The Minnesota Twins have emerged as one of the bona fide best teams, not only in the American League, but in all of baseball. Their record of 61-39 ranks as the fourth-best in MLB, behind only the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers. Their historic offense has powered one of the best lineups in the league, and their pitching staff—despite lacking depth—has quietly been one of the top-10 staffs in baseball.
The question is, where does this team rank among the league’s elite? Are they a very good team simply having a great year, or should we get ready to grant them a seat among the American League’s super-teams?
And in the process, perhaps, we can finally come up with a term to define where we draw the line between a “very good squad” and a “super-team.”
Youth under team control
In order to have sustained success over multiple seasons, you need to have players who will serve as the team’s core for multiple years. The Yankees have Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Astros have Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer. The Red Sox have Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Chris Sale. All these teams have been verifiable super-teams in the last few years, and look to continue to be so in upcoming years.
The Twins have All-Star shortstop Jorge Polanco (133 OPS+) and outfielder Max Kepler (126 OPS+) signed through at least 2024. Eddie Rosario (115 OPS+) and Jose Berrios (2.96 ERA, 3.84 FIP), meanwhile, are under team control through 2022. Catcher Mitch Garver (175 OPS+) is having a breakout sophomore season at the age of 28. Should he continue his success, he will serve as the team’s backstop through 2023. Byron Buxton (107 OPS+) also does not hit free agency until after 2021.
The Twins have a strong core that will remain in place for at least a few years.
Minnesota fans have been calling their team the Bomba Squad, and for good reason: they have 10 players who have 10 ten or more home runs, including three who have already hit 20. They can reasonably expect at least one more player (Buxton) to hit that mark once he’s healthy. They are on track to shatter the Yankees’ home-run record, are second in the AL in doubles, and are tied for second in runs per game. Minnesota can certainly mash.
The big difference between the 2017 Red Sox, a very good team, and the 2018 Red Sox, a super-team, was power production. While not as proficient a home run squad as the 2019 Twins, the lack of a power threat kept Boston’s team OPS+ to a mere 92 in 2017. The addition of J.D. Martinez, the career year by Mookie Betts, and the breakout of Xander Bogaerts brought a power element to the team that took them to the next level. Now that the their cumulative performance has fallen a bit down to Earth in 2019, Boston has similarly fallen down to Earth.
The Twins have the power bats—both in terms of pure home-run hitting and in terms of extra-base hits—to sustain their offensive performance.
Positional depth and flexibility
As Yankees fans know, all teams sustain injuries. What separates a good team from a super-team, however, is the ability to absorb these injuries and maintain success. The Yankees have been a prime example of this in 2019, as the redundancy Brian Cashman made sure to gather allowed for injuries to almost the entire starting lineup not slow the team down too much.
Marwin Gonzalez and rookie Luis Arraez provide this for the Twins. The veteran Gonzalez, signed this past winter to a two-year deal, has played 37 games at third base, 36 in the outfield, 10 at first base, and two at second base. Even in a slightly down year for him—he’s posting a 95 OPS+, compared to his career 102—he has been invaluable, giving players days off and covering for injuries to Buxton and C.J. Cron.
Arraez, meanwhile, has been dominant at the plate in his short time in the majors, posting a .372/.446/.479 slash-line in 139 plate appearances, all while playing some second base, shortstop, third base, and left field.
Controllable, tradable assets
Part of what allows a super-team to remain a super-team is its ability to plug holes midseason. There are multiple ways to do this, such as scouring the waiver wire (Breyvic Valera, Jake Barrett), purchasing veteran minor league contracts (Cameron Maybin, Gio Urshela), and targeting undervalued Triple-A players who could be primed for a breakout (Luke Voit). The most reliable way to do so, however, is by trading top prospects for established from teams that are not in contention.
The Twins’ farm system ranks among the best in the league, with somewhere between four to five prospects within the top 100, depending on whose ranking you use. This gives Minnesota’s front office plenty of resources from which to tap in order to acquire midseason reinforcements.
So far, the Twins have checked off every single box that allows them to join the ranks of baseball’s super-team. They do not, however, have the most important feature: sustained success.
We have seen in recent years a young core go on a tear for a year or two, look like a super-team that will dominate the league for years, and nonetheless fail to live up to this expectation. The 2016 Chicago Cubs rode dominant performances by young stars Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Hendricks; they would win 103 games and bring home their first World Series championship in 108 years. In the years since, however, they have won 92 games, 95 games, and are currently on track win 86 games—not terrible performances, but not worthy of a “super-team” status, either.
Time will tell whether or not the Twins will be able to continue their great performance this year and enter the top tier of teams in the American League, or if they will fade as an organization after this hot year. Either way, the Twins have the keys to make some noise, not just this season, but for years to come.