It’s Official – Paul Molitor Will Manage the Twins

Regardless of whether you believe the Minnesota Twins’ extended search for new manager was thorough or a sham to cover for what was a foregone conclusion all along, the wait is finally over and Paul Molitor is taking over the manager’s office at Target Field.

The Twins announced the hiring Monday morning and will hold a press conference at 10:00 am on Tuesday to introduce Molitor as their new manager, though the decision was leaked to the traditional media types in Minneapolis days earlier.

MolitorKelly

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly and new Twins manager Paul Molitor

Molitor wasn’t my first choice as manager, but I do believe he is qualified and potentially could be a very good choice. In fact, when you boil down all the criticisms of the choice of Molitor, they really come down to two points:

  • He was already employed by the Minnesota Twins.
  • He has never managed at any level of professional baseball.

I get that a certain segment of the Twins fanbase flat out did not want a manager who had any prior connection whatsoever to Twins organization. I understand that position, though I do not agree with it.

I do believe that part of the Twins’ problems has been that, as an organization, it has become a bit too insular. I think that it was important to hire a manager that brings a fresh approach to the manager position and that will be more open to new ideas than Ron Gardenhire appeared to be during his tenure with the Twins.

I just don’t believe that the only way you get that is to hire someone with absolutely no prior ties to the club. I think we’ll quickly notice that a team managed by Molitor is not simply Ron Gardenhire Part 2 (or Tom Kelly Part 3, if you prefer).

It sure appears, based on everything I’ve read and heard from people who know Molitor and have seen him work during his time as a minor league instructor and Major League coach, that he not only genuinely enjoys teaching the intricacies of baseball to young players, but he also continues to strive to learn more about the game, himself.

Many former elite ballplayers come across, as they age, as guys who think they already know all there is to know about the game because they were very, very good at it when they laced up their cleats – as though all knowledge of how to play the game is a finite base of knowledge that can never be improved upon.

Others simply seem to have trouble teaching the game to young players that, in most cases, simply do not have the kind of natural talent that they had during their playing days.

Neither of those factors appear to be the case with Molitor, so while I would be more comfortable with this choice if he did have some managing experience at some level of professional baseball, I don’t necessarily believe it should be considered a disqualifying factor for Molitor.

I don’t believe that General Manager Terry Ryan stretched out the process simply to appease the fan base before making the hire he intended to make all along. I think anyone who does believe that is being extremely cynical.

Of course, the Twins have given their fans plenty to be cynical about lately, so it’s not altogether unrealistic to suspect the worst in this case.

Perhaps I’m just a bigger believer in Terry Ryan than many are, but I trust that he set out to conduct a thorough search for the best candidate and he was not going to announce a hiring until that process was complete.

I also think it is possible – though not probable – that Ryan actually preferred Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo over Molitor, but was overruled by Jim Pohlad, who, by multiple reports, has had a strong relationship with Hall of Famer Molitor for years and strongly favored Molitor since the time Gardenhire was dismissed (if not before).

Honestly, since we’re on the subject of Pohlad’s relationship with Molitor, let me just throw out now, for the record, that I won’t be one bit surprised if, ultimately, Molitor succeeds Ryan as the Twins’ General Manager.

I can envision a scenario where Ryan may have favored Lovullo, but was unable to convince Pohlad that Lovullo was such a better choice than Molitor that Pohlad would be willing to risk seeing Molitor to walk away from the Twins organization altogether..

However, since this choice is likely to determine how Ryan’s legacy as Twins GM is ultimately judged, it is difficult for me to imagine him agreeing to hire a manager he did not personally believe was the right choice to help him turn the club’s fortunes around. I think Ryan is the sort who would resign rather than allow the Twins ownership to impose a manager on him that he did not support in this situation.

If, in fact, Ryan had a slight preference for Lovullo, but not so strong as to resign over Pohlad’s insistence on Molitor (if such was actually the case), then I could only conclude that the GM is very comfortable with Molitor, as well.

