Here’s a very basic web site that has some very good information all in one place: the opening day payrolls of every MLB team from 1998-present.
That has allowed us to show you where the Twins have ranked every year during that span:
2000: 30th (last)
2001: 30th (last)
What do these numbers tell us? Well, there are nuances — but here are some things we think they tell us as we go back through the years:
*When they were constantly rebuilding and not even trying to compete in the late 1990s/2000, the payroll reflected it.
*When they won their first division title in 2002 with a very young core, they got away with a dirt cheap roster.
*When the Twins kept winning in the mid-2000s and some of their better young players started making more money, their payroll jumped from bottom of the barrel to lower-middle (18th-20th from 2003-07).
*Without Johan Santana and Torii Hunter in 2008, the payroll again dipped as the Twins successfully rebuilt on the fly — hence getting away with lower payrolls with a new young core even though both seasons featured a Game 163 (one win, one loss).
*When the Twins moved into Target Field, some of those players were due to get paid, while the organization was suddenly flush with cash for the first time. Free agents came in. Payroll climbed to higher levels than at any other time from 2010-12 — one very good season and two other dreadful seasons.
*In the past two seasons, in the midst of a rebuild, the Twins scaled back the payroll as they went with younger players.
In short: The Twins have had the most success during this span when they develop successful young cores with modest payrolls. When they have run into trouble is when their young players aren’t ready to compete yet (recent seasons, plus the late 1990s) or when a high-budget veteran roster all falls apart at once (2011, 2012).
The Twins in 2015 figure to be around 25th in the majors in payroll. If things go exceedingly well and next year is a lot like 2001 (a young core blossoming at once), they will likely get away with a couple more years of lower payrolls while still being competitive until those young players get paid and bump the payroll back toward the middle of the pack. If the Twins’ brass is feeling particularly good about those teams, they might make a short-term run at some higher-priced players and bump the payroll into the top-10 range, though they will certainly be wary of the lessons learned in 2011.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway not only suited up for practice today, but was a full participant for the first time since breaking his ribs and his left hand in the Week 2 loss to the Patriots. His presence at practice this early in the week was a positive sign that he could return this weekend.
Gerald Hodges, the man who replaced him in the starting lineup, did not practice today after injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s loss to the Lions. During the second quarter of that game, he was briefly replaced by Audie Cole while he was checked out by trainers but returned to finish the game.
Cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring), defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) were the three other Vikings players who did not practice today.
Defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd (elbow and ankle) and Linval Joseph (ankle) were limited in practice.
Safety Harrison Smith (ankle), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were listed as full participants. Ford was a new addition to the injury report after this weekend.
And, finally, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was officially removed from the report. He was dealing with a stomach bug yesterday and may still be today, but his ankle issue appears to be behind him.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was in an upbeat mood this morning, even telling us that he was happy to see us (right back at you, Coach). And while he doesn’t seem to be much of a numbers guy, he came to his press conference locked and loaded with a statistical trend from the team’s four losses.
“The two games we’ve won, we’ve had no turnovers and no sacks [allowed],” he said. “The games we lost, we’ve had 10 turnovers and  sacks. That kind of tells you where it’s at right there.”
But while he was chatty today, he only gave us one word when he was asked if we will see the same five starting offensive linemen this weekend when the Vikings travel to play the Bills.
“Possibly,” Zimmer replied.
I outlined the offensive line situation in yesterday’s newspaper, and one of the theoretical changes could be starting rookie David Yankey, who has yet to be activated for a game this season, over one of the veteran starters, Charlie Johnson or Vlad Ducasse. But Zimmer, a few minutes after noting that it took time for Bills defenders Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus to develop into quality pros, explained why Yankey (and rookie defensive end Scott Crichton) have been brought along slowly.
“They’re both getting better,” Zimmer said. “Crichton has been close to being activated. He was active for the first week. But unfortunately you can only dress 46 [players]. Yankey, he’s getting better. We’re just trying to get him better with his technique and some of the things that he does.”
He added: “Sometimes the maturation process of [certain] young players takes a little bit longer.”
Speaking of rookies maturing, running back Jerick McKinnon showed the coaching staff enough to give him the start last weekend against the Lions. But Zimmer said today that he wants to give the man he replaced, Matt Asiata, more carries than the two he had against the Lions.
“I just like Asiata,” Zimmer said. “He’s got some physicality. He’s played well this year. He had that one fumble against Green Bay but that was after a 12-yard run. Matt’s an extremely dependable guy and I anticipate that when he carries the ball he’s going to get some yardage.”
Speaking of dependable players, outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who has missed the past three games with broken ribs, will practice today, according to Zimmer. That is a sign that Greenway might be ready to return to the field this weekend, but we’ll see how the week goes.
Apart from the opening drive, the Vikings defense played much better in the 17-3 loss to the Lions on Sunday. That includes cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who has been inconsistent through the first six weeks.
“Me personally, I got to play better,” Munnerlyn said. “I know I get to play better, just learning the people around me and learn how to play with these guys and make more plays on the ball.”
Munnerlyn improved in coverage against the Lions, who played without wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush. Per Pro Football Focus, Munnerlyn was thrown at six times, a season-high, by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions had three catches for 23 yards on Munnerlyn. It was a season-low 59.7 NFL rating for the cornerback against opposing quarterbacks.
Munnerlyn has allowed three touchdowns this season and has been involved in a few breakdowns in coverage. There have been some communication issues in the secondary, which Munnerlyn said he’ll take the blame as the nickel cornerback and six-year veteran.
