1. With the Twins season starting this week, what is one thing you hope to see from this team?
Nate Leer: I would like to see management’s vision for the future taking shape. The team is going to be BAD this year so hopefully we see moves that build for 2018 and beyond. I will be interested in seeing if and how long Molitor manages all year. Unless the team surprises early, the front office could move on from Molly in the interest of getting “their guy” in place. I would just as soon see him stay and gets the chance to mold our young players into winners. Speaking of young players, I would also like to see as many with talent acquired this year. The team was smart to send down DH Byung Ho Park in order to keep more arms. It’s all about assets at this point. Trading vets for prospects needs to happen, starting with 2B Brian Dozier if he starts out hot. They should also consider cutting ties and eating money – even $23+ million of it – with vets who are blocking playing time for young talents. Example: they should cut Joe Mauer if it comes down to him or 1B Kennys Vargas on the roster. Don’t make an Ortiz-size mistake because of loyalty or popularity.
Kras: I would simply like to see the further development of the young guys who are supposed to be the future. Part of that would be seeing Miguel Sano becoming the power threat that we think he can be. Byron Buxton also needs to be more than just a defensive specialist this season. He had a good end of the 2016 season but that doesn’t mean anything going into this season. The other big area on this team that I hope shows some signs of improvement is the pitching, specifically the starters. Outside of Ervin Santana it is a mess of unproven arms. Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago have had moderate success in the past while Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia don’t have much of a track record if any. Outside of Santana it is hard to imagine any of the other pitchers winning more than 10 games. All signs point to another year of “rebuilding”. Be strong Twins fans!
2. With his recent hot streak, is Ricky Rubio more or less likely to be the starting PG for the Timberwolves in 2017-18?
Nate Leer: Tough question. While Rubio’s impressive play makes him more valuable on the trade market, it also makes him more important to this team. Rookie PG Kris Dunn has ability but is clearly not ready to lead a team that wants to make the playoffs sooner than later. If Rubio continues to play well through the end of the season, I think it makes him more likely to stay than leave. Right now he looks like a top 12 PG in the NBA. The Wolves would be better served to keep him around and think about moving Dunn or G Zach LaVine. With young scorers in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, a pass first, defensive minded PG is the perfect fit, as long as he can knock down open shots.
Kras: Unfortunately Rubio has shown more often than not that he can’t be an effective shooter. Any sort of hot streak that he gets on will only make a decision on what to do with him moving forward more difficult. Rubio may never develop into a good shooter and I would be one of the people who believe that. However, I also believe that Rubio does everything else well enough that he makes it hard for me to want to cut ties with him. The Wolves don’t have a better option on the roster nor are they likely to trade for a better option. I think he will be the starting PG for the Wolves going into the 2017-2018 season. If the Wolves can become a more cohesive unit on D moving forward, they won’t need so much on the offensive side of the ball.
3. With the NFL Draft now less than a month away, do you anticipate the Vikings moving up into the first round and what or who do you think they would be targeting?
Nate Leer: No, I don’t expect them to trade up all the way to the 1st round. I don’t think they should trade up at all. They have so many needs that I would rather see a trade back to acquire more 3rd or 4th round picks. No matter what they do, they will not be able to solve their biggest weakness through the draft (OT), at least not for this year. They signed Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to man the edge positions so adding a project for the long term and/or interior OL help is important. Those things can be accomplished in rounds 3 and 4. While the team needs depth at several positions including RB, WR, TE, DB, LB and DL, they seem to have starters in place across the board. That allows them to load up on depth for the future. The 3rd and 4th rounds are the perfect place to do just that.
Kras: I have to agree with Nate Leer on this one. They have no real reason to move up and deplete future assets any further. They will already be without a 4th round pick in 2018 due to the Sam Bradford trade. The Vikings would surely hate to be missing 2 of their top 4 picks going into next year’s draft if they trade one to move up this year. I would be surprised if they made the move. Project O-lineman, an RB, and now a DT are areas of need. The Vikings also need to do something at LB as they are exceptionally thin there as well.
