All posts by Michael Rand

Nats’ Sean Doolittle: ‘Sports are like the reward of a functional society’

Some of the most thoughtful commentary to come out of Washington on COVID-19 is arriving neither from pundits nor politicians.

Instead, it is coming from a left-handed relief pitcher.

The Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle, who two months ago delivered a stirring string of tweets that got to the heart of what he perceived as MLB’s money-first, safety-second approach to negotiating a return to the sport, has now distilled the biggest problem we now face in July as sports are on the cusp of actually (maybe) resuming:

We’re on a worse trajectory now in many ways than we were a month or two ago because we didn’t put in the proper effort or measures to contain the virus. But we still want to reopen things anyway because, well, we’re tired of all this.

Or, in Doolittle’s words: “We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people [in the U.S.] We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. … We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve, whatever you want to say. … We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.”

Bulls-eye.

We want the result and the reward without doing the work. That’s a feature of modern American culture, and it’s hurting us tremendously right now.

Doolittle continued: “We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. Like, we can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there are things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Maybe enough states are sobering up to that reality now, and the numbers will look more promising as the games get closer to being played, but the timing of the convergence of sports returning and COVID surging is inescapable. The NBA, WNBA and MLS are trying to make their returns in Florida, which keeps setting daily records with five-figure positive tests. One-third of MLB teams are in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, where cases are spiking. Teams across sports are reporting multiple positive tests and shutting down facilities.

There’s going to be a level or risk no matter what. But the degrees of risk are important. Right now, it sure sounds like players are uneasy — and rightfully so — about what’s happening.

“There’s a lot of players trying to make decisions participating in camp that aren’t 100% comfortable in camp right now,” Doolittle said.

If they’re not comfortable, should we have the reward of watching them play?

The 10 strangest things about a 60-game Twins season

Call it Spring Training 2.0. Call it Summer Camp. Call it whatever you want. It’s July and Major League Baseball is ramping up once again for its season – with games slated to begin in a few weeks.

It figures to be the strangest Twins season in recent memory – maybe ever? – and to get you ready here are 10 of the biggest oddities that figure to play out:

*Every Twins game will be against one of nine opponents. The schedule is only 60 games, which will feel strange enough, but all of it will be vs. either the AL Central or NL Central. A full 40 games – 10 apiece against Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City – will be within the Twins’ own division. That’s 67%, and it’s a big reason the Twins could do well this season. They went 50-26 against those teams a season ago. In a typical year, the Twins play AL Central teams a healthy 47% of the time. But if you thought you got sick of the same teams in a regular year, wait until this season. And yeah, that means no games against the Yankees. So at least there’s that. At least until — gulp! — the playoffs.

*Designated hitters in every game. This might not seem that strange since most Twins games already feature a DH, but MLB has adopted the rule in both leagues for 2020. That means Nelson Cruz will get to hit in the Twins games in NL ballparks – presumably 10 of the 20 against NL Central foes.

*Speaking of Cruz, this almost certainly will be the first season since 2013 that he doesn’t match or exceed his age with his home run total. He smashed 41 last year in his age 38 season, but hitting at least 39 homers in 60 games this year is even too much to ask for a slugger of his stature.

*There is huge potential for statistical oddities. Our La Velle E. Neal III wrote about the possibility of a .400 hitter. A pitcher could post a very low ERA. You might see an out-of-this-world OPS because one or two extended hot streaks will cover a much larger overall percentage of a season than they normally would over 162 games. But how would such things be counted? If, say, Luis Arraez (for example) hits .402 does he go down in history? Or is there a huge asterisk, with Ted Williams still recognized as the last true .400 hitter?

*Counting stats, of course, will be all messed up. A good season might encompass 15 home runs for a batter. A strikeout pitcher might hope to get to 100. One of the weirdest things will be how few starts each member of a rotation makes. Figuring on a five-man staff, most healthy starters will top out at 12 or 13 starts. Better make them count.

