Patrick Reusse
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FORT MYERS, FLA. – There are varied reasons to look skeptically at Joe Pohlad in his second year as the ownership family's daily presence in the Twins operation.

First of all, there was that declaration of the "new era" of Twins baseball in mid-November 2022, when Joe and emcee Juice Sutton showed off new hats that looked like the Miami Marlins' at the Mall of America.

I have another complaint that might be isolated. It's that title he gave himself: "executive chair." I know it's supposed to reduce all hints of corporate sexism, but there has to be something that does that and sounds less precious.

This is baseball. Us fans are old. We don't do "executive chair." We like president, general manager, that stuff.

There has been a greater issue facing the 41-year-old representative from the third generation of Pohlad ownership since Tuesday, when Joe did an interview on the flagship station WCCO-AM and gave this guarantee:

The Twins aren't going to bring in an expensive starting pitcher to replace Sonny Gray, who gave them 184 innings with a 2.79 ERA as a 33-year-old in 2023.

Sonny used his free agency to join the St. Louis Cardinals' age movement by signing a three-year, $75 million contract.

Other old-comers to the Cards starting staff are Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn, both 36, and representing two extremes of the personality meter for former Twins: good old Gibby and ornery old Lance.

I'm going with this as Pohlad's biggest blunder in last week's interview: suggesting the Twins might operate more like the Tampa Bay Rays, the unloved, miracle organization of modern big-league baseball.

The Rays' payroll reached a record-high of $74 million to start 2023, which was less than half of the Twins' record $155 million that they used to finally win playoff games last October.

The Twins let it be known shortly after that brief euphoria the payroll was going down. That's due to the money-losing that has taken place since the large number of millions that went out the window during the 60-game pandemic season of 2020.

The Pohlads were among the few MLB owners to pay their non-playing employees during the COVID-19 shutdown, which doesn't get them points on X (Twitter) or with Star Tribune commenters.

The Twins are sitting at $114 million right now. They are not going to be the Rays in payroll (currently at $88 million), and likely not in baseball department creativity.

There's no doubt the key difference between the 2022 Twins (78-84) and the division-winning 2023 Twins (87-75) were the number of innings and quality of those for starting pitchers.

Gray's outstanding season, with 32 starts and those 184 innings, compared to 24 starts and 119⅔ innings in 2022, contributed considerably.

And we Luis Arraez fans must admit the biggest change in the winning 2023 Twins was the addition of an ace, Pablo López, with 32 starts, 194 innings and a 3.66 ERA.

The 2022 Twins were bottom three in the big leagues in total innings from starters with 782⅔. The 2023 Twins were fourth in innings from starters with 895.

Guess what?

If I'm running a club with a $120 million or a $150 million payroll, either way, I'm not going three years and $75 million for Gray. I'm going to take a shot with Louie Varland, David Festa, etc.

I went to the Hammond Stadium parking lot 90 minutes before the Grapefruit League opener between the Twins and Pittsburgh on Saturday to test this theory.

There were only a few gaggles of fans loitering around a grill at that point, including a mixed group of Minnesotans and North Dakotans.

The North Dakota segment included an opinion that this will be the best lineup and deepest pitching staff the Twins have assembled in a number of years.

Sounded too optimistic.

I went to a younger fan, Calvin Moehrle of Minneapolis, to check his opinion on the current payroll controversy.

Me: "Calvin, with this chosen name that screams baseball wisdom, do you feel the Twins should have set the payroll high enough to bring back Sonny Gray?"

Calvin, placing a ketchup-splashed hot dog away from his mouth, contemplated, then said:

"Yes, I think they should have … probably."

Me: "What do you have there?"

Calvin: "I have a ball with Royce Lewis' autograph and a Twins cap with more autographs.''

Thank you, Calvin, age 8. Your opinion is calm and more rational than many others I've run across the past few days.