In the end, I’m encouraged that Ryan’s top two choices for the job both have reputations for utilizing technology and advanced metrics to prepare their teams for success on the field, something Gardenhire had a reputation (deserved or not) for resisting.

Along with the rest of Twinsville, I’ll be very interested to find out who Molitor and Ryan will decide upon to fill out the Twins’ big league coaching staff (could Molitor really bring in Robin Yount as a bench coach, giving the Twins a pair of Hall of Famers in their dugout?). Naturally, I’ll also be interested to learn the organization’s minor league assignments.

It has certainly been an interesting first few weeks of the offseason for the Twins and it certainly appears it will continue to be the case as we move toward free agency season.

– JC

If I Owned the Twins

I’ve been a bit out of touch with Twinsville for a couple of weeks as I’ve had some business travel and other non-Twins-related matters to occupy most of my time.

I did catch up a bit on my Twins reading in the past day or so, however, and – well – let’s just say I’ve been much more interested in the writing about the Twins than I have been with what’s transpired on the field with the Twins.

I read the columns by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s baseball writers and columnists recently, in which they were asked to share their ideas concerning what the Twins need to do to “fix” the sorry state of affairs at Target Field.

Jim Souhan believes manager Ron Gardenhire has to go.

Patrick Reusse believes the Twins need coaches who relate better to the increasing (and increasingly important) Latino segment of their roster.

LaVelle E. Neal wants the Twins to do whatever it takes to add an “ace” at the top of their rotation.

Phil Miller says, as hard as it may be to do so, the answer is patience, as we await the imminent arrival of some outstanding young prospects.

Their respective articles reflect opinions I think we’ve all heard voiced many times as this fourth consecutive 90-loss season has been completing its death spiral.

The only near unanimous opinion is, as TwinsDaily’s Nick Nelson penned this week, “The Twins Have a Problem.”

After doing all that reading, I paused and contemplated what it must be like right now to be Jim Pohlad.

I honestly believe he’s embarrassed by what his team has become – an irrelevant organization. The Twins are irrelevant among their MLB brethren. They are irrelevant within the Minnesota professional sports scene.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter (photo: SD Buhr)

Say what you will about the Pohlad family, they did not get to where they are in life by being irrelevant.

I began to wonder what was going through the Twins’ owner’s mind these days as he prepares for, perhaps, the most difficult offseason since the passing of his father, Carl. Maybe Jim is asking himself, “WWCD?” What Would Carl Do?

Naturally, that led me to ponder what I would do if I were in Pohlad’s shoes. What steps would I take to make sure I never, ever, felt like this going in to an offseason again.

One awful season was an unpleasant aberration. Two was uncomfortable. Three was painful. Four is… I don’t even know, but you wouldn’t want to be around me much if I owned a team with the record of abject failure that the Twins have had so far this decade.

I thought all four of the Strib’s writers had good thoughts. I also believe there isn’t a single one of those ideas that would satisfy me if I owned the Twins.

If the four Strib guys worked for me and came to my office with those ideas, here’s what I’d say:

I think you’ve all made valid points. But here’s my problem.

Patience, Phil? I’ve been patient for three years. Don’t talk to me about prospects. Until they prove themselves at Target Field, those guys are nothing but business assets. They represent fluxuating inventory with short shelf lives. You’re not asking me to be patient, you’re asking me to be comatose.

You want me to buy (in money or prospects) an ‘ace,’ LaVelle. Great idea. I’ve been telling my General Manager to feel free to spend more money on whatever he thinks will improve this team. But we can’t force players to sign with us and pretty much every long term, big money, contract for an ‘ace’ that has been signed has turned out to be a bad contract for the team. And I may not be in love with prospects, but I’m not going to give them away in return for an aging pitcher who my stat buddies tell me has seen his best days behind him. If my GM can find an ‘ace’ available on the market who is willing to come to our town or one with enough tread on the tire left to be counted on for a few years of ace-hood that’s available for any trade even close to reasonable, we’ll go get him.

