1990 Minnesota Twins
Manager: Tom Kelly 5th Season (5th with Minnesota 342-329)
74 W 88 L 666 RS 729 RA 7th AL West 29.0 GB (Oakland 103-59)
4.11 RPG (AL = 4.30) 4.12 ERA (AL = 3.91)
.689 DER (11th AL)
All-Stars (1) Kirby Puckett
Franchise (1901-1990) 6622-7245-110; 19-25 Post Season; 15-18 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1990) 2408-2381-6; 11-14 Post Season; 7-7 WS
While the Twins finished in last place in 1990, there were plenty of bright spots to keep fans happy and optimistic. In the offseason before, the team locked up both Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek to long term deals. The young pitchers acquired in the Frank Viola trade continued to show promise, Brian Harper continued to play solid catcher and emerged as one of the better hitters in the league, and the team seemed to find an answer in right field with the emergence of Shane Mack as one of the team’s best players.
Aside from the bright-looking future, 1990 is probably best remembered by Twins fans for the historic pair of triple plays the team turned in one game.
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1990
C Brian Harper .294/.328/.432 6 HR 106 OPS+ 1.0 BFW 14 WS 2.7 WAR
C Junior Ortiz .335/.384/.388 0 HR 111 OPS+ 0.3 BFW 8 WS 1.4 WAR
Harper estimated that he had moved 55 times in his life by 1990, when, for the first time, he had the same job as a major league regular catcher that he had the year before. He spent most of the season flirting with the AL leader board in batting average, and earned himself a third season as starting catcher with his play behind the plate. To back up Harper, the Twins brought in one of the game’s great characters in Junior Ortiz via trade from Pittsburgh.
1B Kent Hrbek .287/.377/.474 22 HR 131 OPS+ 1.6 BFW 19 WS 2.0 WAR
At the end of the 1989 season Andy MacPhail identified seven players who were “very important” and free agents. Four of the players were not considered financial bank-busters: Juan Berenguer, Greg Gagne, Dan Gladden, and Brian Harper. Of the remaining three: Kirby Puckett, Jeff Reardon, and Hrbek; MacPhail figured the Twins had the budget to keep just two. Puckett was the no-brainer, which left the decision between Hrbek and Reardon. From Dave Nightingale’s story in TSN, 4/30/90:
“It was a tough decision; tough to think of having to lose either of them,” said MacPhail. “But among the factors we considered was the age of the pitcher in question and the ‘local hero’ aspect of the first baseman.”
Thus, the Twins made no real attempt to prevent Reardon from moving on down the road.
Hrbek, on the other hand, signed a five-year, $14 million contract to stay in Minnesota despite being courted by Montreal, Seattle, and Detroit, all reportedly dangling more money than the Twins. Once again in 1990, he was among the elite first basemen in the American League.
2B Al Newman .242/.304/.278 0 HR 60 OPS+ -1.5 BFW 5 WS 1.0 WAR
2B Fred Manrique .237/.254/.346 5 HR 62 OPS+ -1.7 BFW 2 WS -0.5 WAR
2B Nelson Liriano .254/.332/.357 0 HR 88 OPS+ -1.0 BFW 5 WS 0.7 WAR
At the trade deadline the Twins acquired Nelson Liriano and outfielder Pedro Munoz from Toronto in exchange for pitcher John Candelaria. Liriano would be the latest in a long line of players the Twins hoped would plug the hole at second base; a list that included the failed stint of Fred Manrique at the beginning of the season. Though Liriano was serviceable for the last few months of the season, the Twins released him in the spring of 1991 thanks to the play of rookie Chuck Knoblauch.
SS Greg Gagne .235/.280/.361 7 HR 73 OPS+ -1.1 BFW 7 WS 2.8 WAR
A search for “Gagne” in the archives of The Sporting News for 1990 returns just two hits. He didn’t make the news much and was easy to take for granted. Once again almost all of Gagne’s value came from his defense at shortstop, but it was more than enough value for the Twins.
3B Gary Gaetti .229/.274/.376 16 HR 76 OPS+ -1.0 BFW 13 WS 1.7 WAR
Gaetti’s production slipped even further off of his three year peak (1986-1988) and, unfortunately for him, it came in the 31-year-old’s contract year (though he was locked up for the Twins through 1992, he became a free agent thanks to a collusion ruling). He said all of the right things about wanting to remain in Minnesota, but ultimately seemed hurt that the team would not offer him more than a three-year deal. He signed with the Angels for reportedly about the same money he would have gotten from the Twins. Gaetti remained in the league for another 10 seasons, playing for California, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, and Boston before finally hanging up his spikes in 2000 at the age of 41. He never again enjoyed the success he had at his peak, but played remarkably well for his age in the late 1990’s.
Upon Gaetti’s departure, Kent Hrbek remarked that it felt to him like the old gang was breaking up. Of the original group that came up through the minor leagues, took their lumps together in 1982, and ultimately reached the World Series in 1987, only Hrbek and Randy Bush remained.
LF Dan Gladden .275/.314/.376 5 HR 88 OPS+ -0.3 BFW 11 WS -1.3 WAR
Gladden did not like losing, and that became evident as the last-place season wore on. Gladden became more and more vocal about decisions the team was making. Particularly frustrating to Gladden was the team’s decision to promote Paul Abbott to from Portland when Kevin Tapani was injured in the late summer. Gladden did not like that Abbott, with a 5-14 record at Portland, was promoted instead of other pitchers who had winning records. His public comments quite possibly setting the stage for his departure following the 1991 season.
CF Kirby Puckett .298/.365/.446 12 HR 120 OPS+ 1.6 BFW 22 WS 2.3 WAR
The first season of Puckett’s record-setting contract looked a lot like previous years. While the trend of power numbers coming down continued from 1989, he was still one of the best hitters and most valuable bats in the league. Of note, perhaps, is the fact that 1990 represented a break for Puckett from winning the AL Gold Glove. It may be due to Tom Kelly’s use of Shane Mack in center and his frankness in the fact that he felt Mack would catch more balls than Puckett. Uncharacteristically of the game’s most inert award, the Gold Glove came back to Puckett in both 1991 and 1992.
RF Shane Mack .326/.392/.460 8 HR 132 OPS+ 2.0 BFW 14 WS 2.5 WAR
The Twins grabbed Mack in the 1989 Rule V draft in hopes that he might be the answer to their problems in right field. Mack performed better than the Twins thought he would, and was one of the team’s most valuable players in 1990.
DH Gene Larkin .269/.343/.392 5 HR 100 OPS+ -0.6 BFW 9 WS -0.9 WAR
RF/DH/1B Randy Bush .243/.338/.387 6 HR 97 OPS+ -0.3 BFW 3 WS 0.0 WAR
OF John Moses .221/.303/.267 1 HR 57 OPS+ -1.1 BFW 1 WS -0.8 WAR