The closest the Twins came to a big trade this offseason was moving second baseman Brian Dozier, who was clearly their best player over the past two seasons.
The main team they were negotiating with was the L.A. Dodgers, who reportedly were offering pitching prospect Jose De Leon as the centerpiece of their package for Dozier.
De Leon, 24, recently was ranked as the 29th-best prospect in the minors by Baseball America, after striking out 464 batters in 348⅔ innings over four seasons. But the Twins wanted more in the package and decided to retain their star second baseman.
De Leon eventually was traded to Tampa Bay for a lesser talent in second baseman Logan Forsythe.
“That’s why they have trade deadlines and stuff,” Dozier said at TwinsFest before leaving for spring training. “It will probably be an ongoing thing — and I don’t want it to be, that’s the disappointing thing of it — but I’m here. It’s a lot of different emotions. I think it’s more disappointing in the fact of how much I want to be here and have success and turn this thing around as a team, and then all of a sudden, a lot of trade talk. That’s kind of disappointing, but you live with it.”
So despite all of that, does Dozier still want to be with this franchise?
“Oh absolutely, shoot yeah,” he said. “I got two more years. I wouldn’t have signed the deal I did unless I wanted to be here. I’m here right now, and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.”
Dozier had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history for a second baseman in 2016.
He set career highs with 42 home runs, 99 RBI, a .268 batting average, .546 slugging percentage and an .886 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He finished 13th in the American League MVP voting despite playing on the worst team in baseball.
When asked if he can repeat such a historic season, he said he doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t like repeating that,” he said. “We lost 103 games. I want to do a lot better than that.”
Dozier said one of the things he’s excited about this season is that the team can grow in so many different areas.
“There’s a lot of things we have to get better at, and that’s what motivates me,” he said.
And while Dozier acknowledged that fans might focus on the Twins’ need for better pitching, he thinks the offense and defense will play as big a role in the team’s improvement as the staff.
“[Pitching is] the main focus. I think the biggest thing is we get [Glen] Perkins back healthy, we get Phil Hughes back healthy, start to see a couple guys turn the corner — Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson — Ervin [Santana] is going to be Ervin, the backbone of our staff, but pitching has to be a lot better,” Dozier said. “But I think through and through [we need] all 25 guys hitting, too, and we have to play better defense. We made too many mistakes last year and it cost us a lot of games.”
Is the personnel better than last year’s record?
“It is, but at the same time we lost 103 games,” Dozier said. “The talent is there, but our mental focus and ability to do the little things right has got to get better. We have to harp on the little things: not missing cutoff men, keeping double plays in order, the little things that win you ballgames at this level. … We made mistakes last year and we have to get better at that.”
Wild goalies praised
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher says if you want to know about the Wild’s success this season, you have to look at goalie Devan Dubnyk, who entered Thursday’s games first in the NHL in save percentage (.933) and tied for first in wins (35).
“Dubnyk has been remarkably consistent the past couple of years and he has played great,” Fletcher said. “He’s a big part of our success and he keeps us in every game when we’re not playing well and gives us a chance to get back in it. In the games we are playing well, he seems to make every save he needs to make.
“We’re very fortunate to have him, and we’re also fortunate to have a guy like Darcy Kuemper. It’s great depth to have Darcy. Darcy is a guy that has been a No. 1 goalie in this league, has won a playoff series. It gives us some good protection going down the stretch to have two goalies that have won playoff games and been good in this league.”
The Wild also have avoided serious injuries, compared to last season and the year before, when they missed key players at critical times.
“We’ve had some injuries, but we’ve been fortunate,” Fletcher said. “We’ve had one or two at a time and we’ve been able to, with our depth, get through that. We’re going to need a lot of bodies just from a fatigue standpoint, at a minimum, and it’s going to be a lot of work.”
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck on walk-on linebacker Blake Cashman’s scholarship status: “We’re working on it. There’s some different rules that I have to follow with the NCAA, but when I can provide him a scholarship, I’ll be honest with you, I’ve already told him he has a scholarship coming. The first opportunity and the first minute I can give that young man a scholarship, he is getting it. I promised it to him. He was in my office and I made sure he knew that. Now I just have to wait for the NCAA deadline on when I can actually give it to him.”
• Jake Guentzel — the former Hill-Murray standout whose father, Mike, is an associate head coach for the Gophers — is seeing extended action with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Guentzel, 22, was named the Penguins’ first star in their 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Feb. 25. Guentzel has nine goals and eight assists in 28 games.
• The Winthrop Eagles punched their NCAA tournament ticket with a 76-59 victory over Campbell in the Big South tournament championship Sunday. The Eagles have two brothers from Duluth, sophomore guard Bjorn Broman and redshirt junior guard Anders Broman. Bjorn has averaged 5.5 points, 2.2 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game; Anders has averaged 8.3 points, 1.3 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game.
• One item that didn’t get much attention during the Timberwolves’ recent road trip, during which they played some of their best basketball of the season: Forward Nemanja Bjelica scored in double digits in all four games, averaging 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. Bjelica also hit seven of 19 three-pointers over that span.
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