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Former Twins Could Make Formidable Team

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

A pennant-winning MLB team could be cobbled together with players the Twins have traded too soon, or let walk before they reached their full potential. In some cases, it appears the players improved just by abandoning the “Twins Way.”

Catcher: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals. Ramos was absolutely stolen from the Twins by Washington in 2010 at the trade deadline, swapped for journeyman reliever Matt Capps. Minnesota needed a closer as they made a playoff run in their first year at Target Field with Joe Nathan on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, and Capps was made available by struggling Washington.

Capps actually pitched very well for the Twins in his first stint with the team in ’10, going 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 16 saves in 27 appearances. He then crapped the bed in 2011 by going 4-7 with only 15 saves despite 69 appearances.

He completed his flameout in 2012 with a 1-4 record and 14 saves in 30 appearances. Capps is no longer in baseball.

Ramos has had his share of injuries (and was even kidnapped in his native country last season) but has shown plenty of glimpses into his potential as a MLB backstop with a .272 batting average, 22 home runs and 80 RBI over his first 170 games in Washington.

First base: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox. “Big Papi” wasn’t Big Papi until he left the Twins and hitting coach Scott Ulger. According to Ortiz, the Twins insisted on the slugger spraying the ball to all fields instead of relying on his raw pull power.

Ortiz was considered expendable because of the emergence of Doug Mientkiewicz (sigh) at first base and Matt LeCroy (yes, really) at designated hitter. The Twins were so short-sighted with Ortiz that they simply let him walk heading into the 2003 season.

We all know how Ortiz blossomed as a member of the Red Sox: 360 HR, 1160 RBI, two World Series titles and nine straight All Star games from 2004-13.

Second base: Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies. Ok, I’m cheating a little bit here by putting Cuddy at second base, although he did log 79 games at second base for the Twins.

Cuddyer is an example of the exact kind of player Target Field was built to keep around. An eleven-year veteran of the Twins, Cuddyer was called up in September of 2001 for a cup of coffee, and by 2002 was entrenched as the starting right fielder for the 2002 playoffs.

During his Twins tenure, Cuddyer logged 4555 at bats and posted a .272 batting average with 141 home runs and 580 RBI. His career year came in 2009 when he hit 32 home runs and knocked in 94.

Cuddyer has been on fire in 2013 with Colorado including a team-record 27 game hitting streak. The 34-year old is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI so far in 2013.

Shortstop: JJ Hardy, Baltimore Orioles.  Hardy will be starting for the American League in the 2013 All Star Game at Citi Field. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for enigmatic outfielder Carlos Gomez, Hardy was given only one season to learn the “Twins Way” before being shipped out of town for the horrible Jim Hoey.

Hardy went from six home runs and 38 RBI in 2010 with the Twins to 30 home runs and 80 RBI with Baltimore in 2011. After a 22 home run season in 2012, the 30-year-old has 15 home runs and 46 RBI through 89 games in 2013.

Third Base: Danny Valencia, Baltimore Orioles. Ok, ok. Valencia is not very good at baseball….However, every team needs a third baseman and Valencia is our guy at the hot corner.

Over 989 at bats with the Twins spanning three seasons, Valencia hit .260 with 24 home runs and 124 RBI. In 2011, the then 26-year-old hit 15 home runs with 72 RBI in 564 at bats.

Valencia was traded to the Red Sox late in the 2012 season, and has spent most of 2013 in the Orioles’ minor league system.

Left Field: Jason Kubel, Arizona Diamondbacks. A South Dakota native, Kubel shook off a major knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2005 season to be a dependable part of the Twins lineup from 2006-2011. In 753 games with Minnesota, ‘Kubes’ socked 104 home runs and drove in 429 runs with a .271 batting average.

The lefty’s best season was 2009, when he hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI. In his first season with the Diamondbacks in 2012, Kubel hit a career-high 30 home runs and led the National League in outfield assists.

Center Field: Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers. Gomez was the centerpiece of the 2008 trade that saw three-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana panic-traded to the New York Mets.

Flashy and almost the polar opposite of the ‘Twins Way’ of playing the game, Gomez equally thrilled and maddened fans with the way he played the game. The Twins forced Gomez into the starting lineup in 2008, eager to show the fans something in place of Santana, and the then-22 year-old Gomez hit .258 with 59 RBI and 33 stolen bases.

