Will the $1.1 billion Vikings stadium look like a bargain?

When gawking at the opulence of the Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium, a conversation between two frugal and modest Minnesotans might go something like this:

Minnesotan 1: “Wow, look at it. The scoreboards are huuuuge. It’s so nice.”

Minnesotan 2: “I’ve never seen anything like it. It really is nice.”

Minnesotan 1: “Of course it better be nice. They spent a billion dollars on it.”

Minnesotan 2: “Can you even imagine?”

The actual price tag was $1.1 billion, but that doesn’t buy what it used to. I say this only slightly tongue-in-cheek, since my mouth is still agape at the projected cost of the new stadium and related complex for the Rams and Chargers being built out in Los Angeles: $5 billion.

That is not a misprint. At least that’s according to ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, who reported this week that NFL owners down at their meetings in Orlando were slated to “vote to increase the debt limit for the Rams new stadium, which according to internal league documents is now projected to cost an amazing $4.963 billion.”

That was approved, but the figure also includes “the neighboring 6,000-seat performance venue, the 200,000 square feet of office space for NFL Media, the parking lots surrounding the stadium, and the cost of the entire 300-acre parcel,” per the Los Angeles Times.

The stadium itself, though, is creeping toward $3 billion, the Times reported.

Anyone who has ever built or even remodeled a home knows how this goes. You start out with a budget, but then you get top-end flooring, nice window treatments and finish off the basement.

Next thing you know, it’s $5 billion.

Sure, this is California near the coast — where you can’t build in one direction because of the pesky ocean and land is both scarce and valuable — but this is not just the cost of doing business or the price of real estate at play.

The two questions I have: 1) At what point is enough going to be enough? 2) At what point will we consider the $1.1 billion Vikings stadium a bargain?

For Twins, 2018 could be a lot like 2017 — and that’s just fine

Major League Baseball added a second wild card playoff team to each league in 2012, at a time when making the playoffs was not a realistic goal for the Twins. They were coming off a 99-loss disaster, one which proved to be the rule rather than the exception through 2016.

But that second wild card allowed them to have hope in 2015, when they played in to the final weekend of the year with a chance to make the playoffs. And it certainly paid off in 2017, when the surprising Twins stayed pretty even through the first four months and then rode a hot August and September to 85 wins and that second wild card spot.

The 85 wins is the fewest of a second AL Wild Card winner since the format changed, but it’s also a good benchmark. If you can go into a season reasonably expecting to get to that number by the end, you will be playing meaningful games in September and possibly October.

Based on the success of 2017, combined with the expected continued rise of several young hitters and the acquisition of capable veteran pitchers, the Twins perhaps have loftier expectations than merely competing for the final playoff spot in the American League.

But the reality is this: The American League still has four clearly excellent teams, at least on paper. Most preseason prognosticators agree Houston, Cleveland, Boston and the Yankees are at the top of the league going into the year. FiveThirtyEight has those four among the top six teams in the majors, with all projected to win at least 91 games and all but Boston projected to win at least 95.

Cleveland is pegged by FTE to win 99 games, while the Twins are down for 83. That’s a 16-game division game. Last year it was 17. Maybe that’s a little wide, but even if it’s half that it’s sizable.

The better news for the Twins is that those 83 wins put them fifth among AL teams in those projections. There’s a large middle class with the Angels, Mariners and Blue Jays all projected right around .500, but the Twins are at the head of that class. The Twins used that formula to pull away and grab a playoff spot last season.

(By the way, it doesn’t hurt that the Twins get to play 57 games against the Royals, Tigers and White Sox — projected to be among the five worst teams in the majors by FiveThirtyEight).

In other words, on paper at least 2018 could play out very much like 2017 for the Twins — and that would be just fine. They’ll need to make a bigger leap at some point, but re-proving that they are at least good would be a nice step.

It could be the third year out of four that the creation of the second wild card spot made baseball still relevant after Labor Day around here, making the Twins — and their fans — among the greatest beneficiaries of a change from several years ago that had no immediate relevance to Target Field.

‘Circle Me Bert’ is back. Maybe it never really left?

