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Minnesota Twins history: Anatomy of a winner

A front office has a number of avenues to traverse when it comes to building a roster. Here's how the Minnesota Twins have constructed their winners.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Earlier this week, MLB Trade Rumors posted a fantastic Q&A with Andy MacPhail. Currently the President of the Philadelphia Phillies, MacPhail was the General Manager for the Minnesota Twins during their World Series runs in 1987 and 1991. He was at the helm of the organization from 1985 (when he was just 32 years old), and did an impressive job turning around the club not just once but twice.

In 1986 the Twins won just 71 games, finishing sixth in a seven-team American League West. In 1990 the team won 74, but finished dead last in the division. On both occasions, MacPhail was able to build around a core of familiar faces to supplement the roster and, ultimately, construct a winner.

Building off of MLBTR's conversation with MacPhail, I took a spin through Twins history to nail down just how wide Minnesota has had to cast their net in piecing together their division-leading teams. I've broken down the 30 players with the most playing time on each of the eight playoff-bound Minnesota clubs since 1991, and split acquisitions into seven categories: draft, Major League free agents, trades, international signings, minor league free agents, waiver claims, and Rule 5 pickups.

Just a couple of notes before we get started.

  • I endeavored to keep a 15/15 split between pitchers and position players, but just because of how things play out that wasn't always something I could stick to. When it came down to that 30th player and I was choosing between 20 relief innings and 40 plate appearances, I made a call.
  • The 1965, 1969, and 1970 clubs were excluded from this exercise because of the fundamental differences in roster construction at that time. Killebrew, Carew, Oliva, Allison, Versalles - they were all considered to be signed as amateur free agents. It's fair to say that an overwhelming majority of any team during this period was building a team based off of those amateur free agents, trades, and little else.
  • For the eight teams qualifying for this post, amateur free agents and non-roster invitees are assigned as minor league free agents. This means they'll be lumped in with players who, like Jason Repko, signed a minor league contract with the club. Please let me know if you find a discrepancy.
  • Players who stayed on with the club for more than one contract are listed under the category through which they were originally acquired. Carl Pavano remains listed as a trade acquisition, and Mark Guthrie as a draft pick - even though MacPhail counts him as a minor league free agent in the MLBTR feature.

Year Drafted MLB FA Trade International MiLB FA Waivers Rule 5
1987 9 2 17 0 2 0 0
1991 13 3 10 0 3 0 1
2002 12 3 7 2 4 1 1
2003 13 2 8 3 3 0 1
2004 13 5 6 3 1 1 1
2006 12 4 10 1 1 1 1
2009 13 4 9 1 1 1 1
2010 13 2 11 1 1 1 0


Draft (9): Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Tim Laudner, Steve Lombardozzi, Randy Bush, Gene Larkin, Frank Viola, Mark Davidson
MLB Free Agents (2): Sal Butera, Juan Berenguer
Trades (17): Dan Gladden, Greg Gagne, Tom Brunansky, Roy Smalley, Al Newman, Tom Nieto, Don Baylor, Jeff Reardon, Bert Blyleven, Mike Smithson, Joe Niekro, George Frazier, Keith Atherton, Dan Schatzeder, Steve Carlton, Joe Klink, Roy Smith
MiLB Free Agents (2): Les Straker, Mark Portugal

It's fascinating looking at this group of players. Not only was this an 85-win team in the regular season that slayed the giants in Detroit and St. Louis, but the only pitcher that played a major role that wasn't an external acquisition was the staff ace in Viola. Similarly, it's impressive that so much of that position player core was brought through the system. The starting catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, center fielder, and three of the most important role players off the bench were internal guys.


Draft (13): Kent Hrbek, Chuck Knoblauch, Kirby Puckett, Gene Larkin, Scott Leius, Randy Bush, Scott Erickson, Allan Anderson, Mark Guthrie, Terry Leach, Paul Abbott, Denny Neagle, Larry Casian
MLB Free Agents (3): Chili Davis, Mike Pagliarulo, Jack Morris
Trades (10): Greg Gagne, Dan Gladden, Al Newman, Pedro Munoz, Junior Ortiz, Kevin Tapani, David West, Rick Aguilera, Steve Bedrosian, Paul Sorrento
MiLB Free Agents (3): Brian Harper, Carl Willis, Tom Edens
Rule 5 (1): Shane Mack

Based off the core of that '87 team, it's no wonder that the entirety of the holdover from the championship run four years ago came on the position player side: Puckett, Hrbek, Gagne, Gladden, Larkin, Bush, and Newman were all still big parts of the '91 club. Harper probably should have been in the big leagues before he was. But you look around at all the other big contributors that came in for this campaign, and they come from all around: Erickson in the rotation, Mack as a fantastic Rule 5 pick up, Tapani and Aguilera were integral trade acquisitions, and all three free agents (Morris, Davis, Pagliarulo) all played big roles.


Draft (12): A.J. Pierzynski, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Denny Hocking, Matt LeCroy, Kyle Lohse, Brad Radke, Eddie Guardado, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins
MLB Free Agents (3): Tom Prince, Mike Jackson, Bob Wells
Trades (7): Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, Rick Reed, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, Matt Kinney, David Ortiz
International Signings (2): Luis Rivas, Juan Rincon
MiLB Free Agents (4): Dustan Mohr, Bobby Kielty, Jay Canizaro, Tony Fiore
Waiver Claims (1): Jack Cressend
Rule 5 (1): Johan Santana

This is the first example that shows just how active an organization in the game's current climate needs to be if they want to have the best chance of building a winner. The Twins have never been a team to rely on free agency, but taking gambles on waivers, the Rule 5 draft, and international signings has never been more prudent. They've also been good at finding value with minor league free agents and non-roster invitees, particularly in the bullpen. Leaning on the draft as an integral part of team building is always going to be necessary, and inasmuch you can never take scouting and development lightly, but days of relying on trades and free agency as the only ways of overcoming a lack of draft success are over.


