When the Twins left spring training, everyone seemed to think they were posed for a breakout season. The front office had made what they thought were smart moves by trading for Jake Odorizzi and signing Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney to free-agent deals.
Paul Molitor, fresh off an AL Manager of the Year award, had signed a new three-year contract.
On top of that, breakout performance in 2017 by Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler seemed to signal the future was now for the Twins.
But after their 2-0 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, the Twins are 49-58 this season. And after trading off Lynn, Duke, Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly and Brian Dozier, they are back in rebuilding mode.
The Twins had no chance of re-signing Dozier after this season. Escobar was interested in signing a contract, and it would cost them maybe $10 million in a multiyear deal to bring him back. And I think that’s the one thing the front office could have done to make the fans less upset about their trade deadline deals.
And if they bring Escobar back in the offseason, they might win some fans back.
“I would imagine his ties here and the fact that his career really emerged as a Twin, you’d like to think that has some possibility,” Molitor said.
The contracts of Morrison, Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana and Matt Belisle come off the books at the end of the season, meaning the team’s payroll for 2019 is currently $28.7 million.
The team will have a lot of money to spend on free agents, and Mauer’s future will be the talk of the town.
Molitor said several developments weren’t expected when the team broke spring training.
“There is always going to be changes. People are going to get hurt, some people perform, some guys maybe don’t have the best years,” Molitor said. “But we just had a large group of players and pitchers in a season where there was potential movement after the year and we got down to a situation where we put ourselves in a spot, being under .500 most of the year, and we had to make some tough decisions on some really good people.”
Does he think the team will continue to compete for the rest of the season?
“I think the guys are going to respond. You can’t predict what will happen over the last 55 or 56 games other than you expect good effort,” he said. “You want guys to enjoy the competition and still believe they can go out there and finish strongly.”
Maybe the toughest part of this year for the Twins has been the lack of progress for Buxton and Sano.
Buxton might be shelved for the season after another wrist injury and he could enter 2019 as a 25-year-old with a career .230 average in 306 major league games.
“He does have a strain,” Molitor said. “We can’t afford to let him try to play through that, so we’re going to shut him down here for the next seven to 10 days and reevaluate and see if we can get him back on the field.”
Meanwhile, Sano was so undisciplined he went to Fort Myers for a baseball and personal rehab.
Molitor is hoping Sano’s recent play — four hits, including two doubles, in the Cleveland series — shows he is on the right track.
The Twins will start 2019 in a much different place than they did in 2018. Instead of thinking playoffs, they’ll be thinking rebuild.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor knows the franchise is at a key moment as they try to re-sign Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.
While the team is coming off a competitive season and reached the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the fate of those two stars remains a big question mark.
Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, broke down Butler’s situation.
“We made him a max offer so that he would have the [opportunity] to sign that,” Taylor said. “That was the most we could do. He said he was appreciative, but he wanted to wait until next year because he thought next year, as a free agent, he might have the opportunity to earn more money.”
There’s no doubt that typically if a star player was as close to unrestricted free agency as Butler is, the Wolves would consider trading him — as they did with Kevin Love in 2014. But they just traded two first-round draft picks, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, to the Bulls for Butler, and that means there’s almost no chance they would deal him.
“I think at this point we’re just going to concentrate on getting [Towns] signed and then just go forward and see what type of year we have,” Taylor said when asked about trading Butler. “And then wait until next year, and we’ll make our decision based upon where we’re at next year.”
Taylor added that the Wolves can offer Butler more money than any other team, but that might not be a motivating factor for Butler.
“You still want us to really improve as a team and we expect that he will be part of that help that we need [to achieve] a better record and to go into the playoffs further,” he said.
Money and chemistry
Taylor dismissed rumors that Butler and Towns are not getting along.
“They both want to win. They both want to improve,” Taylor said. “And they know that helping each other will only make each of them individually better. I’m not sure there’s any particular problem here. A lot of it is just based on a story that a Chicago reporter put out and as far as I know, the players have denied any knowledge of that article.”
A bigger concern for Taylor is whether or not keeping Andrew Wiggins, Butler and Towns is financially possible with the current NBA salary cap structure.
If Towns and Butler were to sign max contract extensions, Towns could earn somewhere around $32 million per season and Butler around $37 million.
That means for the 2019-2020 season, the Wolves could be spending north of $90 million on three players. Can the team afford that?
“That’s a good question. I think you know it’ll depend upon some other players that we have on our team, too,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be a stretch. We have Wiggins in there, too. We’d have three highly paid players that would use up most of the salary.”