MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins have received criticism in recent weeks about the fact that they have committed only $94.4 million in salaries for 2019. This has brought the usual complaints that owner Jim Pohlad is cheap and wants to pocket the revenues that come from playing in Target Field.
On Saturday afternoon, Twins fans got their chance to express their frustrations to Pohlad during a question-and-answer session held in the Carew Atrium at TwinsFest in Target Field. Dave St. Peter, the Twins president, and Derek Favley, the team’s chief baseball officer, also were on the panel for the hourlong session.
So how many payroll questions were asked of Pohlad? Zero.
Pretty remarkable when you consider the vitriol you find on Twitter, and elsewhere, when it comes to this topic.
There were plenty of questions asked of Favley and St. Peter — one fan expressed her anger that manager Paul Molitor was made the fall guy for the Twins’ struggles in 2018 — but most of the time Pohlad sat there quietly probably bracing for someone to ask him why he didn’t spend more.
About the closest anyone came to asking about payroll occured when the name of free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel was broached but the question was directed at Falvey.
Some other notes and observations from the Q&A with the trio — along with an earlier panel that included general manager Thad Levine — and TwinsFest in general.
— If the Twins are going to have a closer in the traditional sense in 2019, they certainly aren’t saying who that will be. Newly signed righthander Blake Parker had 14 saves last season with the Angels, but Levine said the most important thing is to have guys that can get outs in key situations. That no longer just means the ninth inning. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Parker not only be asked to get outs in key late-game situations, but also be used as an opener on certain days.
— Levine, asked about if baseball will have any traditional closers in five years, opened the door to the fact that teams will continue to get more creative in how they use their pitching staffs. Levine mentioned the day when we might see pitchers that are considered “15 out guys,” and “six out guys.”
— Falvey said the Twins had every intention of revisiting talks to bring back Eduardo Escobar after the popular Twins infielder was traded to Arizona last season. Escobar became a free agent after the season and thus was set to hit the market. Escobar, however, signed back with Arizona on a three-year, $21 million contract during an exclusive period in which the Diamondbacks had an opportunity to sign him.
— Tyler Austin, whom the Twins acquired from the New York Yankees for Lance Lynn at the trade deadline, could end up playing some outfield this season. Austin, who hit nine home runs in 35 games with the Twins, was used at first base and designated hitter after being acquired. However, offseason-acquisition C.J. Cron is expected to get much of the time at first base this season. “He’s put himself in a good position physically to potentially go out and play some outfield,” Falvey said. “We’ll see where that goes.”
— One fan asked about all the in-between innings commercials/promotions/contests that go on at Target Field. The complaint was about the clutter. While it sounded like a get-off-my-lawn type of statement, St. Peter had an interesting response. “Amen,” he said, “I agree with you. … We’re taking a hard look at everything with the Target Field experience and I do think we have a little bit too much clutter. We have a lot of great partners, a lot of things we’re trying to accomplish around messaging. But I would tell you that over the course of the next couple of years I’m hopeful you are going to see an evolution.”
— Falvey on where things stand with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who both flopped in 2018 and are expected to make strong comebacks in 2019: “Miguel’s had a great winter. I think back to a year ago at this time, talking about our hopes for him going into 2018. At the end of 2017 he had his surgery and he had a rod inserted in his leg. We were hopeful to kind of get things moving from a rehab standpoint as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, medical is medical and you have to wait for something to heal before you go forward. So he didn’t have a very good winter. He just couldn’t get himself to a place where he could do a lot of the work that he needed to do. He’s done that this winter. He’s gone and played in the Dominican Winter League, he looks good physically, he’s put himself in a good spot. … He’s in a good place and we feel really good about him.
“In Byron’s case, the same way. It was an important winter for him. He had an up-and-down year last year, dealt with some injuries, dealt with some performance challenges. These guys care. They care about everyone in this room. They care about the fans. They want to be good on this field. They are critical to our success. When you look at those teams that are playing in the playoffs consistently over the last couple of years. I look at Houston, I look at Boston and I look at Cleveland, and the teams that have won the divisions the last few years, that good young core of players that can kind of carry you for two, three, four years, at least, that group needs to come together. Those two people are critical; this is an important year for them. An incredibly important year.”
Falvey said both Sano and Buxton are healthy and ready to go.
— Asked about the length of the baseball season, Pohlad talked about the schedule challenges and noted the 2020 season will be impacted by the fact that television needs the World Series to be out of the way for the presidential election in November. St. Peter said the major league season in 2020 likely will start on March 26, but that the Twins’ home opener will be in early April that year. This season the Twins will open at home on March 28 against Cleveland.
— Many of the Twins’ mid-week night games (Monday through Thursday) in April, May and September will start at 6:40 p.m. this season instead of 7:10 p.m. “We’ll watch how that goes over the next several months,” St. Peter said. “It’s something that could be expanded potentially into the other months. We think that 6:40 start time is going to be well received by our fan base.” St. Peter said the Twins’ 6:10 p.m. start time for Saturday games is “by far our most popular start time,” but added, “we thought 6:10 mid-week was a little bit too early. We think 6:40 is going to be the sweet spot.”
— Falvey, asked about potentially signing Kimbrel, said the Twins “continue to monitor everyone who is on the market.” He also discussed being excited about the group of young arms the Twins have who could end up pitching out of the bullpen. “That’s not to say there aren’t some players externally that could help, or fit us, or be potential opportunities for us,” Falvey said. “But at the same time, you have to be thoughtful about giving guys real opportunities to carry you forward that are young arms, that have a chance to be impact at the end of the game. We’ll think about both avenues of that and we’ll see where it shakes out at the end of spring training.”
— The Twins brass also did not get one complaint during the Q&A about the fact they announced this week that they will introduce a new home alternate uniform and are ditching the throwback cream-colored jerseys that fans seemed to like. There was plenty of angst about this on Twitter. The Twins are keeping their alternate red jerseys that they wore for Friday night home games. There already is speculation that in 2020 the Twins could bring back the powder blues they wore on the road from 1973 to 1986.