It started organically and modestly, as most traditions do. Back in 2002, Twins color commentator Bert Blyleven started circling Twins fans via Telestrator during a season-opening road series in Kansas City. Soon enough, fans at Twins games were holding up, “Circle Me Bert” signs, hoping to get some air time on Fox Sports North.

There were dozens of signs every game — maybe hundreds. Even David Ortiz, still with the Twins in 2002, wore a “Circle Me Bert” sign around his neck.

“What made it such a good idea is nobody really thought of it,” Blyleven’s longtime broadcast partner, play-by-play voice Dick Bremer said in a 2002 Star Tribune story. “It just kind of spontaneously happened. Nobody at a production meeting said, ‘OK, now we are going to start circling Twins fans at the ballpark.’ It’s just something that happened spontaneously that has caught fire.”

That quote and the very nature of the “Circle Me” phenomenon carried weight and irony Tuesday after Blyleven on Twitter said that “Circle Me Bert” is no longer. Or at least no longer as we know it.

Wait, what? Why? Fox Sports North attempted to retake control of the narrative a few hours later with another tweet, noting that “Bert broke the news” and trying to put a positive spin on the new promotion that would be taking the place of “Circle Me Bert.”

Here is that sentiment, roughly translated (at least for Circle Me Bert enthusiasts and fans of good things staying the same): “We are going to do something new that is kind of like what you are used to, except it’s fundamentally different in the only way you care about, and you won’t like it nearly as much.”

Predictably, FSN’s attempt at damage control Tuesday evening did not go well. Here are a few examples of responses:

Perhaps the outrage worked. Or maybe “Circle Me Bert” was never really ending. By Wednesday morning, FSN had crafted a new tweet indicating Blyleven would still be circling people — just not as part of a promotion. That’s how it started, after all. So, win-win? Maybe?

Part of me wonders if changing the promotion is a response to Blyleven’s shrinking role on Twins broadcasts. Back when he started, Blyleven did almost every game. He had a five-year contract that started earlier this decade that reduced his workload to 100 games a year, and then a new contract for 2017 and 2018 that has him doing just 80 games — fewer than half of the 162 on the Twins’ schedule. Now FSN can do their promotion regardless of who is in the analyst chair.

That was probably part of the logic that went into the decision. This is a corporate partnership with Minnesota Lottery, so money is involved as well. FSN officials probably wished Blyleven never tweeted, though Bert also did some damage control on Wednesday.

Blyleven will be on the air for Thursday’s opener at Baltimore, free to circle Twins fans as he pleases. A deluge of “Circle Me” signs at the home opener is a good bet, too.

Maybe everyone will get what they want in the end, and we will all hereby circle this whole situation as one big misunderstanding?

Motzko’s departure for Gophers leaves St. Cloud hurting

The reaction in Gophers circles seems to be almost exclusively positive with the news Tuesday that Bob Motzko has been hired as the new Minnesota men’s hockey coach. He was of course a former assistant with the Gophers when they won their two NCAA titles under longtime head coach Don Lucia and seemed like both the smartest and best-credentialed choice for the job.

But as is the case with a lot of coaching hires, one program’s gain is another’s loss. And the reaction an hour northwest of the Twin Cities in St. Cloud is far less cheerful.

Motzko took over as head coach at St. Cloud State in 2005. The program had established itself as a college hockey contender by making four straight NCAA tournament appearances under Craig Dahl between 2000 and 2003, but the Huskies had never won an NCAA tourney game until Motzko arrived.

St. Cloud State won its first tourney game in 2010 and reached the Frozen Four in 2013. In all, Motzko took the Huskies to eight NCAA tournaments — the last of which ended in disappointment this season when No. 1 seeded St. Cloud State was upset by No. 4 Air Force.

Motzko, who turned 57 on Tuesday, brought the program to consistent national relevance, and he was a St. Cloud State alum. Huskies fans might have assumed they had a head coach for life and at least another 5-10 years of presumed excellence. What they are left with now are raw emotions and uncertainty, which played out Tuesday on Twitter:

That might have been the most powerful tweet I saw, but then again here’s former St. Cloud State and Wild player Mark Parrish comparing this to a death in the family.

