Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  A two-part question. The Minnesota Twins were swept in Seattle over the weekend and dropped to a season-low record of 50-70. One of the team’s biggest needs is pitching at the front end of its starting rotation. Is it time to consider trading catcher Joe Mauer if a deal would yield a starter the quality of a David Price, a Felix Hernandez (who threw a perfect game last week), or a Jered Weaver? 

Second part. Do you think Mauer’s trade value could yield a top of the line starting pitcher?

-Dorr: I seriously doubt if the Twins can get a Price, Hernandez or Weaver, or a pitcher of that  stature for Mauer. And when the Twins signed Mauer to an eight-year contract for $184 million back in 2010 there was a no-trade clause included. I suppose Mauer could waive that clause if he chose to but the clause is there. I’m not a  big Mauer backer but all the people who want to trade Mauer fail to come up with an answer about who would then catch for the Twins. Surely you don’t want Drew Butera there on a regular basis. Joe, a wonderful hitter, has hit into 20 double plays this year, second worst in the league; has thrown out 13 percent of runners trying to steal, down from his career average of 33 percent; and is striking out once every 6.4 at-bats, compared to one every 8.8 prior to this season. I don’t think his trade value is what it was a couple years ago. The Twins? A couple weeks ago they were a game out of third place but now they’re mired in fifth after losing 9 of 10 games. They just can’t hit with runners in scoring position, a problem even in a win over Oakland Monday night.

-Marxhausen: Trading Mauer will always be a sensitive subject for the Twins to address because of the other factors. As a hometown boy, there are a lot of people who would be sad to see Mauer leave, probably Mauer himself. Mauer signed with the team for eight years and $184 million and has not put up the statistics to help support the decision to sign him for so much. Could the Twins get a No. 1 starter that is the quality of Price, Hernandez or Weaver in a trade for Mauer? At this point I don’t think anyone would be willing to trade that caliber of a player for Mauer. If anybody would be willing to trade for Mauer, it would only be for a handful of high-end prospects.

-Larson:  When Mauer signed his long-term deal the thought apparently was that the Twins would build a contending team around him. There’s been a big dip in that plan. Let’s say Mauer would agree to a trade. Would teams be interested? Probably, but not if the cost is a premier starting pitcher. An ace at the front end of the rotation is worth a lot more than a singles-hitting catcher was a huge contract.

The Twins are in a tough spot. Any trade offers during the upcoming offseason are likely to be one sided, and not in Minnesota’s favor.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings stopped Buffalo 36-14 Friday in their second exhibition game. What are your thoughts on the game?

-Dorr: It was a lot better than the week before. But then, San Francisco is probably a lot better than Buffalo. The margin of victory was skewed by the two late interception returns for touchdowns by rookie linebacker Audie Cole. And, the first Viking TD came on a fourth-down try that likely wouldn’t have been attempted during the regular season. Still, if you’re going to criticize the performance against San Francisco, you have to give credit for a better showing last week. One thought I had is that it’s too bad wide receiver Jerome Simpson is suspended for the first three games. He looks like he can help – if he can stay on the active list. This week’s game against San Diego should tell us a little more about this team, which is likely to rise and/or fall on the strength of Christian Ponder’s performance, assuming the defense is markedly better than last season.

-Marxhausen: The second-string Vikings appear to be fighting hard for roster spots. The Vikings looked to spread the ball out as much as possible. Christian Ponder looked more comfortable under center, completing a majority of passes without turning the ball over. Even though the Vikings only scored once through the air, the passing game was good for short gains, middle gains and long gains. Spreading it out kept the Buffalo defense guessing, but the Vikings couldn’t convert some big plays into touchdowns. The team cannot expect to win games on field goals like they have relied so heavily on in the past. If the Vikings could generate performances like Audie Cole had against the Bills every game, they might not have to rely on the offense scoring as much. The young seventh-round draft pick came up big with two interceptions for touchdowns. Two games down and only two more to go for these young bucks to stand out like Cole did fagainst the Bills.

-Larson:  The victory over Buffalo was certainly a big step up from the team’s performance against San Francisco. Christian Ponder continued to look improved, receiver Jerome Simpson is looking like the receiver the team needs to compliment Percy Harvin and running back Toby Gerhart looks improved from his rookie season. The defense showed improvement, but Buffalo doesn’t have much of an offense. Overall, the Vikings looked much better than they did at San Francisco. We’ll find out if that continues this week against a good San Diego team.

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•Question:  A front-page story in the Minneapolis StarTribune Aug. 16 looked at the dwindling interest of University of Minnesota students in attending football games at new TCF Bank Stadium on the University campus. Student season-ticket sales have dropped from approximately 10,000 the first year to about 2,000 so far this season, with the home opener Sept. 8 quickly approaching. One of the selling points for the new on-campus stadium, now heading into its third year, was that students would flock to Gopher games. Are you surprised by the apparent lack of student interest?

-Dorr: Yes, but I think it’s a product of today’s society, with an assist from some in the Twin Cities media who continually are sarcastic about the football program.  Students, and society in general, are so conditioned to supporting only teams from winning programs that they have little interest in the games. Sure, it’s more fun when the team is winning, and interest generally picks up then. But why not support the programs that are struggling? It’s your school, if you’re a student, and you can help by showing interest. For example, the Twins are doing poorly the last two years but I’m still attending games. The students should be doing the same for football games at the U. (Remember, I was one who wanted to keep Glen Mason.)

-Marxhausen:  The Field of Dreams cliché was thrown right out the window. When the ground-breaking for TCF Bank Stadium was done the University went by that motto, “build it and they will come.” The stadium was beautiful and shiny when the Gophers first started playing there and was filled to the brim with fans. Although the hype around the team was way too big, there was still excitement around Gophers football. Slowly, but surely, the interest has died out quickly because of the lack of success on the field. The Gopher attendance has been dropping so low that even then athletic director Joel Maturi made the announcement that they were going to bring in a big name to take over for fired coach Tim Brewster. Many interviews later the Gophers settled on Jerry Kill from Northern Illinois, which did not spark the interest or the hype Maturi had hoped for. Although Kill has only had one year to turn the program around, the expectations of a losing season loom in every fan’s mind. I am not surprised that the students would rather sleep in on Saturdays than wake up early to watch their football team get routed by the competition. Once they start winning again, the students will come.

-Larson:  The new stadium was the product of an athletic director who was in over his head and several influential alumni (WCCO radio’s Dave Mona and company) who were giddy over the prospect of the Gopher marching band strutting down University Avenue and into TCF Bank Stadium with thousands of delirious students trailing behind. That hasn’t happened. It was predicted here that a new on-campus stadium would do little to excite a student body composed largely of students not from Minnesota. It was predicted here that, without a big name head coach, the Gopher football program would continue to flounder and the stadium stood a good chance of becoming an on-campus white elephant. Sadly, there’s more excitement when a rock band performs at the stadium than when the Gophers take the field. One student was quoted in last week’s story saying, “we lose a lot, so there’s not really a reason to go to a game.” The silliest quote in the story was from Bob Hughes, president of the University Goal Line football booster club, who blamed the lack of student attendance on the team playing at the Metrodome for three decades. Hey, Bob, students weren’t going to games at Memorial Stadium for many years prior to the move to the Metrodome and one reason for the move to the Metrodome was to spark student attendance. I admire Luther and others for supporting the Twins and Gophers even when the teams aren’t performing well. But, they’re in the minority in today’s “win-win” society.

Instead of new stadium for the Gophers, the plan should have been to build a new stadium for the Gophers AND the Minnesota Vikings to share.

Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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