1. The MLB season is underway and last year’s World Series participants look like the clear favorites in each league. Who is your pick from the AL and NL to go to the World Series other than the Cubs and Indians?
Kras: For my AL team, I would have to pick the Boston Red Sox. They have a quality starting rotation with solid pitchers to come out of the pen late in games and help lock down a victory. Most importantly, this team will have a lineup from top to bottom that will be hard on opposing pitchers. They lost David Ortiz but my guess is they have other stars who will step up and help fill the void left by the big DH. My NL choice would have to be the New York Mets. I am not sold on the lineup of aging veterans to be able to remain healthy all season but I do think they may have the pitching to overcome some of that. They are a deep team in both the starting rotation and, once Jeurys Familia returns, the bullpen. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom figure to be the 2 best in the rotation, Matt Harvey, Steve Matz, Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler will all factor in.
Nate Leer: I think Kras is spot on with picking the Red Sox in the AL for all the reasons he mentions. However, I am not confident in the Mets pitching getting healthy enough for them to seriously contend. Maybe, but I am not betting on it. I think one of the other big money teams – either the Dodgers or Nationals – or maybe the Giants are the most likely to unseat the Cubs come October. I like how San Fran is constructed so that is my pick, especially if they get a little more hitting.
2. Who do you think will win the 2017 Masters?
JJ Bens: To me the obvious pick is Dustin Johnson. If he doesn’t win, it will be impressive. Weather is the only x-factor that could tilt the field back towards finesse players a bit. Johnson would still be the favorite though. He is in some kind of zone right now!
Kras: I think JJ Benz is right, in that Dustin Johnson would be the obvious pick to win the Masters. However, Augusta National Golf course usually has a surprise or two in store for the field. DJ might not have been ranked as the #1 golfer in the world but he has been playing the best golf of anyone over the last year and I think his upward trend will continue this year. Seeing how this is the Masters and things don’t always work out the way they should, a few other golfers to watch this weekend are Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy. Rory can drive the ball as well as anyone but needs the putter to be working to have a chance on Sunday. Phil has been playing pretty solid golf as of late as well. Ever since his Open final round with Henrik Stenson, Phil has seemingly been rejuvenated and his short game could really come into play this week. Watson is a bit of a sneaky player. He has not played real well as of late but he does know what it takes to win at Augusta. Watson’s ability to shape his shot can get him out of some tricky situations and set him up for success. It should a final round worth watching on Sunday as always.
3. Was the NCAA Final Four Championship Game what you expected with North Carolina winning?
Kras: From a results standpoint, yes I thought the Tar Heels would be too much for the Zags and they would ultimately win. I did not think that Gonzaga would be able to run with them the entire game and even lead for much of it. I was impressed with how well the 3 man rotation of bigs played for the Zags. Killian Tillie, Zach Collins, and Przemek Karnowski each did a solid job, particularly the 2 freshman in Tillie and Collins. The Zags would have likely won this game if Karnowski could have hit a shot at any point in the first half. He was a bit more productive down the stretch when he was able to get to the line a handful of times and finish with 9 points. On the other side, Joel Berry II was came up big for the Tar Heels. He was able to hit some timely 3’s that kept the score close for NC and was their leading scorer with 22 points. I also think the play of Kennedy Meeks helped NC get the win. Meeks only scored 7 points and added 10 rebounds. His size and strength prevented anyone, mainly Karnowski, from being able to back down into the post for an easy 2 points. Overall it was a good, close game from start to finish that brings March Madness to a close.
Nate Leer: I definitely thought UNC would win and was surprised at how well the Zags competed. The biggest factor ended up being foul trouble for Gonzaga’s bigs. I think they lost their aggressive edge somewhat when each of the big 3 got their 4th fouls. That ended up being enough for the Heels to take the game that I found very entertaining. Both team’s have a mix of young talent and veteran leaders and the elite size of both teams, with skill, was cool to watch.