In the past few weeks, the Wild has reasserted itself as the best of the local major-revenue pro sports teams. The Wild is a contender again largely because of decisions it made three and four years ago, including the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
As the Wild has ascended and the other three major sports teams have languished, impatience has caused many local fans to forget the four-year rule: Most decisions made in professional sports take about four years to manifest themselves.
The Timberwolves don’t have one of the worst records in the NBA because of Flip Saunders’ decisions. They are losing because David Kahn passed on Steph Curry and DeMarcus Cousins in favor of Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson.
The Twins have experienced their most disappointing four-year stretch ever not because Terry Ryan has lost his touch, but because Bill Smith failed to do what Ryan has so often done — turn pending free agents such as Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Johan Santana into a slew of good young players.
The Vikings have produced only one winning record in the past five years not because Rick Spielman is misguided, but because he made a mistake common to dozens of recent and current general managers, reaching for a quarterback unworthy of a first-round pick, Christian Ponder.
All three teams are paying for sins committed a few years ago. What is encouraging for these three teams is that the four-year rule could soon work in their favor. While the Wild is clearly the best of those four teams currently, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher might have the most difficulty winning three and four years from now, when Parise and Suter are older and still highly-paid, and the team’s recent competitiveness has kept it from qualifying for high draft picks.
This summer, Saunders traded Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins. Perhaps more impressive, in the past two years, Saunders has drafted two players with spotty résumés at UCLA — Shabazz Muhammad didn’t play hard or well with others, and Zach LaVine didn’t play much at all — who now look much more promising than they did the day they arrived.
In the summer of 2012, the Twins confounded analysts predicting that they would choose a mature pitcher, or at least a mature player, and selected raw high school center fielder Byron Buxton from little Baxley, Ga.
A series of injuries ruined Buxton’s 2014 season, yet he remains atop several publications’ best-prospects-in-baseball list. In 2010, the Twins signed Miguel Sano for a $3.15 million signing bonus. By the end of this season, one or both could be in the big leagues, and by next season they could be inspiring the kind of turnaround that thrilled Twins fans in 1987, 1991 and 2001.
In the spring of 2014, the Vikings made two surprising picks in the first round, selecting UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Barr looked like a potential defensive rookie of the year during the first half of the season, and Bridgewater’s December surge left him looking like the best of a large group of rookie quarterbacks.
In January, Fletcher, when his team’s season appeared hopeless, traded a third-round pick for goalie Devan Dubnyk, who has propelled the Wild into contention.
Most winning teams are built on prescience — the ability of those in power to see what others can’t or won’t.
Any of us might have traded Love for Wiggins, and some of us might have improved the deal by not accepting Anthony Bennett. What is even more hopeful than Wiggins’ potential is the ability of Saunders to see more in Muhammad than did his peers.
Ryan and his scouts saw Buxton for the wonderful young talent he is, and decided that signing a Dominican teenager of dubious age was worth the risk.
Fletcher saw more in Dubnyk than those who employed him.
Spielman and Mike Zimmer saw a franchise quarterback in Bridgewater, and a rare talent in the inexperienced Barr.
That’s what good personnel evaluators need to build a good team — prescience, and three or four years.