Then there are those who are just plain angry and betrayed.

The go-to feed for St. Cloud State fandom is understandably distraught and looking for distraction.

My friend and St. Cloud State man Dana Wessel injected some humor into the bit:

And finally, perhaps the most level-headed perspective:

Ugly loss to Memphis underscores Timberwolves’ biggest problems

When a team with playoff aspirations loses at home to a team that had lost 23 of its last 24 games — including one recently by 61 points — it is very hard to treat the occasion as just 1 of 82 games in a long NBA season.

Sure, the Wolves’ 101-93 loss to Memphis on Monday fits that description technically. But some games carry more weight even if they all count the same in the standings.

The proper bit of perspective from such a game, I think, is to be alarmed without overreacting. And it’s not overreacting to say this: The loss, in so many ways, was a microcosm of the issues that have hurt the Timberwolves and frustrated those who watch them all season. Precisely, it was these things:

*Defense: The final score tells you the offense was more of a problem than the defense on Monday. On balance, that’s probably true. But a defense that has been culpable more often than not over the course of this season was again a problem against Memphis.

The Grizzlies are missing key players and have the No. 28 offensive rating in the league out of 30 teams at 101.6. On Monday against the Wolves, their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 106.4. The Wolves allowed the Grizzlies to make 15 three-pointers. For the season, the Grizzlies are 24th in the NBA at 9.1 made threes per game.

The Wolves are No. 24 in the NBA this season with a defensive rating of 108.9. They were No. 26 last year at 109.1. That is not a meaningful improvement.

*Minutes played: This has been a sore subject all season, with Wolves fans sometimes going overboard in their critiques of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tight rotations and heavy minutes for starters. Monday’s game produced epic, almost comical levels — leaving plenty of room for legitimate criticism.

Three starters played at least 42 minutes (Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Andrew Wiggins), while Karl-Anthony Towns played 39. Only three bench players saw action, including Tyus Jones with a spare 5 minutes, 51 seconds.

Yes, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose are hurt. But I’ve asked before, so I’ll ask again: What’s the point of having G-League guys or other depth players like Marcus-Georges Hunt if they’re never (or rarely) going to play. It’s a failure of roster construction, a failure of player development or a failure of trust.

*Fourth quarter troubles: It would be easier to dismiss the heavy minutes if not for two things. One, players are starting to talk about being tired. Two, it’s possible those extended minutes are hurting the Wolves at the end.

Minnesota is the fifth-best team in the NBA in first-quarter scoring margin (+1.7 points), No. 11 in second-quarter margin (+0.6), No. 12 in third-quarter margin (+0.5 points) and No. 26 in fourth-quarter margin (minus-0.8 points) in the NBA.

NBA fourth quarters play out differently than the first three, so it’s not right to say fatigue is directly responsible for that disparity. But it’s likely tired legs are a factor. On Monday, the Wolves were outscored 23-11 in a dismal fourth quarter that sealed their fate.

*Playing down to an opponent: The Wolves have had more than their share of frustrating losses to inferior opponents this season — games offset, in large part, by a solid showing against the teams they’re battling against for Western Conference playoff positioning.

Per Thunder beat writer Fred Katz, the Wolves are now 17-11 against teams with sub-.500 records this season, the worst mark of any current playoff team.

The Memphis game was the start of a relatively easy closing stretch for Minnesota, but if it continues to play down to opponents the favorable schedule won’t matter.

*A lack of overall growth: This one is a little harder to quantify, but there is a growing sense that the steps forward this season have been a result more of veteran additions than any growth from cornerstone young players Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. When Butler is healthy, this is a different team. That’s a fact, not necessarily an indictment. But it is troubling to see the extent to which this team still struggles without him.

You add all of that up, and you say: Wow, this team must be terrible. They’re not. The Wolves are still 42-33 and still very much in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. They’re even still in reasonable shape to move up from the No. 8 spot they currently occupy into a seed that would at least give them a fighting chance in the first round.

