Spring training is winding down for the Twins in Florida, and some things are starting to come into focus. If the exhibition game against Baltimore yesterday was a barometer for the starting lineup the Twins will field on opening day, this is a fundamentally solid baseball team. Justin Morneau continues his way back from a severe concussion and is progressing nicely, if cautiously. Michael Cuddyer got his first swings in yesterday after foot surgery, and Joe Mauer is still a superduperstar. The starting rotation looks to be very solid, and Joe Nathan is back after Tommy John surgery. Really, the only questions are whether or not Danny Valencia can be the third baseman for the forseeable future, and how the Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment will work out.
The fact that the Twins even entered, much less won, the Japanese Foreign Player Du Jour sweepstakes says just how far this team has come from the dark days of contraction talk. Heck, even three years ago if you would've told me that the Twins were going to be a serious bidder for the next Ichiro or Daiske Matsuzaka, I would've laughed. Not at you, but with you, because that would've been a good joke. They have a sparkling new stadium, the value of the franchise rose 21% to $491 million, and they are a consistent post-season team with young stars up and down the roster. Oh, and the early returns on both Valencia and Nishioka are quite promising. Granted, it's spring training, but so far these kids look like the real deal. Oh, and the Pavstache is back, too.
In short, they have almost everything the Vikings crave.
Let's look at the Vikings. Their stadium is in the midst of being repaired, and they were essentially homeless the last two games of the season. Granted, a stadium bill is going to be introduced during the current legislative session and the Vikings should be playing in a new place in a few years, but each day that goes by with no stadium bill makes me a little uneasier. Oh, and there might not be football at all in 2011 thanks to the current labor situation. That would make a new stadium a bit tougher sell, but I still think it will get done.
In Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have one of the better managers in baseball, unless he's playing the Yankees in the playoffs. Gardy is one of the most respected baseball minds in the game, and once you get past the cacophony of the minor but vocal ‘fire Gardy' crowd, you'll see that Ron Gardenhire does a good job at putting the players on his roster in the best opportunity to succeed.
Leslie Frazier is a very well respected football mind, but is essentially a rookie head coach, and we don't know what to expect. He handled the 2010 adversity with a dignity and confidence that was at times impressive, but his team was up and down while he was the interim head coach. We should give him a pass on those last three or four games, but those circumstances were so unique that I don't think it would be fair to gauge how the Vikings will perform under Frazier based on that unusual sample size.
When comparing the rosters, the Twins have a lot of young talent, mixed in with productive veterans that understand the rigors and pressure of a pennant race. Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer will balance the inexperience of Valencia and Nishioka, and Morneau and Mauer will be the clubhouse leaders. The Vikes? Well, they had that perfect mix as late as 2009, but 2010 saw a drop off in a lot of key veterans-Brett Favre, Pat Williams, and Ben Leber, just to name a few. I hate to use the term rebuilding, because there is a lot of talent on the roster, but some of those key veterans will need to be replaced if the Vikings are going to get into playoff contention for 2011.
The Twins also do a good job of being able to say goodbye to players, albeit maybe a year too early. The Johan Santana trade turned out to be a great deal for the Twins, not because of the prospects they got in return, but because they don't have a $100 million contract on the DL, the Mets do. The Vikings? Yeah, we know the Favre story, no need to rehash it here. I will say, to coach Frazier's credit, that the Vikings have definitively moved on from the Favre era, which is a necessary thing to do.
The Twins and Vikings look to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum right now. The Twins have a new home, a veteran coaching staff, and a roster that looks on paper to have a great mix of young and veteran talent. The Vikings have a lot more questions than answers right now both on the coaching staff and the roster, and the stadium fight is far from over.
The Vikings are still the 600 pound gorilla in Minnesota sports, but if they continue to founder and the NFL takes part or all of 2011 off, will that still be true one year from now?