The 2002 Minnesota Twins were one of the most important teams in franchise history. Because of their run to the ALCS, a generation of fans got their first taste of playoff baseball. A wave of fan-favorites emerged. Public interest for a new stadium increased and Target Field was born.
There’s no way to deny the 2002 Twins’ impact on the franchise. But what if it didn’t happen? Would Torii Hunter be robbing home runs at Tropicana Field? Would Johan Santana be collecting Cy Youngs in Kansas City? Would David Ortiz be blasting bombs at Fenway Park? (Wait, that happened anyway.)
It’s interesting to think of the alternate universe where the Twins were contracted. A dispersal draft could have sent players from the Twins and Montreal Expos throughout Major League Baseball and created a completely different landscape.
Major League Baseball has never had a dispersal draft, so we have to go back in time to find out how it could have taken place. The WNBA has had two dispersal drafts in its history when the Cleveland Rockers (2004) and Sacramento Monarchs (2009) folded. The NBA also held a dispersal draft in 1976 to coincide with its merger with the American Basketball Association (ABA).
The craziest dispersal draft came in 1990, though, when the NHL held a dispersal and expansion draft to welcome the San Jose Sharks. After Minnesota North Stars owners George and Gordon Gund failed to move the team to the Bay Area, the NHL gave the Bay Area an expansion franchise.
Instead of just allowing the Sharks to have a traditional expansion draft, the NHL held a dispersal draft where the Sharks could poach players on the Minnesota roster and players to who they had rights. Once the Sharks were done, the team held an expansion draft to fill out the Sharks roster and replenish the North Stars.
For this process, the WNBA and NBA methods make more sense. In those drafts, players on the dispersed roster and players for who those organizations held rights were eligible to be selected. The draft order was determined by the previous season’s win-loss record, leaving the worst teams a path to get better.
CRISTIAN GUZMáN BECOMES THE FACE OF THE DEVIL RAYS
One of the most interesting aspects of this exercise is to try and think how these clubs were thinking in 2001. We know that Hunter and Santana eventually become borderline Hall of Famers, but the jury was still out after that season. It’s also fair to account for where these teams were as a franchise.
Vladimir Guerrero was the obvious top pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were light years away from being a contender. There’s a good chance the Rays could have walked to the podium and said “Who you got?” and taken the player they saw had the most upside.
Guzmán enjoyed a career season in 2001, hitting .302/.377/.477 with 10 homers and 51 RBI. His speed was also on full display, stealing 25 bases and leading MLB for the second straight season with 14 triples.
At 23 years old, Guzmán made his first All-Star team and looked like a player with a high ceiling. That was enough to sell for a franchise in its infancy and could have made him the pick at No. 2 overall.
JOE MAYS BECOMES THE ROYALS ACE
Like Guzmán, Mays enjoyed his first All-Star campaign in 2001. He went 17-13 with a 3.16 ERA and led the Twins with 233.2 innings pitched. At 25 years old, Mays was beginning to scratch the surface as a big-league pitcher.
His profile fits in with what the Kansas City Royals were building. Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney were all coming through the system, but they needed pitching to tie things together. There’s a case that Radke would have been a good fit. But with Mays being three years younger, the Royals would probably have gone with the upside arm.
TORII HUNTER ROBS HOMERS FOR THE BREWERS
If the Twins were contracted, there’s a chance many fans would have jumped across the Mississippi. If they took Hunter, that number would have grown exponentially.
The Brewers had a potent lineup in 2001 anchored by Richie Sexon and Geoff Jenkins. While those two formed a potent middle of the lineup, the Brewers needed help in center field. Devon White had a solid season with a .802 OPS but at 38-years-old, he wasn’t a long-term answer.
After hitting 27 homers in 2001, Hunter could add another bat to the lineup while bringing his Gold Glove defense to center field. It’s strange to consider, but Hunter could have been playing for the home team when robbing Barry Bonds in the 2002 All-Star Game.
BRAD RADKE GIVES THE RANGERS SOME PITCHING
The draft rolled along to the ninth overall pick with Radke still on the board. A case could be made for him to go higher but he would be a better fit on a team on the verge of contention. That’s why the Rangers would make the most sense.
The Rangers offense was loaded in the early 2000s with Alex Rodriguez, Michael Young and Ivan Rodriguez leading the way. The only thing stopping them from contending was their pitching. With Doug Davis’ 4.45 ERA leading the way, opposing lineups mashed against the Rangers and they needed someone to stop the bleeding.
Radke had been one of baseball’s most underrated pitchers at this point. He was a 20-game winner in 1997 but was never on a team good enough to get attention. His 2001 campaign was just his second winning season in his career, but he would post a winning record in four of his final five years. That wouldn’t completely solve the Rangers’ pitching woes, but it would at least be a start.
DAVID ORTIZ GOES TO THE RED SOX ANYWAY
Getting into the middle of this draft, this becomes a pillaging of the Twins roster. A.J. Pierzynski gives the Anaheim Angels an upgrade over Bengie Molina. Matt Lawton upgrades the outfield for the Florida Marlins. Corey Koskie gets picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays and becomes Captain Canada, and Jacque Jones becomes a star for the New York Mets.
But with the 15th overall pick, the Boston Red Sox select a young slugger named Ortiz. The 25-year-old frustrated Twins brass by refusing to hit the other way and Matt LeCroy produced a higher WAR (0.6) in just 15 games. Surely, the guy that hit a homer with a broken wrist was expendable but 18 bombs in 89 games had to be worth something.
So the Red Sox took the plunge, Ortiz became a Hall of Famer and the city of Boston built lego structures and named bridges after him. What a strange world.
HIDDEN GEMS LINE THE LATER ROUNDS
While most of the big names were gone by the middle of the draft, there was still plenty of talent to be had. Top prospects such as Brandon Phillips, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau were still on the board and No. 1 overall pick from the 2001 MLB Draft, Joe Mauer was still available. Even Rule 5 pickup Johan Santana could have changed the history of a franchise.
It was a good thing that the MLB didn’t follow through on its contraction plan because it could have missed out on a team that saved baseball.