Twins & Vikings: Choosing Possibility Over Popularity?
A friend of mine reminded me a few days ago that “it’s ok to be negative about your favorite team, it doesn’t make you less of a fan.”
While I fully agree, it’s just not entirely my style.
I’m also not exactly a heavy dose of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. In fact, if I’m ever labeled as having any extreme emotion, I usually compare it to the thoughts of the company I keep rather than analyze my own true feelings.
Hence my column last week defending Kirk Cousins. It should have never had to be said, but enough people apparently felt Cousins didn’t defend the Giants well enough.
Frankly, I think of myself as being balanced in my sports thoughts. As someone who has had Cerebral Palsy since birth, I’ll let you decide just how much irony or humor you see in my choice of words.
I have said on many of our radio shows, that I fear my balanced approach might make me wildly unpopular. We live in a society where so many crave unconditional agreement to their most vehement complaints or most passionate exuberance. Doubling down on emotion without considering all angles is not something I want to do to gain popularity.
Yet what is popular anyway? I was crowned royalty way back in the Spring of 1997 at Duluth East. Did that mean I was popular? I highly doubt it.
While the “cool kids” were going on memorable trips and throwing crazy parties, you could find me playing a pick-up game of any sport. When it got too dark for that, it was time to watch a movie or play trivia games with a handful of friends. When things really got wild, we played video games or ping-pong until sunrise while consuming a massive supply of Mountain Dew.
Popular? No. Excellent times? 4000% yes.
The Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings are both starved for excellent times and appear to have added a new wrinkle to finally find them. After all, depending on your definition of “excellent times,” you could argue the Twins haven’t had such an experience in 32 years. The Vikings? Many close calls, but technically never.
The new wrinkle is being willing to make unpopular decisions during championship-starved times while keeping in mind that unpopular doesn’t have to mean illogical.
The Twins led the charge in this department by trading away Luis Arraez. He is a fan favorite and a tremendous hitter who will be missed. Yet, it’s also fair to say that he is limited. His defensive range and versatility are minimal at best, and while his average can be eye-popping, many other offensive categories are essentially just that -- average.
Minnesota parted ways with Arraez and acquired Pablo Lopez – a pitcher who may not “wow” anybody (who has done that in a Twins uniform since Johan Santana anyway?) but seemingly offers stability and competence on the mound that the Twins have sorely lacked in recent seasons. The Twins still don’t have an ace, but they also no longer have a reclamation project or a rookie they’re forced to lean on every fifth day.
Just days after the Arraez deal, the Twins acquired Michael A. Taylor from the Royals. Taylor brings an element of defense and speed that has been missing as well. No longer will Jake Cave look lost in the outfield, and Gilberto Celestino won’t be able to run to the wrong base at the wrong time nearly as often.
These moves do not put the Twins in the same sentence as World Series contenders. When a team’s last playoff victory came during the George W. Bush administration, it’d be foolish to even try to say such a thing. Yet, they are clearly trying to get better and avoid a repeat of last season. You couldn’t say that a month ago.
The Twins were in first place for about four months in 2022, and after that most players were either unavailable or unwatchable. The apparent depth of this year’s team should make a difference. Most 2023 Twins are not big-name players, but they also aren’t past their prime. The question is: Will they reach their prime in a Twins uniform? If they do, Target Field can once again be a popular place to spend your summer.
The Vikings have big-name players who appear to be past their prime, but who have also grown very popular here in Minnesota. How will the front office for “the purple” handle difficult decisions?
Bidding farewell to any combination of Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, C.J. Ham, Patrick Peterson, and others looks absurd on paper, but will likely be done out of financial and skill-level necessity.
This will be very unpopular on the surface. Thielen and Ham are both native sons. Smith and Kendricks have spent their entire career in Minnesota. Peterson appears to be a father figure to young secondary players.
Who stays? Who goes? Truthfully, who knows?
Yet we will know soon enough and need to keep some seemingly obvious things in mind: Minnesota needs to get more athletic at wide receiver, but also pay their best one a king’s ransom. The need for a high-paid fullback in this offense may not exist. Defensively, many great individuals wore the purple last season. In combination, they were the worst unit in football. Something’s got to give (besides the salary cap), or things will be no different next season. The division and the schedule will be tougher -- this can’t be the same Vikings. Big names can’t have rapidly shrinking production.
An unpopular decision will certainly be made at quarterback in Minnesota. Is there a more maligned individual in our sports landscape than Cousins?
The Vikings appear to have two choices. Cousins can play out the last year of his contract (leaving the cap still a mess), and Minnesota can hope a quick grooming of a young replacement ensues. We all know plummeting further from contention in years to come won’t go over well.
The other option is to extend Cousins, which will reduce the salary cap hit, but assure multiple seasons with the same veteran quarterback who has one career playoff win.
Don’t get me started on if that’s his fault again. Do check on your friends who never want to see Cousins take another snap with the Vikings.
There’s just one last angle to consider. It might not be the players at all.
It won’t matter how many workhorse pitchers are employed by the Twins if Rocco Baldelli constantly sees the fifth inning and gets antsy. Ed Donatell set an extremely low bar for his replacement, but if the Vikings can’t find a new scheme for the same players or new players for the same scheme, (or sprinklings of both) it could all conceivably blow up in our faces.
I’ll choose to just let it play out for now. If it plays out that way, I assure you that being negative will be the most popular thing around.
Brian's show, 'The Northland Sports Page', can be heard Saturdays from 10 am to noon on the FAN 106.5 FM/560 AM. You can catch previous episodes on the Northland FAN On-Demand area of our website or on our mobile app.