*Speaking of which, the urgency of every game will give them a different feel and could make them managed differently. Sunday lineups? Experimenting with inexperienced pitching? It’s hard to justify those things when you only have 60 games – 37% of a normal season. Baseball used to be played at a much more casual pace, understanding the grind of a long season. That might change this year.

*With no fans in ballparks, at least at the outset, it will make for strange TV. Soccer doesn’t look all that odd without fans. Similarly, I imagine football will look just fine. Those sports tend to have pretty tight shots of the field of play focused on a horizontal grid. Basketball and hockey should be OK, too. Baseball, though, switches views constantly. Every medium-deep fly ball, or even a foul ball into a corner, will be a reminder of the emptiness.

*It will be strange to see how the process that led up to this season – and the looming showdown between players and owners – impacts the on-field product in 2020. The year could very well be played under a cloud of suspicion and acrimony.

*Maybe given everything, the strangest thing is that the season is even going to be played at all. The labor bickering was one thing. Now coronavirus is surging in many states, and you can’t scroll a news feed without seeing another story about a batch of athletes testing positive. Leagues seem to be being purposely vague about what it would take to shut down again. For now, there’s this weird contrast between all the bad Covid-19 news and all the leagues, including MLB, making plans to play.

*Or … maybe the strangest thing about 2020 is that it might not be as strange as we think. Maybe once players get between the lines, it will feel like baseball as usual. And maybe the season will simply feel like we skipped ahead to pennant races and the more urgent final two months of a typical season. In a world of constant surprises, that would qualify as a pleasant one.

Players opting out of return-to-sports are a microcosm of pandemic

Among the many ugly things about the Covid-19 pandemic is the way it divides Americans by economic class.

Those with money are shielded from the virus in countless ways. Among them: They are more likely to have the privilege of shifting to work from home (hand raised here), keeping their jobs and paychecks without myriad real-world exposures. Even if they are laid off, they are more likely to have resources to weather the financial storm without worrying about things like paying for housing and food.

The choices this class has needed to make in the last few months are real, but many of them have been questions of logistics, convenience and stress-management.

Those who cannot work from home — depending on their own labor or their own business, for example — have experienced that last few months in a way that is outside of my experience. The choice of whether to go to work at a grocery store or a restaurant is a false one in a lot of cases. When the question is whether to expose yourself to virus risk or stay afloat economically, the answer tends to be self-evident. You do what you have to do for yourself and/or your family.

It’s offensive that the American economy is a driver of so much of our decision-making on a matter of public health. It’s also illuminating that as the U.S. sports world makes plans to resume, these very same questions of economics and choice seem to be informing the decisions of athletes and institutions.

Several high-profile athletes have already made the decision to opt out of their respective leagues’ return. Ian Desmond of the Rockies was among the most recent and thoughtful to do so, writing a long Instagram post that encompassed a lot of his history as a biracial man, social justice and concerns about Covid-19.

Ryan Zimmerman of MLB’s Nationals opted out over health and safety concerns for his family. The NBA’s Avery Bradley and Trevor Ariza are also opting out for similar reasons, with family at the forefront of their decisions.

Pro sports aren’t exactly jobs you can do from home, of course. But it’s interesting that many of those opting out so far are veterans who have earned tens of millions of dollars in their careers (all four players referenced above have made at least $50 million, per Baseball and Basketball Reference).

Those players should be respected and applauded for making principled decisions. But they also are the beneficiaries of the privilege of choice.

What we haven’t seen much of is players who have a lot more to lose — both financially and in terms of career advancement — deciding to sit out either restarts or truncated seasons.

An exception is a number of WNBA players planning to sit out the season either to work for social justice reform or Covid-related reasons. The average yearly cash compensation in that league jumped to $130,000 with the new collective bargaining agreement this season, but that’s still far less than average salaries in the NBA and MLB. (It is interesting to note that Converse is going to pay the $117,000 salary the Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud is forgoing this season as she fights for social justice).

Young players in MLB might need their paychecks from this season. Others certainly fear that, if they are on the fringes of pro sports rosters, a lost season will push them out forever. Out of sight, out of mind.

