Minnesota Twins: Selecting the Twins' All-Time Dream Team

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIApril 16, 2013

Minnesota Twins: Selecting the Twins' All-Time Dream Team

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    The Minnesota Twins have had their share of great players since their relocation from Washington prior to the 1961 season.

    While the Twins are not on the level of some of the older franchises in Major League Baseball, the team has had star power that has helped them to two World Series Championships and three American League pennants.

    As another year begins for the Twins, it's a good time to review who makes the franchise's all-time Dream Team.

    To clarify, the team will consist of an everyday lineup and a designated hitter to go along with a five-man rotation and closer. The team will consist of players that made an impact with the team or had their best years while wearing a Twins' uniform.

    Awards and other accolades will be considered, but the statistics will cover their time as a Twin (which means statistics accrued from the club's Washington Senators days will not count and that players such as Walter Johnson will not appear on this list).

    With that out of the way, who makes the cut for the Twins' all-time Dream Team?

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Catcher: Joe Mauer (2004-Present)

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    Career Statistics with Twins: .323/.404/.467 with 95 HR and 588 RBI in 9-plus seasons.

    Accomplishments: Five-time American League All-Star (2006, 2008-10, 2012), three-time Gold Glove winner (2008-10), four-time Silver Slugger award winner (2006, 2008-10), three-time American League Batting Champion (2006, 2008-09), 2009 American League Most Valuable Player.

    Joe Mauer is the most polarizing player in franchise history, but there is no doubt that he is the greatest catcher as well.

    The case for Mauer begins with the fact that he's a three-time batting champion. That's a feat that no catcher had accomplished prior to his first title in 2006. He's also a solid defender behind the plate as evidenced by his three Gold Gloves.

    Despite all of that, some fans still hold his lucrative contract extension he signed prior to the 2010 season against him.

    Perhaps it was the 29 home runs in his 2009 AL MVP season that hasn't been sniffed since the team moved to Target Field. It could be his 2011 season that saw him miss half the year due to bilateral leg weakness. Or it's his even keel personality that makes some think that he is not a leader.

    Either way, some fans will never appreciate Mauer for the player that he is. Still, who else would make sense here?

    Perhaps Earl Battey comes close, but he hasn't had the same impact behind the plate that Mauer has in his 10 seasons.

    With his 30th birthday coming later this week, it's possible that Mauer's list of accomplishments will grow and further cement his spot on this team.

First Baseman: Justin Morneau (2003-Present)

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    Career Statistics with Twins: .280/.351/.391, 205 HR, 791 RBI in 10+ seasons.

    Accomplishments: Four-time American League All-Star (2007-10), two-time Silver Slugger winner (2006, 2008), 2006 American League Most Valuable Player.

    First base presents the first challenge in picking this team. Justin Morneau has been great since turning a corner during the 2006 season, but is it enough to top Twins legend Kent Hrbek?

    With two World Series rings and a retired number in his pocket, it might be hard to comprehend how Morneau beats him out.

    But, because Morneau's list of accomplishments could have been even longer, his stats do not show how great he has been.

    If it weren't for the nation's love for "The Little Guy" when Dustin Pedroia topped him in 2008 and a nasty concussion in 2010, Morneau could have been a three-time MVP.

    The concussion has done the most damage to his career, as his numbers would have been bigger had he not been a shell of himself over the past couple seasons.

    With trade rumors swirling around him, Morneau's Twins' resume may stay where it's at come the July trading deadline. But, the prime of his career says that he should be the choice over Hrbek at first base.

Second Baseman: Rod Carew (1967-78)

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    Career Stats with Twins: .334/.393/.448, 74 HR, 733 RBI in 11 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 12-time American League All-Star (1967-77), Seven-time American League Batting Champion (1969, 1972-75, 1977-78), 1967 American League Rookie of the Year, 1977 American League Most Valuable Player, Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

    Carew is considered to be one of the greatest hitters of all time thanks to his reputation built during his tenure with the Twins

    After winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1967, Carew never slowed down as he won seven batting championships and made the all-star team every season while he was a member of the Twins.

    He was at his best in 1977 when Carew flirted with hitting .400 for the majority of the season before finishing with an average of .388 to win his only MVP award.

    Carew could have had more success with the Twins but became frustrated with owner Calvin Griffith's tight purse strings and was shipped to the California Angels prior to the 1979 season.

    Regardless, there isn't a second baseman that comes close to what Carew accomplished as a Twin.

Shortstop: Roy Smalley (1976-82, 1985-87)

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    Career Stats with Twins: .262/.350/.401, 110 HR, 485 RBI in 10 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 1979 American League All-Star, 1987 World Champion.

    The Twins have had a hard time finding legitimate shortstops in recent years, but it's nothing new when compared to the history of the franchise.

    Looking back on the players that have played shortstop for the Twins, there wasn't anybody that stood out with the exception of Roy Smalley and Zoilo Versalles.

