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Danecdotes: Hey big spenders … in Minnesota?!

I'm not used to Minnesota teams making waves in the trade and free agent markets, but more and more, they're doing just that.

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I grew up on the Minnesota pro teams being “small-market,” and I don’t mean that just because we aren’t New York, Los Angeles or Miami.

Either star players wanted to be traded (Kevin Garnett, Randy Moss) or owners did not want to pay star players what they could get on the open market, so simply let them go (Johan Santana, Torii Hunter).

It always felt like this state’s teams either could not or did not want to hang on to the talented, high-value athletes.

High-level trades that brought superstars here almost never happened – and usually backfired when they did, such as with the Vikings and Herschel Walker – and big-time free agent signings were few and far between.

In fact, the only one I can think of in the first 25 years of my life is the Vikings signing Brett Favre.

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But that has seemingly changed in the past five years or so across all four sports, and it has made for some more entertaining teams.

For example, the Twins have shown they are willing to pay for talent over the past few years.

Sure, they did pay out for Joe Mauer’s lengthy contract in 2010, but after that it felt like they kept the checkbook closed for about eight years.

Signing guys like Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson led to a few division titles in the past few years, but they still have not been able to pick up a single postseason win.

The most prominent one came this year with the signing of all-star infielder Carlos Correa to a three-year, $105 million contract. They did this along with extending center fielder Byron Buxton’s contract, keeping him in Minnesota for the rest of this decade.

It seems to be working, because after a disappointing 2021 season, the Twins are leading the division once again. To keep leading, however, they just may have to spend some more money to improve the pitching staff.

Perhaps the most prominent – and most hotly debated – example of a Minnesota team breaking out the wallet for a free agent is the Vikings signing quarterback Kirk Cousins back in 2018.

For a very brief period right when he was signed, the Vikings made Cousins the highest-paid QB in the league, which was an issue for many since he did not have much high-level success prior to that.

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A lot of fans say he is overpaid, but I have to be honest here. Aside from a few QBs still on rookie contracts – who will likely be paid handsomely in a few years – I don’t really see anybody under center in the NFL being better than Cousins while also being paid less.

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Since then, they have given hefty contracts to defenders like Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith, as well as key offensive players like Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook. They also gave Cousins himself an extension worth even more money.

And at the rate top-tier receivers are being paid right now, just wait until Justin Jefferson’s contract talks start up.

And how about the Timberwolves? I never thought I’d be talking about them as “big spenders,” but here we are.

After making the playoffs for just the second time since I was a middle-schooler, the Wolves went out and made perhaps the biggest trade of the offseason (unless, of course, Kevin Durant still gets traded, but I don’t think that is happening before the season starts). They acquired Utah center Rudy Gobert – perhaps the best defensive big man of the past decade – in exchange for five players and four first-round draft picks.

Now, that is a huge haul for just one player, but Gobert’s very presence turns Minnesota’s greatest weakness from the past year – rim protection – into a considerable strength. On top of that, it allows Karl-Anthony Towns to play at power forward instead of center, which he prefers. Hopefully, he can excel there.

It’s also worth noting that Gobert is still under contract for three years and about $120 million.

On top of that, the Wolves decided Towns should stick around for the long haul, giving him a supermax extension (four years, $224 million). I would bet pretty heavily they throw plenty of money at 20-year-old Anthony Edwards when the time comes as well.

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Even the Wild have gotten in on this a bit. Young forward Kirill Kaprizov is maybe the most exciting thing on Minnesota ice since Mike Modano, so the Wild decided to hang onto him with a five-year, $45 million extension.

While I complain plenty about the ludicrous contracts these athletes have, I have actually been somewhat pleased by the local teams at least making an effort to put a consistently competitive team on the field, court or ice. Hopefully, at least some of it works out and we fans have something to reminisce about in a few years.

Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.

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Dan Determan

Opinion by Dan Determan
Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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