The scale is obviously different than for someone making an hourly wage at Target vs. a rookie trying to play at Target Field, but in both cases the choices are different than the ones Desmond is making or that I’m making.

We’ve seen the same thing, in a way, with decisions about sports in general. While big money pro leagues are going to great lengths — even as positive tests mount — to play and capture even a portion of the massive revenue normally generated during a season, we’re already seeing numerous cancellations of seasons in levels like Division II and III sports where health can be prioritized over money because there’s less of the latter at stake.

All of it gets back to a central point: The risk-reward calculation is different depending on your situation, even if the virus isn’t.

Why taking down statues — like the one of Calvin Griffith — is important

Plywood marks the spot where a statue of former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith stood outside Target Field. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune)

 

A lot of people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a statue represents and therefore incomplete information as to why taking down statues like the one of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith is so important.

Their argument goes like this: If you take down a statue, you are on a dangerous path that attempts to erase an unpleasant part of history. Why not leave up statues and monuments that we consider controversial and/or racist as teaching tools and talking points by which to avoid the same history?

That sentiment showed up in Star Tribune comments on Friday’s story about the Griffith statue being removed from Target Field after the organization reconsidered Griffith’s racist comments in Waseca 42 years ago.

A variation of that argument showed up in countless other instances, particularly on Twitter, in response to several other statues coming down nationwide in recent weeks.

It seems somewhat logical on its face. But the very people whose job it is to study and communicate history — historians! — also say it is incorrect.

In one particularly apt and smart Twitter thread, this is spelled out quite nicely by Bret Devereaux, an ancient historian who lays out the progression of statues and monuments — and what they symbolize — from ancient civilizations to present day.

The upshot comes in the middle of the thread, when Devereaux writes this: “Statues have always been about commemorating values, and have never been about teaching history. … Now, it isn’t that we don’t have large, publicly funded history teaching tools! We do! They’re called museums (and also to an extent, battlefield parks)! But statues are not teaching tools. No history is lost when a statue comes down.”

He adds later in the thread: “So if you are thinking, ‘should this statue be here?’ The question you want to ask is not “what history is it connected to?’ but ‘what values does it express right now?'”

When you think about it in that context, it’s perhaps much easier to understand why the Twins both erected a statue of Griffith in 2010 and took it down last week. A lot has happened in the last 10 years, and particularly the last month. One of the values the Griffith statue expresses is that it’s OK to say something completely racist.

Racism shouldn’t have been OK in 2010 or even 1978, but maybe the momentum of 2020 has pushed us to a place where we recognize that as plain and obvious — and as a value that we, collectively, need to take great care to reject.

The Twins, for their part, seemed to understand these things when they said Friday in the statement announcing the removal of the Griffith statue: “Our decision to memorialize Calvin Griffith with a statue reflects an ignorance on our part of systemic racism present in 1978, 2010 and today. … We cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of this statue is an important and necessary step in our ongoing commitment to provide a Target Field experience where every fan and employee feels safe and welcome.”

It’s good that the Twins’ decision sparked dialogue — probably far more about Griffith and racism than I imagine happened in the 10 years it was up at Target Field.

But if you’re worried about history being erased when statues like the one of Griffith disappear, that’s not what happens. The only thing erased in this case was the amplification of a value that has no place in 2020.

Does NFL need to play 2020 in a bubble? Dr. Anthony Fauci says yes.

Much of the energy around return-to-sports conversations is being spent right now on those with the most immediate impending start or resumption dates like the NBA, NHL, MLS, WNBA and — maybe, just maybe, — MLB.

All of those leagues could be playing games or preparing to do so in July, so it makes sense that the focus is on them.

Looming in the distance, though, are two giants: the NFL and college football.

While football has a longer time to sort out its plans on how — or if — a 2020 season can happen, and theoretically benefits from the knowledge of the virus gained during that time, the very nature of the sport itself and the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic this fall are factors that complicate any plans.

So how should football be proceeding? Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that the sport should be planning to play in a so-called “bubble,” with players isolated, much like the NBA and MLS are planning to do in their returns-to-play in Florida.

Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci said. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Such a measure seems feasible both logistically and economically for the NFL. As ESPN notes, though, that could present a huge challenge for college football — with players spread out on college campuses and, in all likelihood, attending at least some in-person classes.

And perhaps a greater hurdle for both the NFL and college football: containing the spread of the virus, even in a bubble, if a player tests positive — because the very essence of football requires players to be in very close contact with each other play after play.

That’s the perfect setup for spreading (the virus),” Fauci said last month. “I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field — a middle linebacker, a tackle, whoever it is it — as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person.”

Earlier this week, it was revealed that several players from both the NFL’s Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys — including star running back Ezekiel Elliott — tested positive for the virus, though none of the players from either team were reportedly at team facilities.

I’ve tended to assume football — and the NFL in particular — will figure out a way to play a full season.

But while football could benefit from learning from the successes and mistakes of other leagues over the next couple months, the summer months could also provide more questions than answers about the logistics and feasibility of that assumption.

After the NFL wasted his prime, will anyone sign Colin Kaepernick?

Colin Kaepernick was 25 when he made his NFL playoff debut, rushing for 181 yards and throwing for 263 more in a 45-31 playoff rout of the Packers en route to a 49ers Super Bowl appearance.

He was 26 the next season when he took the 49ers back to the NFC title game in his first full season as a starter.

Kaepernick was 28 when he took a knee during the national anthem for the first time in protest of police brutality during the 2016 season.

He had turned 29 later that season by the time he took his most recent snap in the NFL — playing for, by then, a dreadful 49ers team but still managing to throw 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

At that point, he was blackballed from the NFL. Nobody exactly used that word, opting instead for the soft rebuke of terms like “distraction.” Heck, even Joe Montana used that word. President Trump used much harsher language to smear those players who continued to protest in 2017.

By quantitative measures, Kaepernick was in his career prime when he was forced out. That five-year sweet spot lasts from age 26-30, it says here. By the time quarterbacks are 31, they tend to start to show some sort of decline.

Kaepernick is now 32. On Monday, the commissioner of the league that kept him out of a job for three years — finally — seemed to indicate Kaepernick would be welcome back.

Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s going to take a team to make that decision,” Roger Goodell said as part of ESPN’s The Return of Sports special. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”

It is right and proper to be suspicious of Goodell suddenly dipping his toes in The Resistance — wondering if he is doing so sincerely or merely following a shift in public opinion from two years ago (when the majority of those polled thought protesting during the anthem was inappropriate) to now (when 61% of people think Goodell owes Kaepernick an apology).

Barely six months ago, Goodell said the league had “moved on” from Kaepernick, though you could parse the words and meaning of what he said to be incredibly broad or very narrowly focused on a tryout gone awry.

But if we focus too hard on the sincerity of the shifting message, we lose sight of three-plus years of action.

All 32 NFL teams combined to waste part of the prime of a very capable and proven quarterback’s career, instead employing various other lesser men. Some might have passed for football reasons, but many did so for more nefarious ones.

And now that Kaepernick is publicly being welcomed back into the league by Goodell, he is still better than plenty of other options. But he’s almost certainly not as good as he was at the start of 2017.

Will a team — hey, like the Vikings, who have been public about their search for a better backup option to Kirk Cousins — employ Kaepernick on a roster in 2020? After three years out of the league, and in an environment where, because of the coronavirus pandemic, teams likely will be gathering for the first time in groups at training camp in late July?

It’s certainly better for Goodell to have said what he said instead of remaining silent. But nothing can undo how wrong the NFL, led by Goodell, has been about Kaepernick for so long

Nothing can give back to Kaepernick the NFL career he should have had.

A reminder: Rob Manfred works for best interests of owners, not baseball

Nearly 100 years ago in 1921, Major League Baseball owners bestowed upon the office of the commissioner a broad power that is often boiled down into the phrase “the best interests of baseball.”

The clause, with slightly more elaboration, reads like this: “The Commissioner has the power to take action against clubs or players if he believes they’ve done something that strikes at the integrity of the game or the public trust in it.”