The problems outlined above — ones magnified Monday in a damaging but not hope-killing loss — might be more questions for the offseason than the stretch run. But for all the progress made this season, defense, depth and overall growth remain legitimate concerns and impediments to an elevated ceiling.

Jordy Nelson ‘hurt’ by release from Packers; did Green Bay mess up?

Former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson discussed his breakup with Green Bay in a radio interview with ESPN Milwaukee on Monday, saying the team asked him to take a pay cut that he considered until learning from new general manager Brian Gutekunst that the team was likely to reduce his role in the offense as well.

“I met with Brian and had a discussion because I had to get a feel for not just the pay cut but what their plans were going forward,” Nelson said. “After that meeting, there wasn’t, I don’t think, much desire there.”

Two days later, Nelson signed a two-year deal, $14.2 million deal with Oakland. On one hand, this is the nature of business in the NFL. Nelson turns 33 in two months and is coming off a season in which his productivity dipped sharply after Aaron Rodgers was injured. Nelson also missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL. GMs are often judged by their ability to get rid of players at the right time, with the adage being that it’s better to let someone go a year too early than a year too late.

“I think the hurt part was, to be honest, was the unwillingness to try to make it work,” Nelson said. “But then again, it’s a business, and they have to do what they think is best. What they need to do is to be able to move forward and prepare for the future of the Packers. But I think that was just part of it, but that’s the way it is. I’m definitely not the only one that’s been cut or released when you don’t think it’s going to happen, and it’s not what you want to hear when you go into a meeting with them. But we’ve moved on.”

Here’s the question, though: Did the Packers mishandle a situation that could have left them with another season of a still-productive receiver?

Nelson has clear chemistry with Rodgers. His overall numbers last season were career-lows, but he had six TD grabs in the first five games (among his 19 catches) before Rodgers was hurt against Minnesota. The year before, Nelson had 97 catches for 1,257 yards and a NFL-best 14 touchdown grabs.

Davante Adams and Randall Cobb give the Packers a pair of solid wideouts, but Nelson was always the guy that worried you the most if you were watching from a Vikings perspective. He has 10 TD catches in 17 career games against Minnesota.

Nelson had 35 touchdowns and 4,000-plus yards in his last three healthy seasons before 2017. Even if he had lost a step and wasn’t the deep threat he used to be — Nelson’s 20 TDs since ACL surgery were all 32 yards or shorter, while he had seven TDs of 40-plus yards in 2014 — he was a sure bet for Rodgers in key spots.

Rodgers wrote on Instagram after Nelson and the Packers parted ways: “Definitely a sad day and the toughest part of this business. There will never be another quite like white lightning.”

We’ll see just how much he misses him in 2018. My guess is it’s quite a bit.

Instagram post shows Sharrif Floyd clearly unhappy with Vikings

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and the Vikings have had a frustrating two years following a 2016 surgery that caused nerve damage in Floyd’s leg.

Floyd appeared in just one game in 2016 and none last year. The Vikings plugged Tom Johnson into his defensive tackle spot for much of that time and added Sheldon Richardson this year. Floyd is now a free agent, but the intrigue between him and his former team is apparently just beginning.

Floyd filed a grievance against the Vikings several months ago, hoping to recoup millions of dollars he says the team owes him. With that process still ongoing, Floyd was busy on Instagram over the weekend venting about the Vikings and some of the comments that were made while he was injured.

In the post, Floyd took screen grabs of a few different things written about him, including quotes from Mike Zimmer from 2016 in which the coach refers to Floyd as “out of sight, out of mind” and saying “I’m kind of used to it” in reference to Floyd’s absence from a game.

Wrote Floyd in the body of the post, among other things: “I’m sharing this picture first because it was 2 days before I went into surgery, These words were used to slander my name, tarnish me as a person and a player.

