MLB History Challenge: All-Time Twins Team

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MLB History Challenge: All-Time Twins Team

The Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1961. Since then, the organization has had two owners, Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad. Andy MacPhail, Griffith, Howard Fox, and Terry Ryan have all played primary executive roles. Ryan still holds the GM position today.

The Twins have made nine playoff appearances, winning three pennants and two World Series, in 1987 and 1991. Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and Harmon Killebrew wear Twins caps on their plaques in Cooperstown. Justin Morneau, Carew, Killebrew, and Zoilo Versalles have all won the MVP in Minnesota, while Johan Santana, Frank Viola, and Jim Perry earned the Cy Young.

Two paragraphs. 

The core history of the Minnesota Twins can be summed up in just two paragraphs. 

The Twins are a beloved franchise, and the two World Series titles are reason for pride—but the team is simply not very old.

You’re not going to find Hall-of-Fame players at every position on this All-Time team like you might with some of the more established franchises.

But still, on with the roster...

 

Lineup

1. Rod Carew 2B

There's so much to say about Rod Carew one hardly knows where to begin. 

He made 18 All-Star appearances, won seven batting crowns, led the league in on-base percentage four times, and led the league in OPS the same year he won the MVP in 1977.

While Carew was never recognized for his defensive work, he was an above-average glove at both first base and second base. With his combination of speed and OBP, he’s an ideal choice to lead off.

2. Tony Oliva LF

During an eight-year injury-free stretch, Tony won three batting crowns, made eight All-Star appearances, and picked up a Gold Glove for his work in the outfield. 

Oliva was never the same player after his knee surgery, and his limited career has just barely kept him out of the Hall of Fame. Tony lead the league in doubles four times while finishing in the top three seven times.

3. Harmon Killebrew DH

Six times Killebrew won the home run crown. 12 times he finished in the top 10 in OPS.  His .256 career batting average proves to me how insufficient batting average can be in describing the offensive prowess of a player.

Harmon guy could hit. 

He was an average player in the field, but there’s nobody I’d rather have driving in runs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

4. Kirby Puckett CF

Minnesota has a vibrant and voluminous blogosphere which encompasses both politics and baseball. (The reasons are simple: The national press all but ignores the Minnesota Twins, while the paper of record in Minnesota, the Star Tribune, is one of the worst-run major metropolitan papers in the country.) The day Puckett died, the entire Minnesota blogging community filled the Web with heartfelt eulogies of the former All-Star.

Puckett had a wonderful combination of speed and power. His defense in the outfield was Gold Glove-caliber—and if it hadn’t been for a career-ending eye condition, he would have been among the all-time greats. 

Puckett played for 12 seasons and was top 10 in hits in the league 10 times.

5. Kent Hrbek 1B

Herbie didn’t win a lot of acclaim in the national press; he was portly and Midwestern and there’s nothing duller in the baseball world than a big first baseman who hits home runs. 

Peers like Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly had higher batting averages and more RBIs, but Hrbek had a better career adjusted-OPS (OPS+) than Garvey and the same OPS+ as Mattingly. 

Had Hrbek played in some fantasy world where ability was measured objectively, I’m certain he would have made more than one All-Star appearance.

6. Earl Battey C

A tough choice between Brian Harper and Earl Battey here, as they have similar number in most offensive categories. I went with Battey because he won several Gold Gloves, while Harper was just an average defensive catcher.

And yes, Joe Mauer and his historic batting crown are on my mind—but Mauer has spent a lot of time on the disabled list in his short career.

7. Bob Allison RF

This position could have gone to any of three candidates—Torii Hunter played a few games in right field, and Tom Brunansky did an excellent job for the Twins in the ’87 season. It came down to offense, and Allison had a clear edge.

8. Roy Smalley SS

Another choice between two players who deserve recognition. Roy Smalley Jr. beat out MVP award winner Zoilo Versalles because Smalley was the better hitter over his career, and had the better defensive skills despite never winning a Gold Glove.

9. Gary Gaetti 3B

The weakest link on this team is also one of my favorite players. 

“The Rat” was a slick-fielding third baseman who managed  some decent numbers at the plate. I enjoyed watching Gaetti play—he was a very gritty player—but mostly he finds himself on this list because Rich Rollins is the next best third baseman in the franchise’s history, with Corey Koskie in the mix.

The Twins organization has never really had a good answer at third. That might explain why Nick Punto still has a job.



Pitchers

RHRP: Pat Neshek

I know Neshek hasn’t had anything even resembling a career yet, but he’s the type of pitcher I would want in the bullpen.

His motion is so quirky and his velocity so good in comparison to his side-arming peers that I'd even take him over Dennis Eckersley if given a choice.

LHRP: Eddie Guardado

“Everyday Eddie” once made 83 relief appearances in a season for the Twins. A versatile lefty, Guardado also spent time as a closer and had 183 saves in his career.

Setup: Juan Berenguer

I wish the riches the Twins have had in their bullpen could have been matched in other areas (like third base). 

There were a lot of choices for this spot; Mike Marshall, Ron Davis, Juan Rincon, and Al Worthington have been excellent for the Twins. Still, “Señor Smoke” has an edge in that he could play any role: starter, closer, middle reliever—it didn’t matter.

Closer: Rick Aguilera

The Twins have had three closers worthy of this list: Rick Aguilera, Jeff Reardon, and Joe Nathan. In the end, I picked Aguilera because he was better for longer than either Reardon or Nathan. However, Nathan could easily overtake Aguilera if he plays for the Twins for a few more years.

SP Frank Viola

Viola won the Cy Young Award in 1987 and was pivotal in that year's playoffs. He started five postseason games and went 3-1 with a 4.31 ERA for the world champion Twins.

SP Bert Blyleven

Bert's absence from Cooperstown is criminal negligence on the part of the Baseball Writers Association. Like Viola, Blyleven went 3-1 in the '87 postseason.

SP Johan Santana

Santana has won two Cy Young Awards and is the best starting pitcher in baseball right now. If he can avoid injury, he'll surely become known as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

SP Jim Kaat

Kaat isn’t the best pitcher in history, but he’s another in a long line of effective postseason starters for he Twins. In 25 seasons, he posted a 283-237 record.

SP Jack Morris

Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual come close in the competition for the fifth starter, but Morris' 1991 season—including the 10-inning complete game shutout in Game Seven of the World Series—wins out.

Morris only played one season for the Twins, but I watched the ’91 Series and saw every pitch he made. It was something special.



I’ve done my best to be brief and stay away from numbers here—but a few crept into the column. I think a lot of these players are underestimated by baseball fans at large, and I encourage readers to research those that I’ve named.

As for how this All-Time Twins team compares to others profiled in this series—I think it’s clear this lineup is hurting for offense. Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Roy Smalley don’t rank among the best players at their respective positions, and none of them were dominant in their respective eras. 

Pitching and defense are this team's strengths. I’m not sure I’d take the Twins against the All-Time Cubs team, but I think they’d do fine against the Oakland A’s.

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