Perhaps it was that phrase that guided how I used to think of baseball commissioners — and, indeed, those in all sports: As sort of neutral arbiters between players and owners whose job was to maintain a sense of overall fairness and protect the sanctity of the sport for fans to enjoy.

Sometimes, in some leagues, it works that way.

What is so often reinforced, however, is this: The very people who bestowed upon the baseball commissioner’s office the power to act in the “best interests of baseball” are, in fact, the people for whom the commissioner works for and of whose interests he protects.

The owners.

A century ago, the money in baseball were far different. Ty Cobb was the highest-paid player in the game in 1921, making $25,000 a year — equal to about $330,000 today. That’s a nice chunk of change, but it’s about 100 times less than the highest-paid player was set to make in 2020. Then again, there weren’t billion dollar TV contracts in 1921.

As revenue, franchise values and salaries have soared, the role of the commissioner has evolved in some ways and remained constant in others.

And it is clear in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic eating into a lot of that revenue, that Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it his mission to act not in the best interests of baseball but in the interests of team owners.

As owners have presented multiple variations of essentially the same bad deal to players … and players have replied with counteroffers and a desire for owners to, you know, prove to them how much money they would lose by showing them their books (with the owners not doing so) … Manfred has positioned himself squarely on the owners’ side.

Owners want fewer games. Players want more games. Owners say they will lose money on each game. But the best interest of baseball? That’s easy: Play as many games as possible.

Negotiations — if you can call them that — are so broken right now that after the last offer from owners the players’ side concluded a letter from leader Tony Clark with this: “It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

And that’s exactly what is probably going to happen — quite possibly Monday if owners (and Manfred) adhere to the players’ request to send them return-to-play terms by the end of today.

The money quote from last week from Manfred: “At the end of the day, we negotiated for the right in March to start the season on a number of games that we select in these particular circumstances. And if we have to, we’ll exercise that right.”

Let’s call it Manfred’s Foibles.

Manfred could step in and really try to broker a deal that both sides could live with, if not love. But he hasn’t done that. He’s 100% with the owners.

And let’s be realistic: The owners (and by extension Manfred) have been negotiating in bad faith and angling toward this very conclusion from the start because that is in their economic interest — the only one that really matters to a lot of them.

It was true 100 years ago, and it’s true now.

What’s up with Dalvin Cook’s holdout threat? (And other questions)

It’s the middle of June, and sports are at a very interesting juncture. No game in any major U.S. professional team sports league has been played for more than three months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And as some leagues prepare to return to play, their plans are being overshadowed in many cases — and rightfully so — by calls around the world, including many from the world of sports, for social justice reforms and anti-racism measures.

I put out a call for reader questions the other day, and the responses were a wonderfully eclectic mix that reflect where we are right now in sports — with a lot of pent-up energy looking to be spent in a lot of different directions. Let’s get to them:

A: We learned this week that Cook is ditching the last stages of the Vikings’ virtual offseason program and threatening a holdout during training camp if he doesn’t get a fair contract extension.

I’d say this is less of a holdout threat and more of a grab for attention combined with a clever move to get out of a few extra video meetings. As our Ben Goessling reported, Cook has very little leverage if he decides to hold out. The Vikings, meanwhile, have made it publicly clear how much they value Cook.

If you could turn up the heat on your boss just a little, at least symbolically, while also skipping out on some torturous Zoom meetings, wouldn’t you do it?

As Ben wrote and we talked about on this week’s Access Vikings podcast — after spending the bulk of our time on the much more important topic of the Vikings and social justice — it seems likely that Cook will have an extension in hand before the year starts.

A: Those are some good ones.

I’ll start with what I think is the easiest one: The NFL will play more than 10.5 games. In fact, I think the league will play all 16.

With MLB, I’ll take the under. There’s enough acrimony between the sides to make me wonder if there will be a season at all. And if there is, it might be the 50-60 games the owners crave because they wield the most power and time is running out.

