Twins And Vikings Both Facing Uphill Climb … Who’ll Get There First?

December 29, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve written about sports, so the end of the most regrettable year in the collective history of our local franchises seems like an appropriate time to do so. For the purposes of this post, I’ll ignore much of the landscape of Loserville and concentrate on the state’s two most popular squads — the Twins and Vikings — who both hit rock bottom this year. While the Twins posted a miserable 99-loss season, the Vikings have managed to be even more disappointing by currently sitting with a 3-12 record, winning a game last week when their fan base desperately wanted a loss to improve the team’s draft position and losing star running back Adrian Peterson to a significant knee injury in the process.

Obviously, there’s plenty of negativity to go around, but as 2012 approaches, I’m looking for some signs of hope on the horizon. That’s just the kind of guy I am — always the optimist. So, which team will climb out of the abyss and reclaim a division championship more quickly? Here’s my unscientific breakdown.

On the surface, both teams are facing similar situations:

  • Recent success (both teams won division titles in the last couple years — Vikings in 2009 and Twins in 2010);
  • Disastrous 2011 records (both among the worst in franchise history);
  • Injury concerns with their best players;
  • A serious lack of talent at key positions

So let’s examine the situation a bit closer.

Reclamation Project Scorecard

Better Coach/Manager: Twins — This is a huge edge for the Twins. Ron Gardenhire’s leadership has repeatedly steered the club to division championships over the last decade while Vikings first year head coach Leslie Frazier seems to struggle mightily with everything from schemes to game management. Vikings ownership appears committed to giving Frazier another season at the helm, which may mean more trouble ahead.

Better Front Office: Twins — Terry Ryan is back as GM after a short retirement to help clean up the mess left by several questionable moves from his hand-picked predecessor. Ryan’s track record of success (even while playing in the low budget Metrodome) gives him the edge over the uncertainty in the Vikings front office, where there is no football boss and personnel decisions are made by a “triangle of authority” (three guys who do not always have the same interests in mind).

Better Opportunity To Attract Free Agents: Twins — Target Field is a beautiful facility and the Twins have a reputation for playing the game the right way. The opportunity to play with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (when healthy) is also a nice draw. Meanwhile, the Vikings are facing stadium uncertainty. In the short term, prospects include continuing to play in the Metrodome (the NFL’s worst facility), moving to Los Angeles or playing at the University of Minnesota (a less appealing option than the Metrodome) while a new stadium is built.

Better Owner: Vikings — Zygi Wilf has shown that he wants to win and he’s willing to open up his wallet to do so. His dedication to bringing in big name players gives him an edge over the Pohlads, who upped payroll upon moving in to Target Field, but are showing signs of pulling back beginning this season — as witnessed by the departures of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and other key players via free agency.

Better Star Players: Twins — I would have answered differently last week, but Adrian Peterson’s knee injury sways it in favor of the Twins. There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the health of Mauer and Morneau, but the chance that they can return to form gives them a slight edge over a one-legged Peterson and Jared Allen.

Better Young Players: Vikings — Neither team is in great shape in this department, but the promise shown this season by Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph and Toby Gerhart give the Vikings an edge over a depleted Twins minor league system which suffered a blow when top prospect Kyle Gibson underwent arm surgery this year. The Vikings also have a very high draft pick coming, which should make an immediate impact next season.

Fewer Holes To Fill: Twins — Overall, the Twins need a number one starter in the rotation, some bullpen help and a power hitter to play left field or third base. Meanwhile, the Vikings need multiple offensive linemen, two wide receivers, a nose tackle, two linebackers and three defensive backs. Good luck with that.

Easier Competition: Twins — The Vikings are in a tough spot, with division rivals Green Bay and Detroit set up to be very good for years to come. Both teams are young and talented, especially at the critical quarterback position. The Twins also are in a competitive division, but none of their competition rises to the level of the elite teams (or the biggest spenders) in Major League Baseball.

All of that adds up to the Twins returning to relevance and recapturing a division title before the Vikings do. Sadly for this sports fan, I think we’re still several years away in both cases. Your thoughts?