Twins owner Jim Pohlad is entering his ninth season as the principal owner and executive chairman of the franchise, and his 34th season with the club overall. Back when the Twins opened Target Field in 2010, he told me that while the team would easily sell out a new stadium in the early years, the true test would be years down the road, and all that would matter was winning.
As the Twins come off the worst season in franchise history, Pohlad talked with the Star Tribune at TwinsFest about his expectations for the upcoming season, his view of the direction of the franchise, the new front office executives and his current players.
Q Have you liked what you’ve seen so far from your new staff?
A I assume you’re talking about the front office and the baseball people with [executive vice president and chief baseball officer] Derek [Falvey] and [senior vice president and general manager] Thad [Levine], I think it’s still early obviously, but we’re very happy. They’re bringing in a lot of new people, and they’re really high-quality people.
Q Do you like what they’ve accomplished in the offseason?
A Obviously nobody is going to think they’ve accomplished anything, and I’m sure they would agree with this, until they see results on the field.
Q Are you happy with ticket sales?
A No, we’re not happy with that, we can’t be. We’ve hurt our brand over the last few years and so sales, particularly if they’re a good measure, season ticket sales have declined and we’re not happy about that.
Q Can you see this club bouncing back?
A I clearly can see that. I expect that and I can see it.
Q What does this team have to do to get people interested?
A They have to win. They have to win more games. I think they were an exciting team last year, filled with young players that people wanted to see, but nothing takes the place of winning.
Q What about Paul Molitor? Do you still like him as manager of this team?
A I don’t like him, I love him. I think that, at least in my view, this could be a really great team of people. That being Derek, Thad and Paul and now Paul’s coaches. I mean I really believe they’re all like-minded, they’re intelligent people, and they want to look at the game in a different way, and Paul does, too.
Q Were you happy to keep [second baseman Brian] Dozier?
A I love Brian Dozier, in that sense I’m happy. But we want to improve the team so if there could have been incremental improvements in the team then that would have been good, but unless they were convinced that was what was going to happen they weren’t going to do it.
Q Joe Mauer has two years left on his contract. Will that make it easier when he’s off the books?
A I don’t think so. There’s two sides to that, if, assuming at the end of his contract he would retire we would lose a valuable player. I don’t think his contract and his money involved in that is an impediment to going out and getting additional players on the free market.
Q That contract has to be a handicap though, doesn’t it?
A There’s no denying that it’s a big financial obligation [eight years, $184 million], but we entered into it knowingly six years ago, and Joe is a very valuable player to this team and probably will be over the next two years, also.
Q Do you expect more from him?
A It’s not about what I expect, I think he expects more out of himself. He’s always said he’s going to give it his best, and I believe that.
Q What can this team do to turn around its play this season?
A You’ve been around longer than I have. There’s a lot of young players here, and what those players have to do is continuously improve. They have to show improvement year after year, and as they come into their prime, and a lot of them are right on the edge of coming into prime baseball years, I think that’s a real optimistic thing. But they have to improve on that, in terms of performance.
Q How upset do you get about the win-loss record?
A Very upset. Nobody wants to get into that three-digit-loss scenario, nobody at all, nobody wants that. It’s not fun to watch losses. It’s way more fun to watch wins. It’s upsetting.
Q Target Field is still a great draw, but you said seven years ago it would be about wins, not the stadium.
A That is true, Target Field is still very enjoyable and a great experience. … But even in 2010, the team won and made it to the playoffs, and that was a big part of it. It’s still an attraction, but we understand there is no substitute for winning.
Q Financially, how is the team?
A Last year was a tougher year, no question about it, and the projections and budget for this year, we didn’t go wild, we weren’t wildly optimistic with it. So financially, results aren’t where we want them to be.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was asked about the progress he is seeing on the $160 million facilities project, a lot of which is happening right outside his window. “The facilities are taking on a new form every single day, something else is getting added onto it, you can see the progress,” Fleck said. “Just from the seven weeks I have been here, it’s really exciting to look out your window and see the growth of the football program and see the vision taking form.”
• U.S. Bank Stadium is one of two American sports facilities to be nominated for Stadium of the Year for 2016 by the website StadiumDB.com. The other is Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, which originally opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium and underwent a significant renovation last season.
• The Gophers baseball team is in the midst of 13 consecutive games at U.S. Bank Stadium, and coach John Anderson talked about how the field has played in the new Vikings home’s first go-round as a baseball facility. “It has played great, no complaints,” he said. “Had to make an adjustment on the mounds, which we have, and that got corrected and so far so good. I don’t see any issues with the field at all, and the people at U.S. Bank Stadium have been awesome trying to work with us and do whatever they can to make sure we have a great playing surface and they have a great facility to play in.”
• Pro Football Focus released a list of the most improved second-year players in the NFL for 2016, and at No. 6 was Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. “Kendricks’ strong sophomore season was centered on his much-improved pass-coverage skills, which was his strength as a prospect coming out of UCLA,” the website wrote.
• While former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau waits to find out if he will get a MLB contract this season, he will be one of the stars of Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic, which starts this week. Also on the Canadian roster is Andrew Albers, who pitched for the Twins last season.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org