Any fool can read the standings. Only a fool would stop there. We define our sports teams by wins and losses, as we must, but standings don’t come equipped with directional indicators or context.
Not all good teams are the product of sound organizations (see: Florida Marlins, 1997), and not all losing teams are doomed (see: 2000 Twins and 2011 Vikings).
There are five major-revenue sports outfits in the Twin Cities: The Twins, Vikings, Wild, Wolves and the Gophers athletic department. Here’s my highly subjective ranking of them as well-rounded, well-run organizations, judging them on everything from winning percentage to locker room atmosphere. These standings are all about directional indicators and context:
Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman have turned an organization that for decades seemed intent on embarrassing itself into a model for how pro sports franchises should operate. The Wilfs have matured into patient owners who will spend what it takes to win.
The Vikings’ stars are remarkably likeable and accessible, and the team will, in a few years, begin playing in an architectural marvel that should transform lower downtown. Adrian Peterson is the foremost symbol of this franchise, a stunning athlete who is loved by his teammates and goes out of his way to do good deeds.
Last year, Frazier oversaw an improvement of seven games in the standings while navigating a difficult division. There’s no guarantee his 2013 team, with questions remaining at quarterback and on defense, will win 10 games again, but he and Spielman appear to be building a sustainable program.
They have stunk up Target Field for the past 2½ years, angering fans who invested in expensive tickets at a new ballpark.
First, the crowds turned ugly, then they disappeared, but the Twins are far better off than the average angry fan wants to acknowledge.
The same people who built them into one of baseball’s most admired franchises not long ago are in place. Terry Ryan is one of the game’s most respected general managers, and he’s surrounded by proven talent evaluators. The manager, Ron Gardenhire, was named American League Manager of the Year not long ago, and the minor league system, after a nasty lull, is again one of the best in the game.
The Twins have a great ballpark, two of the best position-playing prospects in the game in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and a slew of young pitchers who should fill the rotation in the next year. The clubhouse lacks the charismatic personalities that made this franchise so endearing in the 2000s, but Sano may help in that department while hitting 30 or so home runs a year.
The toughest choice in making this list involved ranking the Wild and Timberwolves. The Wild gets the nod because it made the playoffs last year and has its three best players — Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin — under control for years to come.
But the biggest reason for the Wild getting the edge over the Wolves is the owner. Craig Leipold’s willingness to take the financial risk of signing Parise and Suter to 10-year contracts gives his franchise a chance to contend.
The owner, Glen Taylor, hasn’t used his billions to buy a clue. The general manager, Flip Saunders, is at best unproven. The star, Kevin Love, might be eyeing a life on the coast, and the franchise’s steady deluge of bad decisions is always accompanied by truly horrendous luck.
Rick Adelman is an excellent coach, and this should be the year the Wolves improve, maybe even make the playoffs, but we said the same things last year. And the year before that.
For years, there has been no possible direction for this athletic department to go but up.
Jerry Kill is an upgrade over Tim Brewster. Richard Pitino should be an upgrade over Tubby Smith. Norwood Teague is an upgrade over Joel Maturi. But all three have a lot of work to do to transform this into a competent operation.