Consider the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Their core players were all between 25 and 31. Ironically, those are generally considered the years of a player’s prime. Yordano Ventura was in his age-24 season. Salvador Perez, Erik Hosmer and Kelvin Herrera were 25. Mike Moustakus was 26. Alcides Escobar was 28. Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Cueto, Greg Holland and Wade Davis were 29. Old man Alex Gordon was 31. Those guys were their core players. They were complemented by some veterans who filled holes. They added 34-year-old Ben Zobrist at the trade deadline. The signed 34-year-old Alex Rios and 32-year-old Kendrys Morales before the season. Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, and Chris Young all were well past 40 and made starts.
The key point is that the core players were all in their prime.
I thought it would be kind of fun to see the ages of some of the best teams in Twins history.
1965 World Series Runners-Up
They did not have a single hitter on the roster who was above their age-30 season. Earl Battey, Jerry Kindall and Bob Allison were 30. Harmon Killebrew, Mudcat Grant and Jim Perry were all 29. Don Mincher, Rich Rollins and Jimmie Hall were 27. Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were both 26. Zoilo Versailles, the league’s MVP that year, was just 25. Their bullpen consisted of a couple of older guys; Al Worthington was 36 and Johnny Klipstein was 37. Camilo Pascual was the old man of the rotation at 31.
1987 World Series Champions
Roy Smalley was the primary DH much of the season. He was 34. We all remember that Don Baylor was added as a bench bat and DH late in the season. He was 38. The only other hitter on the roster that was over 29 was backup catcher Sal Butera. Dan Gladden and Tim Laudner were both 29. Gary Gaetti was 28. Kent Hrbek, Steve Lombardozzi, Kirby Puckett and Frank Viola were all 27. Tom Brunasky was 26. Greg Gagne was just 25. Even bench guys Randy Bush (28) and All Newman (27) were young yet.
Of course, the Twins also were led on the mound by 36-year-old Bert Blyleven. Jeff Reardon was 31. Bullpen guys Juan Berenguer and George Frazier were both 32.
1991 World Series Champions
A lot of the core of that 1987 team was still around in 1991. Of course, this team generally wasn’t as young because of it. In fact, compared to other teams on this list, the 1991 team was rather old.
Dan Gladden was now 33. Puckett and Hrbek were 31. Recently acquired Brian Harper, Mike Pagliurulo and Chili Davis were all 31. Greg Gagne was 29. Scott Leius was 25, and Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch was just 22. The team did have a 36-year-old Jack Morris at the top of the rotation. He was joined by 27-year-old Kevin Tapani and 23-year-old Scott Erickson. The bullpen was a mixed bag. Rick Aguilera was 29. He was set up by 37-year-old Terry Leach, 33-year-old Steve Bedrosian, 30-year-old Carl Willis, and 25-year-old lefty Mark Guthrie.
2002 Twins ALCS Participating Team
The team that saved baseball in Minnesota, right? There are probably a lot of readers here who don’t remember the 1965 World Series team (I wasn’t born for another 10 years). Many of you probably don’t even remember the 1987 and 1991 teams. But most readers will remember that 2002 team. In 2001, a group of youngsters competed most of the year before falling short. And then there was an offseason of scary contraction talk. Ron Gardenhire took over as manager and this team easily won the division and followed that with a playoff series win against the A’s. They fell in the ALCS to the eventual World Champion Angels.
Again, no players in the regular lineup were over the age of 21. Corey Koskie was the old man at age 29. Doug Mientkiewicz was 28. Jacque ones was 27. Torii Hunter, Dustin Mohr and David Ortiz were all 26. Bobby Kielty and AJ Pierzynski were 25. Cristian Guzman was 24, and his double play partner was 22-year-old Luis Rivas. As seems to be case, the Twins had to have an upper-30s starter. Rick Reed was 37. Brad Radke was 29. Eric Milton and Joe Mays were both in their age 26 seasons. Eddie Guardado was the closer at age 31. Vulture Tony Fiore was 30, and LaTroy Hawkins was 29. JC Romero was 26. Mike Jackson, who was 37 at that time, was credited by several in the bullpen for his leadership skills.
Yes, the team lost in the playoffs, but they won 96 games in the regular season. That is the most wins by a Twins team in the last 45 years. In my opinion, it’s the best, most talented Twins team of my life time.
Luis Castillo and Torii Hunter were both 30. Lew Ford was 29. Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer were both 28. Jason Bartlett didn’t start the season at shortstop (Juan Castro did). He was 26. Justin Morneau was the AL MVP in his age 25 season. Jason Kubel was just 24. Joe Mauer had one of his best seasons, and he was just 23. Johan Santana was 27 and won his second AL Cy Young Award. Carlos Silva was also 27. Brad Radke was already 33. It was his final season. Boof Bonser and Scott Baker were 24 and made important starts down the stretch. Francisco Liriano was the best pitcher in baseball for ab out six weeks, until he needed Tommy John surgery. Matt Garza was just 22, one year after being the team’s top pick, and he made ten starts for the team late in the year. Joe Nathan was 31 years old. Dennys Reyes posted a sub-1.00 ERA at age 29. Juan Rincon and Matt Guerrier were both 27. Jesse Crain was just 24.
THE 2016 ROSTER
What we’ve found is that the best teams in Twins history have been primarily comprised of players before they turned 30 or 31. There were generally a few older players, but they were role players. It’s all about the core players. The 2016 team has a good mix of older players, guys in their prime and some really, really young players. How will they come together? Obviously there is no way to know that. Here is a roster projection with 2016 ages:
Others who could see time: Kennys Vargas (25), Danny Santana (25), Max Kepler (23), Jorge Polanco (22).
The starters, however, are not as young as the hitters, on a whole. (includes a lot of names, but guys who may have some chance of seeing time with the Twins in 2016)
The 2016 team will have a roster with a couple of cores of players. There are five to six guys in that 29 through 31 age group. There are also several players now in that 21 to 25 age group who are just debuting. Obviously building a championship-caliber team is about much more than just players’ ages. There has to be talent. Consider that Royals team that’s been to the World Series the last two years. Guys like Hosmer, Cain, Moustakus and Hochevar too awhile to develop into what they now are. Alex Gordon had to switch positions to become the player he has become the last few years. The Royals haven’t been afraid to let starters go after they turn 31 (guys like Ervin Santana and James Shields), and they still have won.
One thing you will notice in some of those great Twins teams is that they weren’t afraid to promote talent quickly. Chuck Knoblauch was drafted in 1989. Played in AA in 1990, and was the Opening Day second baseman in 1991. Scott Erickson debuted in 1990, a year after he was drafted in the third round out of college. Matt Garza was the Twins top pick in 2005. He pitched at four levels in 2006, including the Twins.
In other words, if they believe guys like Sano, Buxton, Kepler, or Burdi are ready, there is no reason to wait. Likewise, guys like Taylor Rogers or JT Chargois, who will be 25 in 2016, should get up soon too. Who knows? Maybe we will see Tyler Jay in a Twins uniform by season’s end.