Twins President Dave St. Peter has been well underway in his planning for 2019, with TwinsFest this week and the first spring training game Feb. 23.
And this year will feel brand new, with the firing of Paul Molitor and hiring of Rocco Baldelli as manager firmly putting the organization in the hands of Derek Falvey.
The Twins chief baseball officer was hired, along with GM Thad Lavine, following the 2016 season, months after the firing of former GM Terry Ryan. After two years with Molitor, Falvey decided to make a change.
St. Peter said that while those big decisions have made the biggest impact with Twins fans, he believes that the changes Falvey and Lavine are making behind the scenes are going to be more important over time.
“When Derek and Thad came on board, we knew that their vision was going to call for a significant investment in people, in systems and process, as well as in facilities. We’ve been playing catchup, I think, a little bit relative to our industry,” St. Peter said. “Now that we’re two years in, I think we feel that we’ve made great progress.
“We’ve added a lot of talent within our front office, within our player development system, within our scouting world. We’ve also, I think, really enhanced all of our technology and some of the systems that help us evaluate and procure talent.”
Still, St. Peter said he knows no amount of investment will bring in fans if the Twins don’t win. “Ultimately, the real test will be when it will start delivering sustainable victories at the major league level from our team,” he said, “and that’s ultimately our goal, and we have high hopes that 2019 will be a better season for our organization and for, ultimately, our fan base.”
Cruz a crucial signing
What did St. Peter think of the Twins’ addition of veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, who will earn a team-high $14 million in 2019?
“We like what Nelson Cruz brings, first and foremost, on the field,” St. Peter said. “He’s been a proven power threat. He’s hit more homers than anybody in baseball the last five years. He had great success just a year ago in Seattle. And, he works hard and keeps himself in great shape. So, we believe that he still has some runway left even at his advanced age .
“More important, maybe, to all of that is what he brings inside a dugout, inside a clubhouse. His charisma, his leadership skills, and really, I think, an example that he can help set for a number of our players. Certainly our Latin players, guys from the Dominican, whether that be Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco. But a number of other players inside our clubhouse will learn from Nellie Cruz.”
In 30 games at Target Field, Cruz has been a monster, hitting .325 with 10 home runs, 10 doubles, 25 RBI and 19 runs, and he should make an immediate impact for the Twins.
St. Peter knows on-the-field impact is the only thing that will bring fans in.
“I think the Cruz signing helps,” he said. “I think our fan base likes that move. I think they want to continue to see us add, but we have work to do. We have work to do, to re-establish, I think, a tradition here of winning. Nothing we do in the offseason will ultimately impact that as much as getting it done on the field.
“So, again, getting off to a reasonable start, I think, in 2019 is going to be important as we try to build our attendance back north of 2 million fans.”
Payroll an independent cost
The Twins’ current payroll stands at $87.7 million for 2019, which is well below the $117.7 million league average and far from their 2018 team salary of $115.5 million.
St. Peter said that when it comes to choosing between on-the-field spending and off-the-field spending, the two have no impact on each other.
“I don’t believe it does,” he said. “Certainly we knew there was going to be an investment required to build out that infrastructure. But in my view, and I believe in [owner] Jim Pohlad’s view, it doesn’t have any real impact on where our major league payroll sits.
“We’ve given Derek parameters around our payroll, he has flexibility to add to this year’s team. We’re encouraged by what we’ve done over the first few months of the offseason, but we also our very open to additional players coming on board to making us better heading into spring training.”
How much money is being set aside for front office and infrastructure spending?
“Over the course of time it’s probably tens of millions of dollars, but it’s several million dollars on an annual basis,” St. Peter said. “It’s an investment that is ongoing. We’re always looking to get better. People see free agency, they see trades, they see the major league team. But we aspire to have a perennial championship contender, and in order for us to do that we have to build the foundation. That is really what Derek and Thad, what their vision is and that’s what we’re supportive of with these investments.”
• On top of a North Dakota State football game for which 29,000 tickets already have been sold, Dave St. Peter said to expect announcements coming soon on some big concerts at Target Field.
• In football recruiting in the Big Ten this season, the Gophers finished eighth, ahead of Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland, according to 247Sports.com.
• Lakeville South tackle Riley Mahlman is getting a lot of Big Ten interest and has been visited by the Gophers’ P.J. Fleck. He has offers from Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin and the Gophers.
• Vikings defensive standouts Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith were honored by the Pro Football Writers of America. Hunter was named to the All-NFL and All-NFC teams while Smith was added to the All-NFC team.
• According to BetOnline, the Vikings have the eighth-best odds to win the Super Bowl next year, but they have only the third-best odds in the NFC North at 18-1. The Bears have the third- best odds overall at 10-1. The Packers are seventh at 16-1.
• Two who could be surprises in making the Vikings better next season are second year players Brian O’Neill and Mike Hughes. They both also have cheap contracts.
• Pro Football Focus has the Vikings drafting tackle Greg Little of Ole Miss at No. 18. PFF adds that the biggest question for the Vikings this offseason is whether to re-sign Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson. ESPN this week ranked Richardson as the 15th-best free agent available and Barr at 18th.
• Twins prospect Jaylin Davis, a 24-year-old drafted in the 24th round in 2015, had a strong showing at the Arizona Fall League, hitting .279 over 15 games. Fellow outfielder Alex Kirilloff, the Twins’ top draft pick in 2016, could be in the majors soon. He hit .348 last year in 130 minor league games.