My years in Minnesota we reveled in being a mid-market, or even small-market, team, playing over our heads with unheralded athletes. The big free-agent signings were for NY, LA and less thrifty owners. If we did overpay, it was for a local hero, a Kevin Garnett we signed out of high school, a Joe Mauer whom we drafted out of St. Paul. So when the Timberwolves traded with Chicago for Jimmy Butler, an all-star in his prime, it sent shock waves through the Twin Cities psyche. “You mean, we’re actually trying to win something this year?,” as opposed to building something for the future, was the common reaction. If, in fact, Butler hadn’t gotten hurt, there was a chance the move could have worked. As it is, the Wolves are scraping to make the playoffs, where it is doubtful they will win one game; but the season has been more interesting and fun than usual. (The flip side is that the players traded for Butler are doing quite well for the Bulls, and it is anyone’s guess which team will be the ultimate profiter.)
The Vikings, of course, did the Wolves one better. By giving Kirk Cousins the richest(?) guaranteed contract ever, they have set the Super Bowl, if not the NFL title, as their only acceptable goal. Given that the NFC title game this year was fought between two backup quarterbacks, it will be intriguing to see where all the teams with new leaders end up next season.
No one, of course, expected the Twins to do much in the offseason. First, they have a reputation, long-earned, for cautious spending. Second, they did quite well, unexpectedly so, with their young squad last year, and it was reasonable to hope that a year’s growth would bring those prospects even further along. But the pitching was an issue. Months went by and not much happened. A few relievers were signed: Zach Duke and Addison Reed. Then a closer, Fernando Rodney, although in his 40s and having played for eight other teams it’s hard to believe he was much in demand. Then, out of the blue, the Twins signed Jake Odorizzi, a more than competent starter from Tampa Bay. Next, Logan Morrison, as the Rays continued their fire sale. The deal was only for one year, but there weren’t many 38-home run hitters available. And last, they found another quality starter, Lance Lynn. In the space of a few weeks, the Twins went from a “can-they-do-it-again” team to a favorite to make the playoffs.
The expectations of Minnesota sports fans have ratcheted up several notches. Now we will see if the big bucks deliver.