Draft (13): A.J. Pierzynski, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Matt LeCroy, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denny Hocking, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins
MLB Free Agents (2): Chris Gomez, Kenny Rogers
Trades (8): Cristian Guzman, Shannon Stewart, Rick Reed, Lew Ford, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Todd Sears, J.C. Romero
International Signings (3): Luis Rivas, Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour
MiLB Free Agents (3): Dustan Mohr, Bobby Kielty, Tony Fiore
Rule 5 (1): Johan Santana

The Twins were able to develop almost two full separate squads to help them win six division titles in nine years, but while this group didn't win a World Series the core of these early contenders was still draft-heavy. The starting catcher, first baseman, third baseman, two outfielders, and designated hitter came from the draft. Being able to find both starting middle infielders, the staff ace, and some of the club's best bullpen options from other avenues helped push these teams to be as good as they were.


Draft (13): Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Matt LeCroy, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, Matt Ryan, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain
MLB Free Agents (5): Henry Blanco, Jose Offerman, Aaron Fultz, Terry Mulholland, Seth Greisinger
Trades (6): Cristian Guzman, Lew Ford, Shannon Stewart, Nick Punto, Carlos Silva, Joe Nathan
International Signings (3): Luis Rivas, Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour
MiLB Free Agents (1): Joe Roa
Waiver Claims (1): Matt Guerrier
Rule 5 (1): Johan Santana

This was a transitional season. Pierzynski was out, Mauer was in, Mientkiewicz would be traded, and guys who would play bigger role in the next three titles (Morneau, Nathan, Cuddyer) would begin stepping into bigger roles. But this was still largely a team that belonged to the lovable upstarts. Whether you look at the players acquired through the draft or through trades, it's worth noting how many of those decisions had to go right - how many of those targeted players had to end up being good - to make the '04 Twins a 92-win team.


Draft (12): Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Brad Radke, Scott Baker, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Willie Eyre
MLB Free Agents (4): Rondell White, Tony Batista, Mike Redmond, Dennys Reyes
Trades (10): Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Nick Puno, Lew Ford, Shannon Stewart, Juan Castro, Carlos Silva, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser
International Signings (1): Juan Rincon
MiLB Free Agents (1): Jason Tyner
Waiver Claims (1): Matt Guerrier
Rule 5 (1): Johan Santana

Just when some thought that the Twins' window of winning titles was about to close, they were able to bring in a new wave of players to lead the team. Mauer, Morneau, Crain, Cuddyer, Neshek, and Baker looked poised to be the new leaders of the club for years to come; the Pierzynski trade was paying huge dividends, as were the deals for Castillo, Bartlett, and Castro. It's a testament to the organization's ability to find value across the board that the ultimate failures of White and Batistia didn't cost the club a title. Granted, the Twins won the AL Central after they'd already finished their last game, but if two middle-of-the-order players disappoint on the levels that White and Batistia did and the team still comes out ahead, it's an accomplishment.


Draft (13): Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Matt Tolbert, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Jesse Crain, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak
MLB Free Agents (4): Joe Crede, Mike Redmond, Luis Ayala, R.A. Dickey
Trades (9): Alexi Casilla, Orlando Cabrera, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Joe Nathan
International Signings (1): Jose Mijares
MiLB Free Agents (1): Bobby Keppel
Waiver Claims (1): Matt Guerrier
Rule 5 (1): Brian Buscher

Did you know that Jose Mijares is just 31 years old?


Draft (13): Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Danny Valencia, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing, Alex Burnett, Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins
MLB Free Agents (2): Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson
Trades (11): J.J. Hardy, Delmon Young, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Brendan Harris, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Matt Capps
International Signings (1): Jose Mijares
MiLB Free Agents (1): Jason Repko
Waiver Claims (1): Matt Guerrier

Yes, it's true. Jose Mijares is just 31 years old. Right now. If he attempted a comeback, and showed up to workouts having lost some weight, I bet he might get a little bit of interest. Left-handed relievers pitch forever.

This team is interesting. While Mijares, Guerrier, and Repko certainly played their parts, a vast majority of the success of the 2010 club - which might be the best collection of talent on a single Twins team in my lifetime - came through the draft and through Thome and Hudson.

*          *          *          *          *

It's worth noting that the ways in which a roster is constructed aren't as important as whether the decisions made were good ones. You could easily look at the construction of last place Twins teams for all the scientific good this exercise serves, but that's not nearly as fun. And during spring training, a time of eternal optimism, that's not nearly as interesting to research.

What's interesting, then, when you look at the construction of the 2016 Minnesota Twins? Partially it's that, depending on what happens to Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson could be the only starter drafted by the team in the rotation from opening day. Partially it's that the team is likely to have another pitcher join Casey Fien as non-roster invitees in the bullpen.

The catcher was a free agent. The shortstop was a trade acquisition. The right fielder and the designated hitter were international signings. But Minnesota's starting first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, center fielder, and left fielder will have been drafted and developed internally. And there's definitely something familiar about playoff-bound Twins teams developing a very strong core of position players.