Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said before the start of the Twins series with the Brewers that he believes his team is in the midst of a turnaround after a slow start.
But you have to wonder if that outlook took a big hit with the news Saturday that Joe Mauer was headed to the 10-day disabled list with concussion symptoms and a neck injury.
On top of that, Byron Buxton continues to play with a broken toe and has hit so poorly, just 2-for-23 in seven games back, that he was removed from the starting lineup for the Twins’ 5-4 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday. That dropped the Twins to 18-23 and 2½ games out of first.
“We thought all along that this was a pretty talented team. We had a tough stretch there and didn’t play very well, a tough road trip, but I think that this team is now showing what it can be,” he said. “There is talent on the field. The pitching has continued to get better, and I think our defense, with Buxton returning and some other guys stepping up, we are playing better collectively.
“We have to get healthy. [It] doesn’t help with Jason [Castro] being out for the season], but I think the healthier we get the more consistency we’ll see in our performance. With Ervin [Santana] coming back, Trevor May being an option for us, and eventually when Miguel [Sano] can get healthy we think we’ll be a better team going forward.”
Falvey is also preparing for a big offseason, as a number of veterans are set to become free agents and an even larger number of young players will be arbitration-eligible for the first time.
He was asked what kind of effort the team will make to sign free agents Mauer, Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar.
“In all of those cases everyone is treated differently in terms of what they want to do and what their pursuits are. I have always subscribed to the idea that once you get to the season you want guys to focus on what they want to focus on, which is on the field,” he said. “You’re not ruling anything out, not ruling out any conversation you might have in the future.
“But these guys want to focus on what they’re doing here, and they’ve earned the opportunity to make that decision.”
Four other starters become eligible for arbitration: Buxton, Sano, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario. Balancing those players’ first chance to get paid closer to what they are worth and also handling the free-agency situation seems like a tall task, but Falvey said the Twins front office believes it can handle all of it in an efficient manner.
“It’s going to take a lot of work. Arbitration is something I’m very familiar with over the years of my career, and I know we have a number of guys that will be eligible,” he said. “We’re already preparing for that. Rob Antony, Daniel Adler and Thad [Levine] and myself spend time talking about how we’re going to divvy up those responsibilities and do the work we need. I think every team deals with this to some degree.
“There’s a flow to it and I have full expectation that we’re going to be able to handle this going forward.”
Fleck promotes internships
When Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck promotes the state of Minnesota and the Twin Cities to potential recruits, he often points out the great business opportunities for players here that they won’t find at many schools in smaller towns.
“I want every single one of our players taking internships,” he said. “Balancing the academics, balancing the internships, and then workouts and have conditioning with us.
“Monday through Friday we keep them busy, but I think with our 18 Fortune 500 companies and the resources that these young people have in the state of Minnesota and the Twin Cities area, it’s unlike any place in the world, it really is. It’s a unique experience. When we talk about, ‘Why Minnesota?’ This is one of the reasons people come to Minnesota, for the connection to these 18 Fortune 500 companies, and not just them but all of our surrounding businesses as well. So you can say those things and it sounds great, but are you applying them as a football team? Or are you just saying them to get recruits here? We actually apply it.”
And when it comes to recruiting, Fleck has been able to get top players on official visits to campus such as Jirehl Brock of Quincy, Ill., the 11th-ranked running back in the country, according to Rivals.com. He recently announced his final five college choices as the Gophers, Iowa, Northwestern, Iowa State and Purdue.
Coyle recalls T-shirt toss
When the Gophers hired Lindsay Whalen to be women’s basketball coach, athletic director Mark Coyle recalled his days as director of marketing and associate athletic director for external affairs, from 2001 to ’05. Whalen was a player then, leading the Gophers to the 2004 Final Four.
“I said, ‘The last time I followed you closely I was throwing T-shirts in the crowd when you would hit a big bucket,’ ” Coyle recalled. “I had a great chance to see it firsthand, always followed Lindsay very closely when she was with the Connecticut Sun and obviously once she came back to the Lynx. I’m really grateful she said yes.”
• Will Stefon Diggs be tough to sign after the Vikings wide receiver becomes an unrestricted free agent following this season? If Pro Football Focus has any insight he surely will, as it recently ranked him as the 15th-best player in the NFL under the age of 25. It also ranked him as the best in the NFL at making contested catches at 64.9 percent. Diggs was asked this week by NFL Network about his upcoming contract and he said: “I kind of let those things kind of figure themselves out. My job is more importantly just to put the work in. You put the work in and then you let that stuff kind of figure itself out.”
• When the Viking negotiate with Anthony Barr, who can be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, they can use the fact that he was ranked 48th among linebackers by Pro Football Focus and finished 91st in tackles, according to the NFL, in 2017. But Barr can of course argue that he does more than just tackle, as he has made the three most recent Pro Bowls.
• Former Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater, about to start OTA’s with the New York Jets, told the Louisville Courier-Journal what he learned going through rehab from his serious knee injury: “I learned that I’m human. As crazy as it sounds, I always used to ask myself, ‘Man, I’m not fazed by this.’ But I found out I’m human. I have emotions.”
• P.J. Fleck was happy to see former Gophers defensive tackle Steven Richardson sign with the L.A. Chargers, punter Ryan Santoso sign with the Detroit Lions and tight end Nate Wozniak sign with the New Orleans Saints.
• How big was Lindsay Whalen’s hiring for the Gophers women’s hoops program? A headline in the New York Times on Friday read, “A Pro Guard Calls the Shots In a Side Job on the Sideline” on top of a big feature about Whalen’s hiring.