Twins pitchers and catchers report to spring training Tuesday, and the fact is that this is going to be one of the most anticipated baseball seasons in the Twin Cities in some time after the team won 101 games last season, the second most in franchise history, and added former AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the roster.
Twins owner Jim Pohlad explained how the front-office team of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine approached him with the plan to sign a player like Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million deal, the richest in club history.
“From my standpoint, you hear all of these names right after the season ends. You hear all the names of potential marquee free agents, and of course he is clearly one of them,” Pohlad said. “Then you just see how the process goes. I would say they were interested in all of the marquee free agents, but as discussions go along, some stick and some don’t. We were really lucky to get Josh.”
Was there ever a thought of turning down the front office for the kind of contract needed to sign Donaldson?
“No,” Pohlad said. “I mean, it comes with the recommendation of Derek, so that’s my main judgment point, if they recommend it. I know what his discipline is and all of that, so if he feels good about it, we feel good about it.”
World Series contender?
The Twins were once again swept in the postseason by the Yankees last season, meaning you still have to go back to 2004 to find a time when the team won a playoff game, but Pohlad said the goal isn’t to build a roster that can just beat the Yankees.
“What do we have to do to win the World Series? It’s not about beating the Yankees,” Pohlad said. “They’re a really good team, and there’s a bunch of other really good teams in there. We have to be better than any of them, because we could face any of them and we’ll have to face all of them, basically, in order to get to the World Series and win it.”
The Twins went from a 78-84 record in 2018 to 101-61 in 2019 under the leadership of Rocco Baldelli in his first year as manager.
Pohlad said last year was one of his favorites since taking over ownership in 2009. But did he feel like the club exceeded its expectations?
“You have been around this a long time and I have been around a shorter time, but still quite a while, and you realize the season is just a series of ups and downs,” he said. “Fortunately last year we had way more ups than downs, and it would have been nice to end the season on a literal up, but it was really fun. Did we exceed our expectations? I’m not sure about that. We always have high expectations.”
Attendance should rise
The Twins totaled 2.3 million in attendance last season at Target Field, but all indications are that they could draw even more in 2020.
“I think there is room to grow. Everybody knows those early months of a season are challenging from an attendance standpoint no matter how good the team is,” Pohlad said.
“... We’re ahead of last year [in terms of ticket sales], but you can argue that doesn’t say much because last year at this time we were coming off of an off year, but we’re definitely ahead of last year. I think people like [Chief Business Officer] Laura Day, [Senior Vice President] Mike Clough, they all believe our trajectory is really up and they expect us to be significantly ahead of last year.”
Praises baseball operations
One of the best signs for the Twins going into 2020 is that the team feels fully in line from a baseball operations standpoint, from Falvey and Levine to Baldelli.
“I love Rocco, I love Derek and I love Thad and all of the other folks that associate themselves with it there in the front office,” Pohlad said. “But Rocco is a special person, I think. He is really well deserving of the [AL] Manager of the Year award, and I just hope we have a really long association and I believe it will be.
“I am just totally on board with Derek and Thad and everybody else. I think they built a great organization that’s a World Series-caliber organization that we have, and that’s thanks to Derek’s building.”
Was he disappointed to see the club lose bench coach Derek Shelton and hitting coach James Rowson?
“It sounds really surprising to hear this, but I think that’s something we aspire to as an organization, people wanting others that are in our organization to be in their organization,” Pohlad said.
Yes, there’s no doubt the Twins have all of a sudden become one of the most promising franchises in the state, and the start of the season is coming at just the right time.
Does Pohlad believe this season can be even better than last year?
“Depends on how you judge a season,” he said. “Are we going to win 100-plus games? I don’t know. But any season when you win the division, which is the goal, I think is a good season.”
• Marty Davis, the CEO of Cambria, is a big baseball fan, and the company is set to host the Cambria Classic at U.S. Bank Stadium again this year with Purdue, Iowa, Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State participating with the Gophers.
• As the NFL offseason begins, the Vikings have the highest active salary cap in football at $211.5 million, leaving them $12 million over the cap for next season.
• ESPN ranked the Vikings ninth in its NFL power rankings for next season, as did the Sporting News. USA Today had them No. 11.
• Pro Football Focus ran its list of the top 100 free agents in the NFL, and Vikings safety Anthony Harris was at No. 8. Also on the list were Trae Waynes (45), Mackensie Alexander (65) and Jayron Kearse (89).
• P.J. Fleck and the Gophers football coaching staff is once again out getting early recruiting commitments, with five for the 2021 class already. They rank 13th in the nation, according to 247 Sports. Their top recruit is Athan Kaliakmanis, a quarterback out of Illinois.
• The Gophers men’s basketball team averaged 10,675 fans per game last season in 16 games at Williams Arena. This season, it is averaging 9,888.
• Minnehaha Academy standout and Gonzaga commit Jalen Suggs was named to the Allen Iverson Classic roster this week. The tournament is April 24 in Philadelphia.
• According to Jimmy Shapiro at BetOnline.ag, the Timberwolves’ current odds to win the NBA championship are 1,000-1. The Wild’s odds to win the Stanley Cup are 40-1.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said a big reason the Twins are opening the season on the West Coast is because they will face the National League West in interleague play. “We thought it made some sense to open out there and get good weather,” St. Peter said.