Sportswriters: Time to give up on Ponder? Twins move Mauer, add Molitor

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

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Seattle Seahawks 41-20 Sunday in Seattle. Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder had a horrible game, completing 13 of 22 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. His two interceptions early in the fourth quarter led to 14 Seattle points and ended any hopes the Vikings had. Both interceptions were thrown directly into the hands of Seattle defenders. Is it time to scratch Ponder as the starting quarterback and begin looking at Josh Freeman and the 2014 college draft?

-Dorr: I watched the game only through the drive where Ponder hit four passes for 70-plus yards and tied the game at 10-10 with a touchdown pass, so it’s difficult for me to comment. I did see some star quarterbacks throw interceptions directly to  defenders in some of the other games I watched Sunday. Did anyone think Minnesota was going to beat Seattle? I didn’t.  Sure, play Freeman (you paid for him), play Cassel or play Ponder – it won’t make much difference for the Vikes against most teams. Maybe Toby Gerhart, who I’m told looked very good, should play more at running back. It couldn’t hurt.

-Marxhausen: Christian Ponder can be a winning quarterback, but can not do it consistently. When the team is relying on him to get back into a game, he usually comes up short.  Yes, the team finished 10-6 last season under Ponder, but the argument there lies in that Adrian Peterson finished with 2,097 rushing yards. If Josh Freeman is serious remaining with Minnesota and playing with this offense, then start him now and get him familiar with his teammates. If Freeman isn’t going to stay with the team, let someone else get the snaps. This team needs chemistry and camaraderie, so it’s time to find out if Freeman, Ponder or Matt Cassel is the quarterback of the future.. The college draft could be the way to go as well, seeing which players are available. It appears the 2014 draft will have several big-time quarterbacks.

-Larson: I’ve admired Ponder’s toughness. He’s taken several huge hits this season and managed to get back on his feet. That said, he’s not the Viking quarterback of the future, let alone the present. Fans won’t allow it and they’re the ones the team needs to keep interested as it moves into an expensive stadium. A team can’t have its fans booing its quarterback and doubting his competence. Adrian Peterson’s fantastic 2012 season carried Minnesota into the playoffs. But, the National Football League is a passing league and quarterbacks are the pivotal players. Josh Freeman, ready or not, should be the team’s quarterback for the rest of the season. The time to see if he can play is now. If he’s a flop, then look to the college draft.

-Johnson: The time for the Vikings to give up on Christian Ponder came early this season, his third as starting quarterback after taking over early in the 2011 season.  If a quarterback hasn’t developed in two-plus seasons, it is time to move on.  Recently, a number of quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson have proven to come in and lead their team to the playoffs in their rookie seasons.  The Vikings have now paid Josh Freeman $1 million to play in just one terrible game against the Giants. It would be hard for owner Zygi Wilf to justify signing Freeman if the team doesn’t plan on using him, wouldn’t it?  The Vikings must give Freeman the final six games of the season if they want to give him an honest chance at being the quarterback in 2014.

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•Question: Last week the Minnesota Twins announced that star catcher Joe Mauer will be moved to first base next season. Mauer suffered a concussion Aug. 19 when a foul tip hit his catcher’s mask. He didn’t play in Minnesota’s final 39 games. What do you think of the move?

-Dorr: After this season ended I did some math and found that Mauer has averaged only 118 games a year (out of 162) in his 10 years with the Twins. If this move helps in that area it will be a good thing. It will likely leave the Twins with little power from the first base slot, traditionally one of baseball’s power positions. He does offer a lifetime batting average of .323 and a very good on-base percentage of .405. However, since hitting 28 homers and driving in 96 runs in his MVP season of 2009, Joe has averaged only 120 games a year in the following four years, only 8 homers and 59 RBIs a year, and hit for a .317 average. More disturbing, he struck out once in every five at-bats last season while not demonstrating much power. Maybe the move will up his power numbers and he likely will be an adequate first baseman. By the way, who’s going to catch?

-Marxhausen: The move could prove to be a costly one for the Twins. As a catcher Mauer was a valuable asset because he hit over .300. Now he is at first base with not much power for a first baseman. The team is losing power at that position. The move is good for Mauer, as it limits his chances of having another concussion. Defensively, he has the size and athleticism to cover a lot of ground around first base.

-Larson:  The Twins are protecting Mauer…and their huge investment. Mauer is no help if he can’t play and the move to first base should keep him on the field and in the lineup full time. While his value may not be as great at first base, it’s better than not having him in the lineup at all. Mauer says the effects of his concussion are gone but we’ll know more about that in a few months.

-Johnson: The move to first base was inevitable for Mauer.  Injuries have kept him off the field far too much in his career.  The Twins need his bat in the lineup and the only way to ensure that is to move him to first base.  It is sad, however, that the Twins will pay him over $23 million in 2014 to be an “average” first baseman.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Mauer is one of the most talented hitters that I have ever watched.  With the exception of last season, Joe was extremely hard to strike out and could hit any of the best pitchers in baseball.  But as a first baseman, Mauer would have ranked 33rd in home runs, 30th in RBIs, and 19th in extra-base hits in 2013.  Is that the kind of first baseman the Twins want on their payroll for $23 million?  I  agree that he is worth that as a full time catcher if he plays nearly every day, but not as a first baseman.

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•Question: Also, a few weeks ago the Twins announced that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor has been added to the coaching staff. Molitor will oversee baserunning, bunting, infield instruction and positioning. He will also assist with in-game strategy from the dugout. What do you think of the move?

-Dorr: If I remember right, Molitor has worked with the team in spring training for a few years and now it sounds like a full-time deal. He was a great player but I know nothing about his coaching experience or coaching abilities. If he can help with some of those things, fine. We do know a lot of the players need help with baserunning but that’s mostly an instinctive thing. I don’t see it as a major move for the team.

-Marxhausen: Molitor leaves his old duties as minor-league baserunning and infield coordinator from 2005-2013. He is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and if he is able to aid the Twins with his knowledge and expertise, then by all means add him to the staff. Twenty-one seasons brought Molitor a career .306 batting average with 3,319 career hits and 504 steals. A lot of what he will be doing is much needed and he will be kept busy working with the team’s young players. They have a lot to learn and have to play small-ball if they are going to compete.

-Larson:  Remember the dozens and dozens of times the past three seasons you saw a bewildered manager Ron Gardenhire on your TV screen, staring out at the field with his arms hanging over the dugout rail? Often, pitching coach Rick Anderson was at his side, looking just as puzzled. We’ll see that same picture many times next season, only it will likely include a third party – Molitor. It was reported that Gardenhire endorsed the decision to add Molitor to the staff and may have even suggested it. But, it can’t be too comfortable having your potential replacement being just a few feet away when things are going badly. And, despite Molitor’s presence, things will be going badly again next season. But, maybe old “Gardy” isn’t looking much past 2014 and he will pass on a few tips to the fans’ choice as next Twins manager. After all, Gardenhire had some good times as manager before the “curse of Target Field.” Molitor’s presence is a plus but some would argue that many Twins players are beyond help.

-Johnson: This was a great addition for the Twins.  Molitor was a student of the game throughout his playing career and became one of the smartest players during his era.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind he will be a great reference for young (and older) Twins players to use.  When rumors surfaced about the possibility of the Twins not signing Ron Gardenhire as manager, Paul Molitor’s name was mentioned as a candidate for replacement.  This may be a perfect avenue for Molitor to take in hopes of becoming Gardenhire’s successor.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? 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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