Can the Twins challenge in 2019?

Rocco Baldelli // Courtesy of MN Twins
MSR News Online/MSR News Online

Sunday, March 3 it was zero. The average temperature in Minneapolis and St. Paul on that day is 35 degrees. Opening day for Major League Baseball is March 28 at Target Field, believe it or not. 

In recent years, Major League Baseball has been sending subtle signals to its players that the days of mega contracts are a thing of the past.

That all changed the last week of February when San Diego, Colorado and Philadelphia, all National League teams, signed three of the richest contracts in history: Manny Machado for 10 years and $300 million with San Diego, Nolan Arenado for eight years and $260 million with Colorado, and the mother of all contracts, Bryce Harper for 13 years and $330 million with Philadelphia.

The bad news for Twins fans is they did not add a young superstar to replace Joe Mauer, who decided to retire. On the heels of the team firing manager Paul Molitor, the popular ex-Gopher and Hall-of-Famer, the Twins are going outside the organization for the first time in 20 years by hiring first-time manager Rocco Baldelli.

“I remember Rocco being a really good player,” said Dick Bremer, longtime TV voice of Twins baseball on FOX Sports. His time as a player was cut short by injury, and now he’s come back to be the manager of the Twins.

“The last time they went outside the organization was Ray Miller back in the mid-eighties,” Bremer noted. “This is a different era now in baseball. If you look around, the most successful football coaches, basketball coaches, and baseball managers all seem to be much younger.

So the Twins have got Rocco Baldelli, and it will be interesting to see how he does and what he does with what I think will be a real good roster to work with.”

After the 2017 season, the Twins ownership decided to go against their blueprint, a blueprint that has won two (1987, 1991) World Series Championships. 

General Manager Thad Levine, in this new era of baseball, fired manager Molitor after three seasons. Longtime star Mauer decided to call it quits at age 35. He played the last season of his contract, which was $23 million per season.

Those are two legendary local names. Molitor was fired first, so we will never get to ask the question would Mauer still have retired if Molitor had been retained. He clearly can still play the game of baseball.

Cleveland has owned the American League Central in recent years, and Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City were not close to being competitive last year. The Twins hope 2019 will be different. But better?
“The Chicago White Sox are the wild card team in the Division,” said Bremer. “We all know that Cleveland is still the team to beat, but they have lost some key guys that were instrumental during their reign as Division champions.

“You don’t know how they’ll react to the loss of Michael Brantley and others. Kansas City is rebuilding, Detroit is rebuilding. Let’s say the Twins have rebuilt and it’s up to the Buxtons and Sanos and Keplers to continue to progress.

“In the case of Buxton and Sano, last season was a disaster for both of them. So there is still an awful lot of talent on this roster, and it would not surprise me that the balance of power in the Division doesn’t change in 2019. It could very well be that if the Twins get over the Cleveland hurdle, this team has an awful lot of potential.”  

About Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald is a longstanding contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday and Friday at 9:10 am, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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