“That starts with me; me being the nickelback and sliding in, making checks, making calls and making sure everyone got them,” Munnerlyn said. “It starts with me. I put it on my shoulders. I got big shoulders, so I can put it on my shoulders and take the blame for that and just get better; get everyone on one accord and get better in the secondary to make plays.”
While they avoided Johnson, the Vikings will be tasked with stopping speedy rookie receiver Sammy Watkins on Sunday against the Bills. He has 26 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns this season.
“Man, he’s fast,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s fast. I watched him when [Patriots cornerback] Darrelle Revis was playing him last week. He made a couple of great catches on Revis, and we know the type of player Darrelle Revis. He’s very explosive and has got good feet and great hands. You’ve got stay on top of him and compete with him.”
We wrote today for the Newspaper Of The Twin Cities about the Vikings’ seven recent first-round draft picks — all of whom were chosen by GM Rick Spielman in the past three drafts, which is a volume of first-round picks unprecedented in a three-year span for any NFL team over the last quarter-century.
The general sentiment was that Spielman is inevitably linked to those seven picks, as they will largely, as a collective, determine how successful the Vikings’ rebuilding project is. Whenever you have that many shots at elite talent, they need to pay off.
We noted that all seven have shown anywhere from flashes of brilliance to consistently strong play, but all have had setbacks of varying degrees as well.
In this venue, we pose a question:
Assuming that Matt Kalil (the first of the seven picks) and Teddy Bridgewater (the last of the seven picks) are the most important individuals in determining the success of the Vikings, in what order would you put the other five when it comes to their importance to the future of the team?
(Or, if you disagree that Kalil and/or Bridgewater are at the top of the list, we’d love to hear that reasoning as well).
Our order goes like this:
Bridgewater, Kalil, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Cordarrelle Patterson and Sharrif Floyd. The logic? Secondary play is the most important part of a defense these days, so Rhodes and Smith go right behind two guys who are largely influential in the offensive passing game. Barr is next because he has the ability to be an elite game-changer. Patterson after that because, as good as he can be as a field-stretcher, finding capable wide receivers and return men is not as daunting a task as restocking other positions. Floyd is last because as an interior lineman his contributions are less important, or at least less noticeable, in today’s game.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
The situation: Down 7-0, the Vikings faced a 1st and 10 at the Lions’ 15 with 8:07 left in the first quarter. They attempted a pass to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
The reason: They looked to cap an impressive opening drive with a touchdown on a play action pass. The Vikings hoped to catch the Lions off guard with the play and cash in six points.
The result: Lions safety Glover Quin intercepted rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s pass in the end zone and returned it to the 18.
How it happened:
The Vikings motioned tight end Rhett Ellison (circled in yellow) from the left side of the formation into the backfield in an offset “I” formation. Wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings lined up on the right side, with Jennings on the outside. The Lions were in their base 4-3 defense.
As the play developed, Jennings (circled in blue) cutted inside while Patterson (circled in yellow) went outside. Both ran post routes, also known as a “Dino” route. Quin hovered over both receivers but kept his eye Patterson. So did Bridgewater, who stared at him the entire play, right before Patterson broke into his post route. If you look at the pocket, Bridgewater had great protection on this play.
Just as Bridgewater was set to throw the ball, Quin (circled in red) shuffled his feet and baited the rookie quarterback to throw it to Patterson (circled in yellow). Just as he did, Quin hustled over to make a play.
Here’s the end zone camera angle to give a better perspective. The ball was still in Bridgewater’s hands when Quin (circled in red) jumped the route. Jennings (circled in blue) was covered by a linebacker dropping into zone coverage. Once he got over the linebackers on his route, Jennings was wide open at this point.
Bridgewater didn’t look at Jennings (circled in blue) and Quin (circled in red) was in perfect position to make the catch and stall the Vikings opening drive.
“They tried to disguise it with the formation, but once it was snapped, it played out like I thought it would,” Quin told MLive.com after the game. As MLive.com noted, the Lions struggled to defend “Dino” routes against the Panthers in Week 2.
There’s two things here that Bridgewater did uncharacteristically to create the awful play. Bridgewater is pretty advanced for a rookie in terms of manipulating safeties and reading through his progressions. He did neither on this play and acknowledged after the game the throw was a poor decision.
“I just expected [Quin] to run with the inside guy; I believe it was Greg,” Bridgewater said. ” He made a great play. Detroit, they have a great defense and those guys were prepared to play us. In that situation, I just have to see the safety. I was expecting him to run with Greg and he ran to the outside receiver and he made a play.”
Who knows how the game would’ve played out if the Vikings score even three points on that drive. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford struggled without wide receiver Calvin Johnson and a porous offensive line. That offense will not beat a team without Johnson as evident as it was at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings never clicked on offense after that first drive, scoring just three points. The interception was one of three for Bridgewater, with one deflected at the line of scrimmage and the other going through running back Matt Asiata’s hands.
“There’s some throws that you’re not going to be able to control and there will be things that happen throughout the course of a game that you won’t be able to control,” Bridgewater said. “But at the same time, for me, it was an eye-opener. After my performance against Atlanta, I believe the expectation level is high. But I have a high expectation level for myself also. After today, I’m just going to get back, watch the tape, prepare for Buffalo.”
Bridgewater’s second career start was definitely a learning experience. The growing pains were expected with the rookie quarterback, but Bridgewater was capable of making a better decision on this particular play.