The Twins entered 2018 coming off a playoff appearance and posting the fifth-best record in the AL at 85-77 in 2017.
Paul Molitor, who was named AL Manager of the Year, was rewarded with a three-year contract.
But this year has seen the team regress in every way possible. And while they are in second place in the AL Central, they will finish with a losing record, were eliminated from playoff contention with two weeks to go and have only the ninth-best record in the AL.
With the news Wednesday that Molitor wants to remain with the team for 2019, Twins President Dave St. Peter said that means he will most likely be back next season.
“Paul is under contract and he has done a good job as our manager. In fairness to him, he really has not had his club this year,” St. Peter said. “There is always discussions that take place at the end of the year and certainly if Paul wants to come back, I would expect that he’ll be back. We’ll proceed collectively in trying to get better.”
In 2019, the plan is to have more remodeling done at Target Field, but St. Peter said there is no plan to increase any ticket prices.
When it comes to the rest of the club, the Twins are preparing to examine every part of their roster as they head into the 2019 season.
“There is an assessment going on in terms of where that young core is,” St. Peter said. “We continue to believe in them, but there are certainly more questions today than there were a year ago. We have some work to do. We have to be realistic about where we are and where we aren’t.
“But I do know this, we’ll go into the offseason aimed at getting better, kind of assessing those weaknesses. I know there are question marks, but I fully expect you’re going to see a lot of guys in this young core group of players — including the [Miguel] Sanos and [Byron] Buxtons, take steps forward here. I expect to get more out of them in 2019 than we did in 2018.”
Payroll is wide open
There are few benefits to a season as disappointing as the Twins this year. However, the team should have payroll flexibility for next season.
The Twins have only three players under contract for 2019: righthander Addison Reed for $8.5 million and catcher Jason Castro and righthander Michael Pineda at $8 million each.
The Twins will have their first arbitration sessions with Sano, Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler while also entering into arbitration with starters Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson, who can become free agents after the 2019 season. Joe Mauer’s record contract comes off the books, and the team’s other free agents are Matt Belisle, Logan Forsythe, Logan Morrison and Ervin Santana.
“We do have some arbitration-eligible players, and that’s the reality of this young core as it starts to mature,” St. Peter said. “But we are going to get through that. We have tremendous payroll flexibility which is one of the positives as we head towards what from all accounts is a pretty rich free-agent class.
“We should have some ability to target players and put us in a better position for 2019. There’s going to be some new faces. That is the nature of the business, and there needs to be new faces considering where we are in our division and the gap between the likes of Cleveland.”
Key questions remain
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Twins this year was that supposed stars-in-waiting Buxton and Sano had the worst seasons of their career.
Buxton played only 28 games and hit .156 with four RBI and eight runs scored. Sano has played in 71 games, hitting .199 with 13 homers, 41 RBI and 32 runs.
Does St. Peter view their health as the most important part of next season?
“No question, I think the health of all of our players is central, but those two guys it’s still tremendous upside with both of them,” he said. “I know there has been a lot reported about where Byron is and his relationship with the club, and I think we feel as though we’re in a pretty good spot there and I think we’re on the same page going into his offseason plan.
“With Miguel, obviously he has expressed some concern about his knee and we put him through tests. The good news there is there is nothing that has showed up to this point. I fully expect he’s going to be healthy going forward, and both of those guys have a lot to prove.”
The biggest question looming over the Twins this weekend is if these are Mauer’s final games as a professional baseball player.
“We have stayed really closely connected to both Joe and [his wife] Maddie Mauer over the course of the year, so none of this is a surprise,” St. Peter said. “Joe has been very consistent in terms of wanting to really get through the entire season before he makes a decision, definitively, in terms of how he wants to proceed. He has also indicated that to the extent he wants to play, he wants to play in Minnesota.
“We’re going to get through the final homestand and I do anticipate there will be a lot of fan reaction to Joe over the course of the final stretch here at Target Field. People anticipating and maybe it’s Joe’s final game in a Twins uniform. We don’t know that, but I expect fans will take it there and there will be some nice moments in the ballpark.”
Emotional time for U
Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck made no qualms about his team’s 42-13 loss to Maryland last week, but he said quarterback Zack Annexstad continues to play like a true freshman, for both better and worse.
Annexstad completed 14 of 32 passes — 43.8 percent, a season low — for 169 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought he had some really nice balls that he threw and I thought he let some balls sail on him,” Fleck said. “He was hit multiple times during the game, and when you’re already banged up and you’re a true freshman and you’re trying to feel comfortable in that pocket, it’s very difficult to do. When you don’t have the familiarity of feeling it, being in it, especially at this level and the Big Ten level, you can get a little skittish back there. He’s a tough kid and he continued to fight, but he has to be a lot better, and he knows that.”
With the Gophers having a bye this week, Fleck said his thoughts are with his team and how it is dealing with the loss of former teammate Nick Connelly to cancer last week at age 22.
“These kids still haven’t had a chance to grieve, and I don’t want to ever ignore that,” Fleck said. “I don’t want to ever push that aside because we have a football game to play. In the big scheme of life they are still kids, young people, and when you lose a teammate, you lose someone who is very close to you, a roommate, best friend, that is very difficult.”