5 best Twins players not in the Hall of Fame

December 6th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a historic day on Dec. 5 around Twins Territory as the National Baseball Hall of Fame finally resolved a longtime point of contention for many Twins fans with the election of club legends Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat by the Golden Days Era Committee.

When Oliva and Kaat are officially inducted in Cooperstown on July 24, 2022, the number of Hall of Famers inducted as Minnesota Twins will grow to six, with the pair joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven.

Many others -- like Jack Morris and Jim Thome -- have passed through the Metrodome and Target Field as part of Hall of Fame careers before being enshrined as members of other teams. They won't be immortalized with Twins caps on their heads, but the organization will always remain part of their Hall of Fame history.

Let's not draw that distinction as part of that list, one in which we explore the five best players in Twins history not yet enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Even so, the five players on this list would almost certainly go into the Hall as members of the Twins, which gives fans around Twins Territory an added incentive to follow the potential paths to Cooperstown in the coming years of those whose opportunities haven't already come and gone.

1) (2004-18)
Status: Will become eligible on 2024 ballot

Mauer still has a while to go before joining the ballot, but he clearly represents the Twins' best chance at having another inductee in Cooperstown in the near future. Though concussion issues forced a move from catcher to first base in the later years of his career, both Mauer's accumulation of offensive stats across his 15-year career and his unmatched peak at the catcher position give him a strong case for inclusion.

All this has been said before: Not only is Mauer the only American League catcher to win a batting title, but he also did it three times in 2006, '08 and '09, leading the league in hitting, on-base percentage and slugging percentage with 28 homers and 30 doubles during his '09 MVP season. Don't forget the five Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards, either.

Consider all of the following: When Mauer was a primary catcher from 2004-13, his 44.7 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, far outpaced second-place Victor Martinez (28.2) among players to appear in at least 45 percent of their games at catcher. Among those primary catchers with more than 5,000 plate appearances since 1900, Mauer's career 124 OPS+ ranks 10th, and eight of the nine players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.

2) (2000-07)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2018

Santana got his shot at the Hall of Fame in 2018 and immediately fell off the ballot after failing to secure the 5 percent of the votes necessary for another year of eligibility. Like Oliva, Santana is almost certainly a victim of a career shortened by injury -- in this case, an anterior capsule tear in his pitching shoulder that cost him the entire '11 season and later led to his retirement after he last pitched in '12 at the age of 33.

Before Santana lost the tail end of his career, he was one of the unquestioned elites of the sport during his eight seasons with the Twins and his first three with the Mets. In his true peak from 2004-06, Santana led the AL in strikeouts in all three seasons and in ERA twice, culminating in a Major League triple crown in '06, when he won his second Cy Young Award. He would have had three consecutive Cy Young Awards had he not lost the '05 honor to Bartolo Colon, who posted worse stats than Santana across the board.

Randy Johnson and Maddux are the only pitchers to have won Cy Young Awards in three consecutive seasons. Of the eight players in MLB history with three Cy Young Awards, seven are in the Hall of Fame (the eighth is Roger Clemens). If Santana had joined that club, it would have been much tougher for him to lose his opportunity so soon.

3) (2004-11)
Status: Eligible for 2022 ballot

Several players could have rounded out this list, but we'll highlight Nathan, the greatest reliever in club history and among the most decorated in the ranks of MLB closers. It's an uphill battle for relievers to earn induction to Cooperstown, as only eight are currently enshrined and Billy Wagner received 46.4 percent of the votes on the 2021 ballot. With that said, Nathan actually has a reasonably strong case that could appeal to both traditionalists and analysts alike.

Going down the list of relievers according to JAWS, a benchmark for Hall of Famers by position, Nathan actually ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter, Trevor Hoffman and Rollie Fingers. Nathan's career 2.87 ERA also ranks favorably among that group, and his 377 saves across 16 seasons with the Giants, Twins, Rangers, Tigers and Cubs rank eighth in MLB history and encompass an elite span from 2004-09 during which he recorded at least 36 saves in six consecutive seasons (for the traditionalists) and posted a 237 ERA+ during that span (for the analysts). In comparison, Mariano Rivera had the same ERA+ during his best six-year stretch.

4) Kent Hrbek (1981-94)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2000

Much like Mauer two decades later, Hrbek was a hometown kid with a dream career in Minnesota. Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, a stone's throw from the Twins' first home at Metropolitan Stadium, Hrbek actually played his first season at that ballpark before moving downtown to the Metrodome with the team a year later. He spent the entirety of his 14-year career in Minnesota and helped to anchor the heart of the lineup for the state's first two World Series championship teams in 1987 and '91.

Though Hrbek's number is retired by the Twins and he resides in the club's Hall of Fame, his candidacy for Cooperstown fell short in his first year of eligibility in 2000, when he didn't earn the 5 percent of votes necessary to remain on the ballot. Though he hit .282/.367/.481 for his career with 293 homers and 1,086 RBIs, he isn't helped by his defensive home at first base, which has a high offensive standard for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

5) Frank Viola (1982-89)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2002

"Sweet Music" also fell off the BBWAA ballot in his first year of eligibility and likely doesn't have the career numbers to eventually get in, with a 3.73 career ERA and 1,844 strikeouts across 421 appearances with the Twins, Mets, Red Sox, Reds and Blue Jays. Still, the left-hander is enshrined in the Twins' Hall of Fame for his place in club history -- and there's no doubt that he belongs there.

Viola was a fixture of the Twins' rotation throughout most of the 1980s and most notably helped to lead the '87 pitching staff that helped bring Minnesota its first World Series championship. He made three starts in that Fall Classic against the Cardinals, with a win in Game 1, loss in Game 4 and another win in the decisive Game 7 at the Metrodome. He also won the 1988 American League Cy Young Award, joining Jim Perry and Santana as the only players to earn that honor in a Twins uniform.