Twins owner Jim Pohlad said that he is 100 percent behind Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, whom the team brought in to revamp the organization following the 2016 season.
Pohlad knows fans might have questioned the moves Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer, and Levine, general manager, made at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, as the Twins dealt away five players from the major league roster. But more important to Pohlad than what happens on the field is what is happening behind the scenes.
“So much of [bringing in Falvey and Levine] was about building out the organization under them,” Pohlad said. “Obviously the team is part of that responsibility, too, but so much of their job was to really build a great front office that could provide the data and all of the other systems that we felt we needed to improve in.”
Does Pohlad feel like the technological part of the front office has vastly improved? “I’m not some young tech person,” he said. “But I think it was definitely necessary and it has been useful and used.”
When asked if he understands fans being upset about a playoff team from last season selling at the trade deadline, Pohlad said sometimes you have to give up players to get prospects.
“If you want to go out and get something, you have to give something up. The days of trying to outsmart another general manager, they don’t exist anymore,” Pohlad said. “There’s two valuable players, there’s no question, mainly [Brian] Dozier and [Eduardo] Escobar. The other two players we had just gotten this year [Lance Lynn and Zach Duke], so it’s hard to say how valuable [they are]. But we know how valuable Escobar and Dozier have been to this team over the years.”
Now one of the big questions for the Twins front office will be whether to bring back Joe Mauer next season on a new contract.
Pohlad believes a big part of that decision depends on what Mauer wants. “I think we would all agree that that decision is up to the Mauer family, first,” he said. “They have to make whatever decision they’re going to make. We’re willing to work with them in whatever they decide.”
Expectations fell short
It goes without saying that the Twins’ season has been disappointing.
“Clearly, everybody had high expectations for the year after coming off of last year, and at least in the first half we didn’t meet those expectations,” Pohlad said. “We clearly thought we were making the team better. Probably at best it was a mixed result.”
Asked how he feels about manager Paul Molitor, Pohlad said: “I think it’s tough for Paul, too. He came off of great success. He was Manager of the Year last year. So he’s got to be disappointed, and his job is tough, especially at this time of year.”
When asked if he thinks the front office is building things the right way, Pohlad said that the new front office fits his philosophy.
“You could look at it as even a blind squirrel find an acorn from time to time, or you can believe in the analytics that there’s some really valuable players here,” he said. “I believe in the latter.”
Gophers build off positives
Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was not happy with the results of the final two games last season, when the team lost by a combined score of 70-0 to Northwestern and Wisconsin.
But there were some positives in Fleck’s first year. The Gophers lost four games in the final minutes — 31-24 to Maryland, 31-17 to Purdue, 30-27 to Michigan State and 17-10 to Iowa — which is maybe expected of a young team with a new coach. The Gophers defense ranked 30th in the nation overall and 11th against the pass.
Fleck said that turning close losses into close wins is all about maturity.
“Those four games, we showed our players that [film], and there’s a big difference between wanting to win those games, and we didn’t, and then refusing to lose those games,” Fleck said. “But we’re going to learn from our past, not sulk in our past. We’re going to take the knowledge, take the data and learn from it and create some kind of learning experience as we go forward.”
When asked about having such a solid defense and having players such as linebacker Blake Cashman and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. return to health, Fleck said the team’s new goal is stopping the run. The Gophers ranked 73rd in the country last year.
“A lot of teams in our league run the ball, and maybe that’s why some of those statistics are skewed a little bit,” Fleck said.
Gophers fans can look to Fleck’s second season at Western Michigan as a guidepost for this team. The Broncos went from 1-11 in their first year under Fleck to 8-5 and in a bowl game.
“Western Michigan at Year 2, we were very, very young, we played a lot of freshmen,” Fleck recalled. “We were 2-3 to start the year, we were down [31-14] at halftime against Ball State, we were getting ready to go 2-4 and who knows, but our team came back. There was an ‘aha’ moment, a ‘wow’ moment, that they finally grew up.
“We won six straight after that, and the rest is history and that program was on its way to accomplishing what it accomplished. But this team, I have always said failing is growth, and we failed enough to become successful. We just have to be able to limit the amount of times that our older guys fail and really embrace how many times our young people are failing, because they’re going to fail the most.”
• Jack Nicklaus was the biggest draw at the 3M Championship out at Blaine and has always been a great golf ambassador in Minnesota. He won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur championship here in 1959 at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata when he was 19. It was his second consecutive title in that event. A year later, he made his first appearance in my column when he was in town competing in the Big Ten tournament for Ohio State.
• Pro Football Focus rated the Vikings wide receivers corps as the best in the NFL and called the combination of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen “unrivaled” in the NFL, adding that it was no surprise they signed Diggs to his five-year extension this past week. The website also had praise for Kendall Wright.
• What a great opportunity for former Gophers receiver Eric Decker to play with Tom Brady after signing a one-year deal with the Patriots this past week. The 31-year-old Decker caught 54 passes for 563 yards with the Titans last season. Since 2011, Decker ranks ninth in the NFL in receiving touchdowns, 19th in receptions and 21st in receiving yards.
• New Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen said that she got a glimpse of the talent on her new team last year. “I practiced against them a couple of times last year, too; as an alum you can do that,” she said. “It has been fun to coach them and get to know them as people, as well.”
• From 2003 to ’10 Johan Santana led baseball in strikeouts (1,648), was second in wins (122) and third in innings pitched (1670⅔) and easily led all starters in ERA at 2.89 and WHIP at 1.067. You have to wonder if someday his Hall of Fame case will be taken back up like it was with Jack Morris.
• Former Gophers baseball player Mark Merila was in attendance in Cooperstown, N.Y., last week when Trevor Hoffman was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Merila, who works for the Padres as a scout, was San Diego’s bullpen catcher when Hoffman was the team’s closer.