The last one is basically a coin flip if you look at the math. The Wolves have the third-worst record and have a 52.1% chance of getting a top four pick. The higher you are in the pre-lottery order, the farther you can fall. And the Wolves have NEVER moved up. But I’ll still say they get a top-four pick. So, I guess, the under.

A: I love this question because it sent me down a strange rabbit hole that is the 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Baseball Reference page. Just when I thought I had settled on Fred McGriff — love the Crime Dog going back to his days with the Braves — I found this name: Scott Aldred.

Aldred was absolutely terrible for the very bad 1997 Twins, going 2-10 with a 7.68 ERA mostly as a starter. His peripheral stats, if you wanted to go digging for a silver lining, were no better. Aldred gave up 102 hits (including 20 home runs) and 28 walks while striking out just 33 batters in 77.1 innings. I witnessed a few of those starts firsthand, and they were not good.

And yet the expansion Devil Rays said: Give me some of that. And they actually got a somewhat decent year out of Aldred in the bullpen — a 3.73 ERA that ended up being the best Aldred posted in NINE seasons in the majors. So he’s my favorite original Ray.

A: I think the U.S. either has six or four, but not five. If you are including MLS, you have to include the WNBA. The leagues are similar in their timelines. MLS certainly involves more money than the WNBA, which nudges it toward the “big” category, but unlike the other five leagues under consideration, MLS is NOT the best professional league in its sport worldwide. That will always bother me when it comes to putting MLS in the same category as the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and WNBA.

Shorter answer: I say there are six, but there is a gap between the four longstanding leagues and the other two relative newcomers.

A: That’s an interesting question, and I think quite a bit of it has to do with how coronavirus evolves. Are we able to find a widespread vaccine in the next 12-18 months? Will we experience a second wave this fall that threatens sports again? If you read a lot about the virus and treat attending sporting events as a non-essential action, which is very reasonable, it might be a while until you come back to a sports venue — particularly one that’s indoors.

How leagues maintain a connection to those fans will largely be impacted by how they are able to present games on TV. Do they feel like weird, soul-less exhibitions or will there be enhancements that make them feel like different but worthy programming?

A: Another good one. I haven’t seen a lot of teams address this — and sorry if I have missed some — but it has been reported that the Vikings are “talking through” that very subject. How teams follow through on questions like this will be telling.

A: It’s quite amazing. I did the math (sort of) a couple months ago, and let’s just say it’s improbable.

A: Absolutely not. I’m about 5-10, 160 pounds. I’m 43 years old — probably closer to retirement age than my athletic peak.

(Short break to gaze off into the distance, as a single tear falls).

Back when I used to play a lot of basketball about 20 years ago, and my joints were springy and I weighed a little less, I jumped one time and grazed the rim with the tip of my finger. That’s as close as I’ll ever get to dunking a basketball.

I’ll just have to settle for dunking on all the haters.

Twins keep swinging for home runs in MLB draft

Four MLB drafts is not insurmountable evidence, but it is a trend that allows us to say this: The Twins under the leadership regime of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine sure seem to place a premium on raw power as a transferable skill over many — if not all — others.

The latest continuation of that trend came Wednesday when the Twins took North Carolina slugger Aaron Sabato with the No. 27 pick in the first round of the draft.

The boiled down scouting report on Sabato: He’s a below-average fielder and a slow runner. But man can he hit the ball hard with that beautiful swing of his.

Pitching? That’s obviously important, too, but the Twins have shown that they think velocity and spin can be added to less-heralded pitchers. The raw ingredients that make someone a star hitter, though, might be harder to come by.

Enter Sabato, who was preceded in recent Twins drafts by Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff.

All three of those other players are developing into top hitting prospects. Rooker had a .933 OPS at Class AAA Rochester last season. Larnach excelled in Class AA as a 22-year-old last season. Kirilloff has star potential and was dominating spring training this year before baseball was shut down. Sabato could be another elite hitting prospect in the pipeline.

“I certainly think he fits in with the last few iterations with our club, the Bomba Squad and all that,” Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said of Sabato. “But yeah, we really value his offensive upside and ceiling, the power threat, all those things are really hard to procure in the draft and to pick in the back end of the first round, we feel lucky to have him there.”