I’ve been down, hurt, lost, confused, scared, and fighting when there’s nothing left to fight for. Believing in myself, and constantly keeping my kids close to my heart threw it all. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Everyone who has claim to love me has walked away, left when the weights gots heavy. Close friends and loved ones looking to fill there pockets not knowing Or caring bout anything I’m going threw. Crawling around my house after long days of rehab, scooting down the stirs every morning n afternoon. somehow I managed to keep my head above water. I’m sharing this picture first because it was 2 days before I went into surgery, These words were used to slander my name, tarnish me as a person and a player. So easy to forget the kinds of years A kid has had when your support system has so much B.s to say about you. All my life I’ve been such a good person, to others. Over extending myself and making things happen for people just to see the smile it brings. The joy a toy puts on a homeless kids eyes. I’ve been down for to long it’s time to #standup it’s time to share my story. #iwillriseagain

A post shared by sharrif floyd (@humble_hungry_73) on

He also proclaims at the end that it’s “time to share my story.” It will be interesting to see if this escalates any further in the offseason.

Sportsmanship kept dominant Oturu off boys’ basketball all-tournament team

Daniel Oturu, as he has done all season, showed why Gophers fans are so excited to have the big man on campus next season.

The 6-10 Cretin-Derham Hall center averaged 21.7 points, 9 rebounds and 6.3 blocks in three Class 4A state tournament games — with the last two of those points coming on a dunk with 0.5 seconds left to give the Raiders a 79-78 win in a thrilling championship game Saturday over Apple Valley.

There were plenty of standout players and performances in the tournament, but Oturu was clearly at or near the top. But when the 10-member Class 4A all-tournament team was named and released shortly after the championship game, Oturu was not on it, though three of his teammates were. So what gives?

The Minnesota State High School League news release says the team was selected by “media attending the tournament,” but it’s hard to fathom many — if any — media folks leaving Oturu off the list. Indeed, it’s rather informal but KDHL radio in Faribault conducted a quick survey of area media members after Oturu was left off the team and concluded, “Everyone I spoke with said they voted for him.”

As it turns out, Oturu was left of the team because of what was deemed a sportsmanship issue. Oturu received a technical foul in the first half of the title game for shoving Apple Valley star Tre Jones. Tim Leighton from the MSHSL didn’t cite that specific play in response to a Star Tribune question about Oturu, but he did write this in an e-mail Monday:

“Part of the criteria to be selected to the All-Tournament Team is sportsmanship. It is one of the items shared by the public address announcer prior to the award ceremony. It was a committee decision not to include Daniel on the All-Tournament Team because of that criteria.”

Oturu retweeted that and other tweets after the game.

He also had a few words of his own to add, declaring “No matter what you say about me and my team, you can never take away the fact that we are champions.”

In the big picture, it’s not a huge deal. Oturu figures to rack up bigger honors once he starts his career with the Gophers. Still: If this was punishment over one technical foul, it seems overly punitive.

Is Twins outfielder Max Kepler primed for a ‘breakout season’?

As several young Twins hitters ascended last season, particularly in the final two months when Minnesota sprinted to the finish and grabbed a wild card playoff spot, one in particular seemed to stall.

Eddie Rosario broke out in a big way. Jorge Polanco surged in the final two months (though that streak is under a cloud now after his 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs). Byron Buxton fulfilled his potential as a five-tool player.

Max Kepler? Well, he wasn’t bad. He was cumulatively pretty much the same as a 24-year-old in 2017 as he had been as a 23-year-old in 2016, with a couple of disturbing caveats mixed in: Kepler hit just .152 against lefties last season and hit just .211 in the season’s second half. His final totals — 19 homers, 69 RBI, .737 OPS — were acceptable for a still-developing player, but they certainly left anyone associated with the Twins hoping for more.

It left questions about Kepler’s ceiling. Is he destined to be merely a useful player best-suited for primarily a platoon role — one that hit right-handed pitching at an .828 OPS clip last season — or is there still a good amount of hope that he will become a mainstay of the middle of the Twins lineup, regardless of who is pitching, for years to come?

His platoon splits are concerning, but I still tend to think the latter is a plausible outcome. Kepler has been a bit unlucky in his first two large sample sizes, compiling a batting average on balls in play of .261 in 2016 and .276 last season when league average is typically around .300. He just reached 1,000 plate appearances in the majors at the end of last season, a number that is often a good benchmark for players “figuring it out” at the plate.