    Versalles won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1965, but it was more of a one-year wonder as he never reached that level again.

    Smalley was more consistent over the course of his career, and while he didn't have the "wow" factor that some other shortstops have, he was still good enough to make plays when he needed to.

Third Baseman: Gary Gaetti (1981-90)

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    Career Statistics with Twins: .256/.307/.437, 201 HR, 758 RBI in 10 seasons.

    Accomplishments: Two-time All-Star (1988, 1989), Four-time Gold Glove winner (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989), 1987 World Champion.

    Known as "The Rat," Gary Gaetti added power to the middle of the Twins lineup during the '80s.

    To go along with a bat that would hit 360 home runs during the course of his entire career, Gaetti was great in the field as well as he won four Gold Gloves while leading the team to their first World Series championship in 1987.

    Perhaps there could have been a challenger for this title with Corey Koskie becoming a Gaetti clone a couple of decades later, but Gaetti did it for a longer period of time and wound up staying in the major leagues for another 10 years before his retirement after the 2000 season.

Left Fielder: Harmon Killebrew (1961-74)

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    Career Stats with Twins: .260/.383/.518, 475 HR, 1325 RBI in 14 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 10-time American League All-Star (1961, 1963-70), 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

    The Washington Senators moved to Minnesota prior to the 1961 season. Like any team in a new city, they needed a player that could become the face of the franchise to introduce themselves to the area.

    Harmon Killebrew did an OK job of that.

    Killebrew bashed 475 of his 573 career home runs in a Twins uniform and made a seamless transition from third base to left field while becoming one of the most respected power hitters in all of baseball.

    In addition to hitting over 40 home runs in a season seven times in an era that rarely saw anybody hit 30, Killebrew was well-known across the league as baseball writers voted him in the top-five of MVP voting six times including taking the award home in 1969.

    While he played his final season with the Kansas City Royals in 1975, he became the first Twin to have his number retired and be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Center Fielder: Kirby Puckett (1984-95)

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    Career Stats with Twins: .318/.360/.477, 207 HR, 1,085 RBI in 12 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 10-time American League All-Star (1986-95), Six-time Gold Glove winner (1986-89, 1991-92), Six-time Silver Slugger winner (1986-89, 1992, 1994), Two-time World Champion (1987, 1991), Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

    Growing up as a kid in Southeast Minnesota, the first baseball player that I came to know and love was Kirby Puckett. I wasn't alone as the entire Twins fanbase will agree that Puckett has to be the most beloved Twin of all time.

    With a trademark smile, Puckett became the face of the team during their two World Series championships. He even made two of the most memorable plays in World Series history in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.

    To this day, any Twins fans will get chills when they hear Jack Buck scream "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" as the ball sails into a euphoric Metrodome crowd to end the game.

    The sound of former Metrodome public address announcer introducing him as "Kirbyyyyyyyy Puckett!" has a similar effect too.

    Puckett's career was cut short when he lost vision in his right eye in March of 1995 due to glaucoma, and he announced his retirement from baseball shortly after.

    His legacy is strong today with a statue on Target Plaza and a line of great center fielders such as Torii Hunter that were mentored by the Hall of Famer.

Right Fielder: Tony Oliva (1962-76)

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    Career Stats: .304/.353/.476, 220 HR, 947 RBI in 15 seasons.

    Accomplishments: Eight-time American League All-Star (1964-71), Three-time American League Batting Champion (1964-65, 1971), 1964 Rookie of the Year, 1966 Gold Glove winner.

    A lot of people are up in arms about how "this guy" and "that guy" aren't in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but there's a good case as to why more people should be upset about the omission of Tony Oliva.

    Oliva was one of the top outfielders in baseball when he played for the Twins beginning in 1962. That season, he hit a career-high 32 home runs and hit .323 to win the American League Rookie of the Year award.

    From that point on, Oliva was a run producing machine and had a bazooka attached to his neck in the outfield as he recorded 10 or more outfield assists in a season three times.

    If it weren't for a series of knee injuries, Oliva could have done more on the field but was forced to retire after hitting .211 in 1976.

Designated Hitter: Kent Hrbek (1981-94)

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    Career Stats with Twins: .282/.367/.481, 293 HR, 1086 RBI in 14 seasons.

    Accomplishments: Two-time World Champion (1987, 1991), 1982 American League All-Star

    Is putting Kent Hrbek at the designated hitter spot a cop out pick? Not really.

    Throughout the history of the Twins, they've never had an elite full-time designated hitter such as Frank Thomas or Edgar Martinez.

    They've also acquired solid designated hitters via free agency, but those were hometown players in the twilight of their careers such as Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor.

    So it makes perfect sense to find a different way to get Hrbek on this team.

    Prior to Joe Mauer, Hrbek was the hometown product that was stimulating the imagination of Twins fans. His performance in the 1987 World Series included a grand slam in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals that forced Game 7.

