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Righthander Ricky Nolasco handed back a signed ball to a fan during the first day of TwinsFest at Target Field on Friday. Nolasco received the biggest free-agent contract in Twins history, and the bulk of the Twins’ offseason spending has been on pitching.

KYNDELL HARKNESS • kharkness@startribune.com,

Hartman: Pohlads eager for Twins turnaround

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2014 - 12:18 AM

The Twins’ losing records the past three seasons — 66-96 the past two seasons and 63-99 in 2011 — have been tough on team owner Jim Pohlad and his family, and there’s no doubt Jim was more involved this year in baseball matters to sign a number of free agents.

And General Manager Terry Ryan is being encouraged to do even more, especially if he can find some offense to improve the Twins’ run production.

When Pohlad was asked if he would like to have some more signings before spring training and if Ryan has the financial freedom to keep looking, he pointed out that at times it’s not simply about money but instead about draft picks.

“I would like to have more,” he said. “Terry would like to have more. I mean, yeah, leeway is one thing, having the players out there and their signability is a whole other thing.”

Pohlad wants to put a winner on the field and is willing to spend whatever is necessary, but if the Twins were to sign one of the top free-agent position players available — Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales or Stephen Drew — they would have to forfeit a draft pick, because those three players turned down qualifying offers from their old teams.

“Some of those players that are still out there, you’re reluctant to give up the draft choices,” Pohlad said. “And you’re seeing that a lot of teams are reluctant to give up draft choices for those guys, too.

“Teams seem to be really valuing what comes through their farm system and less in free agency than their used to be.”

Still, the fact is that while people will buy season tickets this year to get the right to buy tickets to the All-Star Game, what happens in 2015 if the Twins don’t turn the program around this year?

Yes, Pohlad is concerned about attendance taking a dive if the Twins don’t regain the form they had when they were winning one division after another, including going 94-68 in 2010 when Target Field opened.

Some people have been critical of the Pohlads because, despite their wealth, they haven’t spent money to sign some of the great free agents available. Well, all Ryan has to do is recommend the signing of a player, and if it is a reasonable situation the Pohlads will write the checks.

The Pohlads are just as eager to have a winning team as the most rabid Twins fans are, and the family will do what it can to turn things around.

Johnson helps U basketball

The Gophers men’s basketball team visits Nebraska on Sunday, and there’s a number of connections between the two teams.

The first assistant Richard Pitino hired when he got the Gophers job was Ben Johnson, who was an assistant under Tim Miles at Nebraska last season. Johnson played for the Gophers from 2002 to ’04 after transferring from Northwestern.

Pitino knew Johnson’s connection, both as a former Gophers player and a DeLaSalle High School product, would help immensely in recruiting. He had worked for one season under Miles after spending four years at Northern Iowa.

Give Johnson some credit for the Gophers’ success to date. He should be a factor Sunday because of the knowledge he has from coaching under Miles last season.

As for Miles, he was the coach at Southwest Minnesota State from 1997 to 2001 before moving to Division I, first at North Dakota State and then at Colorado State. In 1 ½ seasons at Nebraska, Miles has had a tough time turning things around.

Many people thought the Cornhuskers had gotten some momentum when they beat No. 17 Ohio State 68-61 on Monday night, but Miles ripped his team’s execution in a 58-54 loss on Thursday at Penn State, when Nebraska led by three with two minutes to go.

“It was just an embarrassment … just a lack of execution and the decision-making that went into those plays,” he said on his postgame radio show. “It was just too bad, because we had done enough to even put ourselves in position for a tight win.”

A victory by the Gophers will put them at 5-3 in the Big Ten and with the next three games being Northwestern at home, at Purdue and Indiana at home, there is a chance they could be 8-3 in the conference, a record they haven’t had for ages.

Still working on agreement

The Gophers and the Vikings still are apart on an agreement for the NFL team to play in TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015.

They still are investigating what type of heated field will be available for $2.3 million and what additional areas will need to have heating installed, and they are working on the concession layouts.

Sid's Jottings

• One good thing about the future of the Gophers men’s basketball team is they have only three seniors on the squad — guards Maverick Ahanmisi, Austin Hollins and Malik Smith.

• Gophers recruit Josh Martin scored a season-high 44 points for Bothell (Wash.) High School a 81-73 victory over Woodinville. Martin scored 26 points in the fourth quarter.

• The Gophers football team now has two preferred walk-ons committed in Rose­ville quarterback Jacques Perra, who committed the other day, and Apple Valley safety Davis Anderson. Anderson told Gopher Illustrated: “Both coach [Jerry] Kill and defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel take pride in their walk-ons. They said if they didn’t believe I could help the team I wouldn’t be walking on. Minn­esota is also a program that gives everybody a chance to prove themselves which is all I am asking for … I’m 100 percent committed to Minnesota.”

• Gophers football has two big-time recruits visiting this week from Mundy’s Mill High School in Jonesboro, Ga. Linebacker Jonathan Celestin had 139 tackles this past season, while running back Rodney Smith is being sought by many SEC schools.

• Former Ohio State national title-winning coach Jim Tressel joined the Gophers’ Kill at a football clinic Saturday at Hamline.

• Carson Shanks, the former Prior Lake High School 7-footer whom many believed was coming to the Gophers as a walk-on after leaving Utah State, is instead enrolling at North Dakota.

• Gophers track and field captain Jon Lehman set a personal record in the weight throw last week at the Northwest Open with a toss of 71 feet, 11 inches. The throw stands as the fourth best in the nation this year and the second best in the Big Ten.

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