For decades, it seemed as though Minnesota pro sports teams had about as much chance of landing outside free agents as the state did of having 75-degree temperatures in late January.
We had small-to-mid-market teams, often in outdated facilities, playing in a remote, cold outpost (at least in relation to a lot of other flashier markets). If local teams were going to land big-name free agents, they were often going to be aging Minnesotans coming to finish their careers.
In the past five years, though, that has changed. Brett Favre gave the Vikings and their fans a jolt in the summer of 2009. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did the same for the Wild in 2012. The Wolves signed Kevin Martin a year ago. The Twins grabbed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes this past offseason, then continued the trend Sunday when their signing of slugger Kendrys Morales became official.
While it’s true that not everyone wants to stay here — see Love, Kevin — it is no longer impossible for Minnesota teams to get players to come here. What happened?
Money talks: The first answer is simple – flash enough green, and free agents will pay attention. Some of that has to do with facilities. We can quibble over whether the Twins have spent as much as they can, but they have certainly increased payroll since moving into Target Field in 2010. They simply wouldn’t have thrown four years and $49 million at Nolasco during the Metrodome days, and it’s hard to imagine the Morales move being made back then as well.
Favre was motivated by revenge, but he was also paid handsomely by the Vikings. Martin got a chance, at least for one season, to play for his old coach, Rick Adelman. He also got $28 million over four seasons.
Winning: As mentioned, Favre was motivated by revenge and a nice paycheck. But he also realized he was joining a team that won 10 games and made the playoffs the previous season playing a combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. He correctly assessed the roster and figured the Vikings were a quarterback away from being a true contender. Parise and Suter were motivated by the chance to elevate the Wild into a playoff contender, a step the team took this year by advancing to the second round.
Some players actually want to be here: Separately, Parise and Suter had their pick of destinations as premier free agents two summers ago. As a duo, they decided they wanted to be here. Hughes didn’t have any particular lure other than a better pitcher’s ballpark and a chance to start over after being in New York, but he, too, genuinely seems to be enjoying it here.
It adds up to a changing of the guard. Minnesota will never be New York, Los Angeles, Miami or even Chicago. But it’s not the free agent-free outpost it used to be.