wanted to thank you for all these greatest/retrospect posts. I have really enjoyed them! I feel a tad guilty as I haven't posted, until now, despite my enjoyment. Been a little more quiet as of late, gearing up for ST I think! LOL But these have been wonderful and very well thought out! For context purposes, I'm 53 and been a Twins fan since my father introduced me them ata be 5. You wouldn't guess my age to look at me, nobody does, and I certainly don't act my age a lot of days, lol. But I've been an avid fan for 48yrs. Wow, how time flies! What I really enjoy is reading about guys that were before my time, and their place in Twins history, as well as reading about some guys I had forgotten about. I find it fun and interesting when I remember someone that you don't. Just brings back a lot of memories scrounging through limited paper information before the internet, and so many years listening to AM radio, sometimes filled with static. I wish I had had the time to comment on each of these posts, but alas, I haven't had the opportunity to do so. And at this point, going back would probably fall on deaf ears. All of this being said I wanted to jump on this positional post. I'm not a big WAR guy for various reasons that are unimportant here. Due to context, I am leaving Cardenas out of the equation. From the history of the Twins, I'd have to place Versalles as the best overall SS. My memories of Smalley are two-fold. His initial time with the Twins and his homecoming. Wondering...in case I missed it somehow...is your WAR ranking skewed because his second time around was more of a DH/utility role? Offense and defense, production and memory, I would make a shorter list of the following: 1] Versalles 2A] Gagne 2B] Smalley 3] Guzman Rea)y torn between Bartlett and Mears limited time.

Smalley's WAR is definitely skewed by being a DH, but not as much as you might expect.He got a total of 2.1 WAR in his return so 18.8 WAR for his SS years.

 

Thank you for your compliment.It is a pleasure to put the Twins history in perspective.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

After 58 years of Twins history, you'd think there would be at least 1 player that really jumped out at you. There were some very good individual seasons in there but no really great careers. Hopefully some of the players in the current system will change the dialogue.

    • mikelink45 likes this

 

After 58 years of Twins history, you'd think there would be at least 1 player that really jumped out at you. There were some very good individual seasons in there but no really great careers. Hopefully some of the players in the current system will change the dialogue.

No HOF for sure.In the 1960s we felt that Zoilo was a real star.Since then we have had good not great.Thompson's story is sad and leaves you wondering what he could have been.He was only 26 when he died.The one I liked the best during the rest of the years is Guzman.I know it is surprising, but he played with an energy and speed that was really entertaining.Watching Polanco in the field makes me feel like he will never be on this list so Lewis is our next chance at brilliance.

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ToddlerHarmon
Feb 20 2019 01:38 PM

 

It feels like Gagne benefits greatly for being SS for two World Series teams.The numbers are bad and he was also a terrible base stealer despite being fast.

 

All true, but Gagne may have been the best defender among the regular shortstops.Huge range, and reliable.

    • Oldgoat_MN and mikelink45 like this

I do not have the fielding stats to compare them all, but Cardenas has always been considered the elite fielder. 

I think you have to go with Gagne here. He didn't win the WS by himself, but he was a big contributor and solid at his position. The numbers for lots of these guys look very similar. Gagne stands out as the guy with the rings. The guy could play his position, had awesome range.

    • mikelink45 likes this

For me, Smalley was elite in his prime at both offense and defense. He gave the Twins 6 very good years as full time shortstop before he was traded.

Gagne was also elite on defense. He was less so on offense, but he contributed some big moments for the Twins. While he was less than a star at base stealing, I do remember that he was an excellent base runner.

Versalles was nearly before my time, but I think his contributions were highlighted by his offense. 

Cardenas was only there for 3 years, but I enjoyed watching him. But again, I think his offense was his highlight more than defense.

Guzman was an exciting player, just probably not as consistently good as he could have been.

 

I would rank them like this:Smalley/Versalles/Gagne/Cardenas/Guzman

 

Finally, I think Casilla was such an exceptional talent. I was always disappointed that he could not ever seem to be consistent. If he could have played all the time like he did in some stretches, he could have been near the top of this list.

    • mikelink45 likes this