MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins were smitten after one season of Carlos Correa’s hitting, defense, intelligence, experience and leadership. The belief in those traits was strong enough to commit a franchise-record amount of guaranteed money for at least the next six years.
They badly needed a jolt for their brand off the field, too.
Correa picked two other teams before returning to Minnesota after those agreements fell through, but his $200 million contract was still pretty sweet for a fan base weary of a two-decade wait since the last time the Twins won a playoff series.
“There’s a lot of excitement inside the building for sure from the business side of the operation to the baseball side, but also I hear from fans and from people around town, ‘He chose to come back here,’” President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said.
“Obviously, the route was unique and the way he got here, but we were always on his radar, and I think at the end of the day that always feels good when you’re a fan of the team or you’re someone who works for the team.”
Correa, making his first winter visit to Minnesota on a weekend that turned particularly frigid, was the star attraction at the team’s sold-out annual fan festival that included more than 60 current and former players on hand for autographs and interactions.
“There is definitely excitement. They believe that we’re a team that can go out there in the playoffs and get on a good run, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Correa said Saturday at Target Field during a break between TwinsFest appearances.
The Twins drew 1.8 million fans in 2022, their lowest attendance total for a season without pandemic-prompted seating restrictions since 2001 when they played at the cramped Metrodome and carried a streak of eight straight losing records.
Crowd sizes are influenced by many factors beyond actual team performance, of course, but spending 108 days in first place before a late injury-fueled fate was not enough for the Twins to get the masses excited about their club even after some initial buzz from Correa’s surprise signing the first time last March.
When the Twins traded batting champion Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins last week for starting pitcher Pablo López and two prospects, there was plenty of public backlash about losing a popular player. For team president Dave St. Peter, that wasn’t necessarily a negative.
“I think the interest level in the 2023 Twins has ascended dramatically from where we were in November,” St. Peter said, expecting the attendance total this year to increase past 2 million.
The Twins in six seasons under Falvey have made the playoffs three times but failed to win a game while extending their record streak to 18 straight postseason losses. What this regime doesn’t have to prove is a willingness to aggressively and creatively pursue improvement, with the acquisition of Correa for a second time the most famous example.
“Hopefully it’s a feather in everyone’s cap that the way he was treated, the way he went through his year here, even in a year where at the end of the year we struggled on the field, he still felt there was real optimism about this club,” Falvey said. “And that makes everyone else feel better, too.”
Third baseman Jose Miranda, a fellow native of Puerto Rico, was one of the several Twins who kept in regular contact with Correa during the roller-coaster negotiation that included deals with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets that collapsed over long-term concern about his ankle.
“We were like, ‘Oh, OK, he’s gone,’ and then all of a sudden that happened that he comes back, and everyone is excited,” Miranda said. “Because he’s a game changer.”
Manager Rocco Baldelli said he long had a sense that Correa would wind up staying.
“It’s not like if you want something it precludes you from ever having other options or wanting something else,” Baldelli said, “but I always felt that this was a very important place for him and a place that he could spend the rest of his baseball career.”
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Minnesota Twins’ Carlos Correa stretches as he gets ready for baseball batting practice at Hammond Stadium Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)