Twins fans should enjoy Brian Dozier while they can. The All Star second baseman is a free agent following this season and there’s been no report of a contract extension. It’s not clear if the Twins have even approached Dozier. The lack of buzz around this situation is baffling. The 30-year-old has been the team’s most marketable player. Handsome, wholesome, articulate and polished.
He’s also been the Twins best player of the Target Field era. Dozier has even sometimes been the only reason to watch the team during their recent run of forgettable seasons. Especially in 2016, when he belted 42 homeruns, best in Twins history for a guy not named Killebrew.
Despite a below market, 4-year, $20 million contract he signed prior to the 2015 season, Dozier has never publicly lobbied for a renegotiation or extension. And, while his name was floated in trade rumors for months during the 2016-17 offseason, Dozier acted with the utmost professionalism.
I caught up with the 7-year veteran in the Twins clubhouse on April 12.
DZ: Just talk about the difference in optimism or attitude coming into this spring training versus last year.
DOZIER: This year’s completely different. Each and every spring training and when you get the season started and everything the mindset’s always pretty much there because everyone’s, everyone’s in first place there’s no losses. That kind of thing.
But there seemed to have been with this spring training our new additions that we had and coming off, getting a taste of the post season the year before, everything seemed to be rolling in the right direction which escalates our confidence level. And that was a huge thing, just the, I hate to use this word – the swaggerness about ourselves and the confidence that we had at spring training to start the season. But you’ve got to have that at this level and that’s kind of how it’s been.
DZ: What is the biggest take away from last year for you?
DOZIER: Well, I could sit here and talk to you all day about it but one of the biggest things for me was the excitement of playing meaningful baseball at the end of the season. And the excitement of, I know it was just one game of the post season, it was my only post-season I’ve ever been to but even if it was just a taste of it, it makes you fall in love with the game. And I’m not saying I’ve fallen out of love with the game by any means, but for six straight years losing takes a toll on you. Especially when you’re geared towards winning, winning, winning. That’s why you come to the park and when you don’t do that it takes a toll on you. So, that kind of rejuvenated me in the aspect of falling in love with the game.
DZ: How long did it take you to get over the wild card loss?
DOZIER: You know it was, it lingered on for (a while). I’m a guy that usually forgets very easily. But that kind of stuck with me a little bit. Just because, just where…I really thought we were a better team. They beat us obviously, but it just goes to show you that even one-game playoffs aren’t the most conducive to how baseball works. Obviously, it’s always series, series, series and you get a one-game (playoff), but at the same time it stuck with me for a little while.
DZ: You guys had kind of a meeting after the trade deadline, would you look at that as the turning point of the season?
DOZIER: People like to blow that up a little too much because we had those types of meetings throughout the whole year. It just happened to be the timing of it and we just kind of wanted to get the boys together for a lot of different reasons but make sure everyone knows that we’re still a really, really good baseball team.
Even though they might have, you know, got rid of our All Star closer. But at the same time, we responded, I wouldn’t even really call it a response to the trade deadline because it was just more assurance that we’re really good and just keep doing what we’re doing. And when you lose people, other people have to step up and Matt Belisle did that and the rest of our bullpen better than anybody.
DZ: How about just you as a leader too, do you feel like you took the next step in that direction last year?
DOZIER: Leadership’s not the – no one ever got labeled as the leader; rah-rah or hold team meetings and all that kind of stuff. That’s not what a leader is and I think for me, it helped me out a lot. Like I told you earlier, I’ve fallen more in love with the game, being rejuvenated by that. When you’re going through that kind of stuff and you’re going through the dog-days, going through – (having) been in the trenches the past six years, and then once that’s brought to light, it rejuvenates you. As an individual, as a person, as a leader, all that kind of stuff. You could take away, I could take away a lot of different things that I learned for myself from going from such a losing team to one of the better teams.
DZ: You won the Gold Glove last year. What did that mean to you?
DOZIER: It kind of is what it is. It’s a cool accomplishment. I’ve seen a lot of people that are very deserving of it that have not won it. So, it’s kind of, I don’t know how much weight it really carries, but at the same time it’s just kind of a thing that will look good in a man cave one day.
DZ: Where is it right now?
DOZIER: I actually get it tomorrow (April 13). I haven’t even seen it. They present it to me tomorrow on the field, if we get the game in.
DZ: Yeah. And you think that’s something like maybe when you’re done playing you’ll notice more? You’ll think about more?
DOZIER: Yeah, well you know I’m not a huge collector or a huge memorabilia fan or a huge trophy guy and all that kind of stuff. But, I think that one day I’ll look back on it and show my kids, that could be a cool display or something.
You are in a class of in the big kind of scheme of things, of all the people that’s played, a class of its own, but to me to be honest with you, all those people around me Joe Mauer playing to my left, Escobar, Polanco, Buxton in centerfield, all those. They make each other better, we all make each other better…I wish they gave out nine of them.
DZ: Yeah, you mentioned Joe Mauer too; the left side infield’s been a little more…hectic, but it’s been you and Joe on the right side basically the last few years. How has your relationship with him evolved?
DOZIER: Speaking defensively, it’s kind of is what it is. First base, second base, we have really good communication as far as balls to get to, fly balls, all that kind of stuff. And that kind of goes hand in hand with all around the league. But Joe doesn’t talk Gold Glove stuff, I’ve never seen a guy have a better year defensively than he has. So that’s what I mean as far as how much winning the (Gold Glove) award needs to be given. But Joe’s a steady, steady player. A true professional and I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.
DZ: Last year you had off-season trade talk, this year you get free agency, how does all that effect you?
DOZIER: Man, you just let the chips fall where they may. It’s obviously the past few years have been different off season per se, but at the same time you just go out and play. And I’ve learned that over the years that the more you don’t get caught up in all that and just keep the game kind of fun and play to win with your brothers and teammates and that’s it. That’s what means the most and you just got to keep doing that. All that stuff it’s you know, it’ll follow.
DZ: I know you’re a Saint’s fan, what did you think of the whole Minneapolis Miracle?
DOZIER: Yeah, I am a big Saints fan. I think my wife, who is from New Orleans, she’s a bigger Saint’s fan than I am and she was kind of bummed out more than I was…mainly because of throughout the years, anytime I know guys, develop friendships with guys on the Viking’s team, that kind of trumps than being like a, I would see them do well (rather) than just be being a Saint’s fan. That kind of means a little more to me.