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Off-Season Questions for Twins to Answer

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October 8, 2019

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The Twins earned their first division championship since 2010 this year and hit an MLB record 307 home runs. They also won 101 games, one short of the club record for a single season, but the Twins were dominated in the postseason by the New York Yankees.

What’s next for the local MLB organization? Here are 10 pressing questions the club faces in the coming offseason.

1. Does Derek Falvey remain the club’s front office leader? Speculation continues the Boston Red Sox have interest in the Twins 36-year-old chief baseball officer who grew up in the Boston area. Losing the “boy genius” to another organization would be a setback as the Twins try to address offseason needs.

2. Is the ownership and front office zealous enough to elevate this franchise to a place among baseball’s elite? Success doesn’t always follow money but the Twins had a modest payroll in 2019 and certainly could expand it in the offseason because of their ongoing personnel needs. First-year manager Rocco Baldelli and his staff look like an asset in helping the franchise acquire free agents. Baldelli, 38, is a calm, steady leader who has surrounded himself with knowledgeable instructors, and they have created a welcoming culture for players.

3. Can the Twins find two or three new quality starters? It’s been obvious all season the team needs a better starting staff. The need wasn’t addressed during the season and has to be at the top of the off-season to-do list. Falvey, or his successor, will have to shop outside the organization for pitching help.

4. Will the Twins find a staff ace? It seems like the franchise has been searching forever trying to find a “bell cow.” Fans want to anoint Jose Berrios but he only flirts with success so far. The absence of a No. 1 pitcher is a huge handicap in the playoffs (see Berrios’ failed effort last Friday in the opener against the Yankees), and during the regular season when losing streaks need to be stopped or a must win is needed.

5. Who are the free agents the Twins want to retain? DH Nelson Cruz will be 40 next July but management has a club option on his contract for next season and will almost certainly want him back after he hit 41 home runs and became a dominant leader during his first season in Minneapolis. After Cruz, the Twins will need to sort through a number of players on their last year of contracts including quality starter Jake Odorizzi.

6. Next year will the Twins be anywhere near the home run producers they were in 2019? The core of expected returning players will offer power again but it’s not likely the Twins can hit 307 home runs in 2020. Maybe not even close because the prediction here is the MLB commissioner’s office wants to manufacture baseballs for next season that are more pitcher-friendly than the “rockets” flying all over the country this summer.

7. Is there any reason the 2020 Twins won’t have a roster again featuring personnel who can play many positions? The 2019 team had more players capable of playing various spots than any Twins club dating back to the franchise’s start in Minnesota in 1961. That’s a huge plus because it allows the organization to carry a max number of pitchers and allows Baldelli to move players around when injuries occur. It’s a long list of versatile Twins including Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Luis Arraez, Jorge Polanco, Willians Astudillo, Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario.

8. Can the Twins have a season without losing a key contributor to suspensions for violating MLB drug policy? Michael Pineda might have been pitching better than any of the Twins starters when he was suspended in September for the rest of the season. With Pineda available the Twins could have started him instead of former Uber driver Randy Dobnak in last Saturday’s blowout loss to the Yankees. In 2018 the Twins began the season without Polanco who was suspended for 80 games. That was a significant loss for a team that earned its way into the playoffs the prior season.

9. Can Byron Buxton have a healthy season in 2020? His acrobatics in center field are worth not only the price of a ticket but at least a couple of wins per season to the Twins. But Buxton’s resume has numerous entries detailing his injuries and missed games, with the latest setback a left shoulder subluxation that placed him on the 60-day injured list in September, making him unavailable for important late season games and the post season.

10. Will Miguel Sano keep his weight under 300 pounds and avoid off-field incidents? Sano, 26, has the potential to be the long-term captain of the Bomba Squad, and perhaps become the franchise’s greatest home run hitter after Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. But Sano’s weight and conditioning rightfully worry Twins fans. He is advised to avoid carbs, get his entertainment at daytime yoga sessions, and perhaps avoid the party life.

Worth Noting

Tracy Claeys

Tracy Claeys acts on his convictions. He resigned a few days ago from his defensive coordinator’s position at Washington State, saying in a Tweet last Friday there was disagreement about “solutions” to the Cougars defensive woes. In his last days as Golden Gophers head coach in 2016 he backed his players instead of the University of Minnesota administration who had suspended some of them.

Cougars head coach Mike Leach hired Claeys in 2018. He told the Spokesman Review in an online story Saturday that “…I thought last season was as good a job by any defensive coordinator (as) I’ve ever had.”

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said on his KFAN Radio show today that his top three running backs, Shannon Brooks, Mohamed Ibrahim and Rodney Smith, are expected to be available for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.  Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, who had to leave last Saturday’s game with Illinois, is also expected to be available.

Fleck said on WCCO Radio Sunday that freshman linebacker Donald Willis likely won’t play beyond the four games he has already participated in to protect his redshirt freshman status. Game action is ahead, though, for freshman linebacker James Gordon, Fleck said.

The Vikings defeated the Eagles, 23-21, last season in Philadelphia, and the rematch is Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Last Sunday against the New York Jets the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to record 10 sacks and score two defensive touchdowns in a single game (winning 31-6).

Several Vikings players, including Everson Griffen and Marcus Sherels, will visit The Richard M. Schulze Family American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Tuesday evening. Players will serve a meal to and spend time with residents and caregivers.

Another indication of volleyball’s success and popularity at Minnesota is tickets are sold now on Stubhub.com. As of yesterday, tickets started at $39 for home matches later this fall with Big Ten powers Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Bill Guerin, the Wild’s new general manager, has Minnesota connections including team executive Mike Modano who he played with on American teams competing internationally. Guerin’s first pro coach was the late Herb Brooks, first with the Utica Devils and then the New Jersey Devils in the early 1990s.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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