MINNEAPOLIS -- The overwhelming consensus is when the 2006 American League Cy Young award is announced next week, Twins ace Johan Santana will walk away with the honor.

But even if that award doesn't come, Santana still will have the knowledge that his peers believed him to be the best pitcher in the AL this season.

On Wednesday it was announced that Santana had won the Players Choice Award as the AL's Outstanding Pitcher. All the Major League players vote by secret ballot on the awards, which are given out by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

It is the second time in the past three years that Santana has won the award, the other time coming in 2004 when he also won his first Cy Young award. With Santana's overall value far surpassing his status simply as a dominant hurler every fifth day, the left-hander might have earned some significant support in the AL Most Valuable Player voting along with teammates Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.

"I think he probably will, because he had such a quality year," said Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan of a strong showing by Santana in the MVP race, such an honor usually reserved for position players.

"He's really valuable in a lot of different ways," added Ryan. "Giving us quality innings, his presence in the clubhouse and being an accountable guy in the community and with the media. There are not enough superlatives I could use to describe him. He is that important to our team."

Santana has had plenty of impressive seasons during his short career as a starting pitcher, but 2006 clearly was one of the best. Santana finished the year with 19 wins, a 2.77 ERA and 245 strikeouts, which earned him the pitching Triple Crown, as he led the Majors in all three categories.

"He's just gotten better and better," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his ace this past season. "I don't know if we can ever talk about great streaks with Johan, he's just a great pitcher."

The 27-year-old was an essential part in leading the Twins to their fourth AL Central title in the past five seasons. With a starting staff that saw its fair share of ups and downs, Santana was a steadying force as the club went 27-7 in games with him on the mound.

It's become an annual occurrence for Santana to have a stellar second half and this season was no different, as he went 10-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break. Santana's spotless performances became such the expected norm that when White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker was asked late in the season how to beat Santana, he smiled and said, "Score one run and have your pitcher shut out the Twins."

"Everybody wants to win, but he has that killer instinct as bad as anybody I've seen," Gardenhire said. "He wants to win and he's such a team guy. When he's out there, he's pitching for the team, not Johan. That's what's special about him."

Santana may be pitching for the team but his performance has certainly earned him countless individual awards. This latest award from the players is just one of many that Santana has already compiled this offseason. Santana was named AL Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News as well as Baseball America's Player of the Year.

According to Ryan, there aren't enough postseason honors for Santana to receive to truly convey his importance to the Twins.

"Every time he takes the mound, he gives us an opportunity to win," Ryan said. "He puts a halt to any losing streak we might be on, and he's in the prime of his career.

"There's a lot he does besides what happens on the mound. He takes pride in playing for the organization, and young guys like [Francisco] Liriano, [Matt] Garza and [Boof] Bonser, they see what he does and how hard he works and he's such a great example for them.

"You try to get what he has in star players," Ryan added. "He leads both on and off the field."