Gomez regressed in 2009 as he was forced to split playing time with Denard Span in center field for a majority of the season, batting .229 with 28 RBI and 14 SB. He was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers following the 2009 season in exchange for JJ Hardy.

‘Go-Go’ earned a four year, $28 million contract after his 2012 season in which he hit .260 with 19 HR and 51 RBI to go with 37 SB. He was named a 2013 All-Star with first-half numbers of nine triples, 13 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Right Field: Torii Hunter, Detroit Tigers. Hunter was, for many fans, the hardest player to see leave the team. A fan favorite and multiple time All Star, Hunter was allowed to leave as a free agent following the 2008 season. The Twins reportedly offered their veteran leader a three year contract worth $45 million before the Angels blew them out of the water with a 5 year, $90 million deal.

In eleven seasons with the Twins, Hunter batted .271 with 192 home runs and 711 RBI. He was an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner and made two All Star Games.

Hunter lived up to the contract he signed with LAA, batting .286 with 105 home runs and 432 RBI in five seasons. He is currently batting .309 in his first season with the Detroit Tigers.

Starting Pitchers:

Kyle Lohse, Milwaukee Brewers. Lohse was deemed a “problem child” by Twins management (he DID take a bat to Ron Gardenhire’s office door at one point) and was traded to Cincinatti for a bag of broken bats.

The Chico, CA native struggled with the Reds in parts of two seasons before being shipped to the Phillies, again with mixed results. Lohse resurrected his career in 2008 with the St. Louis Cardinals when he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 200 IP.

In five years under the tutelage of Cards pitching guru Dave Duncan, Lohse went 55-35 with a 3.90 ERA and 504 strikeouts against just 200 walks.

R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays. Signed in 2009, the Twins figured Dickey’s signature knuckleball would dance and float in the nonexistent Metrodome atmosphere. Problem was, they didn’t give him much of a chance to test that theory in 2009, only giving him one start among 35 appearances.

Signed by the Mets after being released following the 2009 season, Dickey won the NL Cy Young Award in 2012. The righty went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays following the ’12 season.

Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates. Liriano was acquired by the Twins in a trade that sent AJ Pierzynski to the Giants in 2004. By 2006, Liriano was on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award before blowing out his elbow and requiring Tommy John Surgery.

The lefty was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144/32 K:BB ratio in ’06. He followed that season up with a couple of shaky seasons but put together a good 2010 campaign in which he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA.

The Twins gave up on Liriano in 2012, trading him to the White Sox for some used sunflower seeds. He has seemingly regained his 2006 form this season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, posting an 8-3 record with a 2.20 ERA in the first half.

Relief Pitchers:

Jesse Crain, Chicago White Sox. Crain was allowed to walk following the 2010 season, along with Matt Guerrier. With the Twins, Crain posted a 3.89 ERA in 376 appearances over seven seasons.

The righthander has realized his potential since joining the White Sox in 2011, totaling 150 IP with a 2.40 ERA. He has been named a 2013 All Star with a 0.74 ERA and a 46/11 K:BB ratio.

Pat Neshek, Oakland A’s. Neshek, a Minnesota native, thrilled Twins fans with his quirky, submarine-style delivery and outgoing personality from 2006-2010. In 2006-07, the righty was 11-4 with a 2.54 ERA and a 127/33 K:BB ratio.

The Twins dumped Neshek after Tommy John surgery in 2009. He spent 2011 in San Diego with mixed results (1-1, 4.01 ERA in 25 games), then went to Oakland when he regained his form. Since joining the A’s, Neshek is 4-2 with a tidy 1.91 ERA in 54 games.

Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers. Nathan is another pitcher who the Twins gave up on after Tommy John surgery before the 2010 season. In seven years with the Twins, Nathan became Minnesota’s all time saves leader with 260 saves in 460 games. Nathan registered a 2.16 ERA and struck out 561 batters while walking only 134.

Since joining the Rangers in 2012 as a free agent, Nathan has 66 saves in 106 games and has been named an All Star in both seasons.

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