Kepler’s walk rate of 8.7 percent and strikeout rate of 20.5 percent should converge as he sees more pitches, raising his on-base percentage. And he seems willing to work, with evidence this spring coming from consultations with former Twins MVP Justin Morneau and new slugger Logan Morrison, both left-handed hitters like Kepler.

He might also benefit from flying a little under the radar in a lineup that keeps looking better. In short, not a lot of people are talking about Kepler — though ESPN’s Keith Law this week tabbed him as one of nine potential “breakout” players this season.

Wrote Law in an Insider piece: “Everything has happened on the late side for Kepler, and I think the same is true of his ability to pick up breaking stuff from lefties and changeups from righties, enough so that I expect him to reduce his platoon split this season and get to 25-plus homers with a league-average or better OBP.

The MLB league average for OBP last season was .324, while the average OPS was .750. Kepler was at .312 and .737, so he doesn’t have that far to go. The tools, including a sweet swing, are there. He’s already an MLB-caliber hitter. If he can make a jump this season, a dangerous Twins lineup will only become more so.

Inside the deal that landed the Vikings their other QB — Trevor Siemian

The biggest, most important and most expensive move the Vikings made this offseason came with the three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal they gave QB Kirk Cousins. At the same time those negotiations were ramping up, though, the Vikings also made another low-key acquisition that could prove to be vital.

In a deal last week, they sent a fifth-round pick to the Broncos in exchange for quarterback Trevor Siemian and a seventh-round pick. Siemian, also formerly a seventh-round pick himself, started 24 games for Denver over the last two seasons. Given that the Vikings have had to go to Plan B at quarterback quickly each of the last two years, having a capable backup is important. The fact that Siemian is relatively cheap and young adds to the nice fit.

The move for the Vikings seemed to come out of nowhere, but for Siemian it was the end of a months-long process. He and agent Mike McCartney — who is also Cousins’ agent, which helped facilitate the deal — shared some of the back story with SI.com. Here are some interesting items from that piece:

*Siemian was called into head coach Vance Joseph’s office at the end of October and was told the Broncos were benching him in favor of Brock Osweiler. “I knew from that point on,,” he told SI.com, “that it would probably be unlikely that I would be the guy here.” Near the end of the season, McCartney advised Siemian that trying to orchestrate a trade might be in the QB’s best interests.

*In mid-January, Siemian watched the “Minneapolis Miracle” unfold with Stefon Diggs’ TD catch from Case Keenum. “That sequence of events was so cool to watch,” Siemian told SI.com. “I’ve been in Case’s shoes, obviously not the same experiences, but I know what it’s like to be kicked in the teeth a little bit in this league. Case has gone through a bit of a tough stretch, but to see him playing really well, I was so fired up for him.”

Watching Keenum play gave Siemian hope that he could resurrect his career. Interestingly enough, Siemian wound up in the same role Keenum had last season, as the Vikings’ low-cost backup. And the team he left is the place where Keenum is now the starter.

*In early March at the Scouting Combine, McCartney mentioned to some friends who work with the Vikings that they might want to scout Siemian — hinting that he could become available. That perhaps laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Per SI.com, McCartney was tied up with Cousins negotiations, but: “At some point during those discussions, Siemian’s name comes up. McCartney seizes the opportunity to advocate for another one of his guys, and tells the Vikings why Siemian would be the ideal backup for Cousins, if Cousins chooses to play in Minnesota.”

*A couple days later, the deal was done. Siemian says he wants to learn from Cousins and is embracing the backup role as a step forward. The kicker? There’s a Minnesota connection. There’s always a Minnesota connection. Per SI.com, his fiance, Bo Podkopacz, grew up here:

“I’m pumped,” Siemian says. “I don’t think I could have gone to a better place.” He can’t wait to tell Podkopacz the news. She grew up a Vikings fan in a Minneapolis suburb and had brought Siemian, a Florida native, back home to Minnesota many times. She can’t believe they’ll be moving to the Twin Cities.