At this point it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Twins pick someone like Sabato, but if you’ve followed them for any length of time it’s still jarring.

As Aaron Gleeman summed up on Twitter: “Under the previous regime, the Twins went 20 straight years without using a top-50 pick on a bat-first college player. Now they’ve done it in each of the four drafts with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine at the helm.”

It could very well ensure that another trend — the Twins evolving into a power-hitting team — continues well into the future as well.

Other leagues are making plans to play, so why can’t MLB figure it out?

Return-to-play plans in major sports leagues in the United States and beyond have taken shape in recent weeks. Top soccer leagues across the ocean are either playing or getting ready to play. The NBA, NHL, MLS and WNBA all seem headed for starts or re-starts later this summer, with any remaining details between ownership and players seemingly being akin to picking toppings on a pizza. We might not know exactly what the finished product will look like, but we’re pretty sure there is going to be a pizza.

Major League Baseball, then, is the outlier. The sides are so far apart on the financial details of a return-to-play plan that sometimes it seems like they’re arguing about two different things – like the players want pepperoni on the pizza and the owners want to know the price of gold.

If you’ve been watching all this unfold and you’re wondering why MLB is having such a hard time getting its act together while other sports seem to be figuring it out, here are some thoughts:

*The timing is awkward, at least financially: Compared to two other huge-money leagues that are attempting to resume play this summer – the NBA and NHL – MLB is in a tough spot. Both of those other leagues had played the vast majority of their regular seasons when play was halted March 11 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wolves were through 64 of their 82 games, and the Wild had played 69 of 82, for example. They had already gathered in a lot of gameday revenue – tickets, concessions, etc. Plans for those leagues to resume play don’t include fans, but the revenue hit isn’t as great. NFL teams, by contrast, are three months away from playing games. By then, fans might be allowed into stadiums – at least in some markets, and at least at a limited capacity. And NFL teams generate more TV revenue than MLB teams.

MLB, on the other hand, would be preparing to come back without fans. Owners say they will lose $640,000 per game in that scenario.

*No sense of urgency: Because owners say they will lose so much money with every game played, their proposals for return-to-play scenarios have either involved players taking a bigger pay cut (which players don’t want) or getting full pro-rated salaries for a shorter season (again, players would be taking a pay cut but they would get paid for all the games played).

Players have countered with a proposal for a longer season, which the owners don’t want. Other leagues are eager to resume play as soon as possible so they don’t have to delay the 2020-21 season as much. Baseball, on the other hand, could find itself in a spot where owners are essentially running out the clock so the season HAS to be shorter and they lose less money. As long as games are being played in home stadiums of all the teams, the season has to end relatively early because of weather concerns.

*A history of mistrust between the sides: Given that losing money is inevitable and that owners and players generally should agree that some sort of season is better than nothing at all, you would think that finding some sort of common ground would be possible.

But here’s where possibly the biggest hurdle comes in: the owners and players have a long history of bumbling through hostile negotiations, and the rhetoric over the last month shows that hasn’t changed even in the midst of a sobering pandemic.

Players think owners are trying to squeeze them, and they don’t trust the amount of money owners say they are going to lose. Owners didn’t become rich by giving money away. If their argument is that everyone benefits when the game grows and everyone should share losses when money is tight, there is some logic to it (even if they have more money than the players).

Add it up, and here we are on June 9 – one day before the date ex-Twin Trevor Plouffe optimistically tweeted/reported that spring training part II would start – with no start date in sight and the gulf between ownership and players seemingly growing instead of shrinking every day.

Major League Soccer and the WNBA are in similar spots as MLB, but both seem geared to play truncated seasons.

While an argument can be made that calling off the season for health reasons and trying to come back full strength in 2021 is prudent, the optics of MLB arriving at that place via financial bickering instead of virus-related concerns would likely have an impact on popularity and revenue for years to come.

For that reason – and maybe that reason alone – it still seems quite possible that MLB will get its act together soon. But the longer we keep saying that, the less likely it actually is to happen.