The press conference no one expected at Target Field last week strangely resembled another more than decade ago, for a franchise across the river, in circumstances equally desperate.
The Minnesota Wild were in freefall in July 2012 when they stunned the hockey world – and themselves – by signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. The press conference, on a summer’s day in the gaily-decorated Xcel Energy Center ticket atrium, attracted more fans and season ticket holders than media, giving it the air of a pep rally. Then-General Manager Chuck Fletcher walked around dumbfounded as if someone hit him in the head with a sandbag, not quite believing how he and owner Craig Leipold pulled it off.
Thing is, the Wild – branded as cheap in some quarters – had little choice. The team’s 409-game sellout streak ended three years before, and four consecutive years out of the playoffs left loyal fans grumbling and season ticket holders bailing. The Wild needed something big to appease the masses, and Parise, the son of beloved former North Star J.P. Parise, and Suter, son of Olympic hero Bob Suter, brought star power and local name recognition.
Fans returned, and so did playoff appearances, though the Wild never advanced past the second round before the club bought out the last four years of the mega-deals in 2021.
Last Thursday’s press conference heralding Carlos Correa’s surprising return to the Twins, after apparent deals with the Giants and Mets fell through over medical concerns about a long-ago leg injury, featured many of the same elements. The Twins won’t publicly admit to desperation, but their actions in pursuit of Correa tell the story plainly.
Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey repeatedly called Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, while Boras negotiated with the Giants, trying to keep the lines of communication open after Boras rejected the Twins’ reported 10-year, $285 million proposal. (Falvey confirmed Thursday the offer was fully guaranteed.) And Falvey kept it up even as Boras negotiated with the Mets.
“Derek did not let this go,” Boras said at the press conference. “He was constantly in communication, constantly calling.”
Why? Simple. Just like the Wild, the Twins faced a credibility problem with their fans.
Attendance last season was the lowest in a non-COVID year since Target Field opened in 2010, off more than 20% from pre-pandemic 2019. A lousy bullpen contributed more to the Twins blowing the American League Central lead than the litany of injuries that followed. Consecutive years out of the playoffs and that MLB-record 18-game post-season losing streak aren’t wearing well. Even Byron Buxton’s $100 million deal failed to shake the persistent notion that the Pohlads are cheap.
Correa’s leadership and influence on his teammates last year is well documented, from reorganizing infield drills to lobbying the front office to keep Royce Lewis in the majors. Boras jokingly called Correa the club’s assistant general manager, and there’s some truth to it; Falvey and Manager Rocco Baldelli respect and welcome his insight. A World Series champion (albeit tainted), Correa gave the Twins an air of credibility few other players could. Falvey felt the Twins had to do everything possible to keep him.
And it turned out Correa actually did enjoy playing in Minnesota, as he said all along. It wasn’t just a ruse to bring another bidder to the table and jack up another club’s winning price.
“Carlos and Daniella (Correa’s wife) gave me a narrow list, and Minnesota was always on it,” Boras said. “Carlos had a vision that Minnesota was definitely a place he could achieve all his career goals.”
Shortly after Christmas, when the Mets deal fell apart, Boras reconnected with Falvey. Negotiations proceeded from there, starting from scratch. Boras clearly wasn’t getting 10 guaranteed years from anyone to Correa’s liking. At the press conference, Boras spent so much time critiquing the Giants’ and Mets’ medical scrutiny and praising Twins medical high performance director, Dr. Christopher Camp, that Joe Pohlad, representing ownership, finally asked Boras if he wanted to join the club’s medical staff. (Pohlad clearly inherited the family’s wry sense of humor.)
Ultimately, Boras and Falvey agreed on something pragmatic and palatable for both sides – six years and $200 million guaranteed, with vesting and club options for four more years, worth another $70 million. Dior at an open-box discount.
“Sometimes in baseball, as in life and everywhere else, fate and destiny come back together, and there’s an opportunity you don’t always expect,” Falvey said.
There’s one more similarity between today’s Twins and the 2012 Wild that bears watching: The promise of young players in the pipeline.
Boras represents 10 players in the Twins organization, among them up-and-comers Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Ryan Jeffers (all coming off various surgeries) and 2022 first-rounder Brooks Lee, plus free agent signee Joey Gallo. With self-serving hyperbole, Boras called the Twins a “juggernaut of young talent” and predicted big things for the franchise.
“There’s going to be a response in the competitiveness and the attendance,” Boras said after the press conference broke up. “And all of a sudden, the viewpoint of (the Twins) is going to really change because guys like Carlos will be knocking on the owner’s door and knocking a lot of players’ doors. I’ve got two star level players here, and I’m telling you, there are two or three more that we represent that are coming that are going to be tremendous talents in this league, no doubt.”
The Wild sold Parise and Suter on a similar notion in 2012. Some of those kids developed into reliable players, but none blossomed into the superstar the Wild needed to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and win a Stanley Cup. Kirill Kaprizov arrived five years too late.
Correa, who told Falvey he’ll move to third if the club ultimately puts Lewis or Lee at short, better hope Boras is right about this one.
“The main goal is to win,” Correa said. “By winning, I don’t mean making the playoffs. I mean winning championships. I think with the core group that we have, with the right guidance and the right work ethic and atmosphere in the clubhouse, we can accomplish all those things.”
Better get more starting pitching first, Mr. “Assistant GM.”