    Interestingly enough, Hrbek's tenure with the Twins mirrors Justin Morneau, who occupies the first base spot in this lineup. If it weren't for the lack of accolades, he might be at first base with Morneau being thrown in this spot.

    Either way, both are great players in Twins history and deserve to have a spot on the team.

Starting Pitcher No. 1: Johan Santana (2000-07)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 93-44, 3.22 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in eight seasons.

    Accomplishments: Two-time American League Cy Young award winner (2004, 2006), Three-time American League All-Star (2005-07), 2007 Gold Glove award winner

    Johan Santana is an example of when your Rule 5 draft goes right. Originally selected by the Florida Marlins in 2000, he was promptly traded to the Twins where they stashed him on their roster while he struggled to the tune of a 6.49 earned run average.

    After being sent to Triple-A Rochester the following season, he discovered how to throw a changeup and the rest was history.

    Upon Santana's return, he forced his way into the starting rotation and became one of the most dominating pitchers in the American League. Two Cy Young awards later, he became a household name and craved pitching under the bright lights of a bigger market.

    The Twins shipped Santana to the New York Mets for the equivalent of a bag of baseballs and some used cleats, but his career hit a wall there thanks to two shoulder surgeries.

    It's a shame that his career has been derailed thanks to that shoulder, but Twins fans still have fond memories of Santana making opposing hitters look silly thanks to his changeup.

Starting Pitcher No. 2: Bert Blyleven (1970-76, 1985-88)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 149-138, 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 11 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 1973 American League All-Star, 1987 World Champion, Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Today's generation of Twins fans know Bert Blyleven as the guy who circles needy people with a telestrator during Fox Sports North broadcasts, but his Hall of Fame career as a pitcher puts him on this list.

    Known as a workhorse, Blyleven routinely went deep into games as somebody who would rather finish things off himself than leave it up to a relief pitcher.

    His best work in a Twins uniform came during the 1987 season where he became the ace of the staff and pitched a series of gems that won the franchise's first World Series championship.

    After his retirement, Blyleven fought to get into the baseball Hall of Fame and finally made it in 2011.

Starting Pitcher No. 3: Jim Kaat (1961-73)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 189-152, 3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 13 seasons.

    Accomplishments: 12-time Gold Glove winner (1962-73,), Two-time American League All-Star (1962, 1966)

    Jim Kaat was one of the best pitchers ever when it came to fielding his position, but he was also just as effective throwing to the plate.

    With the exception of his first year in 1961, Kaat won double-digit games for the Twins every season and helped the team claim their first American League pennant in 1966 by throwing 304.2 innings.

    His career extended well into his mid-40s, and his stint with the Twins made him one of the best to wear the uniform.

Starting Pitcher No. 4: Frank Viola (1982-89)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 112-93, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in eight seasons.

    Accomplishments: 1987 World Champion, 1988 Cy Young award winner, 1988 American League All-Star

    Like Johan Santana, Viola was another pitcher that learned how to use his changeup to produce devastating results.

    His 1987 performance not only helped the Twins win the World Series, but it officially put him on the map as one of the true aces in baseball. A 17-10 record was followed up by a career-best 24-7 mark in 1988, but that made him too expensive to keep.

    The Twins decided to send him to the Mets midway through the 1989 season, but this trade was more successful than the Santana trade that would come 18 years later.

    The haul for the Twins included pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera who would become key contributors on a World Series champion team in 1991.

Starting Pitcher No. 5: Jack Morris (1991)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 18-12, 3.43 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in one season

    Accomplishments: 1991 American League All-Star

    Earlier, I had talked about veterans on their last legs joining the Twins as a way to come home. That makes the addition of Jack Morris seem odd, but it's what he did in his lone season with the team that secures his spot.

    Morris was the ace of the 1991 World Series champion, and he proved that in Game 7 against John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves.

    In my opinion, it's the greatest pitching duel of all time as Smoltz and Morris kept hanging zeroes until the game went to the 10th inning.

    It hasn't been seen that often in today's game, but Morris ran out and shut the Braves down for one more inning, allowing the Twins to win the game in the bottom of the ninth and their second world championship.

Closing Pitcher: Joe Nathan (2004-11)

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    Career Stats with Twins: 24-13, 2.16 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 260 saves in seven seasons

    Accomplishments: Four-time American League All-Star (2004-05, 2008-09)

    Joe Nathan takes some heat because he competed in a weak American League Central during his time in Minnesota, but he was one of the most effective closers during that time frame.

    Nathan blew just 28 saves in 288 attempts (90 percent) as a Twin and saved over 40 games three times in seven seasons with the Twins.

    His playoff experiences were rough (4.70 ERA in six American League Divisional Series appearances), but when it came to finishing a game, Nathan was the best in franchise history.