Jim, I really don’t think any manager in history could have won half his games the past four years with the collection of has-beens, wanna-bes and never-weres wearing a Twins uniform, so if you really believe firing Ron Gardenhire is going to fix things, you know a lot less about baseball than most baseball fans. And that’s a tough bar to get under.

Pat, same for you. I think it makes a lot of sense to have more of a Latin-American presence in the clubhouse. But do you think having a dozen Latino coaches would make this team a winner? I don’t. By the way, between the four of you guys, there must be about a zillion years of covering baseball between you, right? How’s your Spanish? I think every coach in our organization should learn Spanish, but I also think every media member who covers baseball should, too, and until you do, you’ve got very little room to criticize.

The problem is that none of your ideas will fix things. Not if that’s all we do.

Our fans aren’t stupid enough to believe that any one player, no matter how good he is, will turn this team in to a contender. Not if he’s a current Tigers ace, LaVelle, and not if he’s a near-certain future Hall of Fame center fielder who hasn’t completed a full game (much less a season) above high-A ball, Phil.

Many of them want Gardy gone. I understand that. But even the Gardy haters don’t really believe replacing him will turn a 90-loss team in to a 90-win team. Replacing even an unpopular manager won’t put butts back in the seats and replacing his staff with five guys from Venezuela won’t, either.

So, no, we’re not going to do a single one of these things.

We’re going to do all of them.

And more.

That’s when I would thank the Strib guys for their time, give them some drink tickets and send them to Hrbeks for a couple of refreshments while I talk to my President and General Manager.

With Dave St. Peter and Terry Ryan in my office, here’s what I lay out for them.

“Gentlemen, the good news for you is that neither of you are fired. Yet.

But I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of losing games and I’m tired of losing fans. And you two may think I don’t know crap about baseball, but I suspect that just maybe losing games and losing fans might be related.

Terry, I tried to tell you a year ago that I was tired of people telling me I’m cheap and won’t spend money for top talent. Some bozo on the internet even made up a parable about it. I want you to go read it and then, Terry, use the damn ladder!

I’ve got a list of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball, ranked by some goofy thing called WAR. By the date season tickets have to be renewed, one of those guys is going to be working for me, Terry – or you won’t be. Do we understand one another?

Speaking of people working for me, you’re going to go tell Ron Gardenhire that he doesn’t. At least not as my manager.

Gardy’s a helluva guy and he’s had some good days as our manager. We’ll give him a nice watch, but I don’t believe he’s the guy to lead this team for the next 10 years and neither do our fans. Who you hire is your business. I’m just telling you who you’re going to fire.

I take that back, I am going to tell you a little bit about who you’re going to hire.

When spring training opens, I want at least two Latino members on the bench staff.

I mean it, Terry. And I’m not talking about a couple guys who took Spanish class in junior high. I’m going to send Tony Oliva to talk to whoever you hire and they’d better be able to keep up with him in a conversation.

Every company in every industry in this country has been getting on the diversity bandwagon for years. Everyone figured out long ago that having management that can communicate in Spanish is critical to attracting and retaining top Spanish speaking employees. I don’t know why you haven’t figured this out on your own yet, but now I’m telling you.

One more thing, Terry.

If they’re healthy, Alex Meyer, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will open 2015 with the Twins. How do I know? I heard all about it in the giant advertising campaign that St. Peter and the marketing folks are putting together the moment he walks out of this meeting. Right Dave?

That ad is going to run on the local affiliate carrying the Super Bowl. I want everyone in town talking about the Twins the next day and I want them buying tickets. Lots of tickets.

Dave, I keep reading about how attendance is going to drop next year. I’m telling you that it won’t. If it does, the attendance in your office will drop by one.

Our season ticket holders have been paying Major League prices for minor league performance for four years. I don’t care how far you have to slash prices, you put butts in the seats.

Next summer, people may call us crazy for what we’ve done. They may say we’ve lost our minds. But if they’re still saying the Twins are irrelevant, you two will not be calling me your boss.

Give my love to your families.

And then I think I’d take a very long cruise around the world on a very large boat and look forward to seeing what my team looked like when I got back.

– JC

A Tale of Two Franchises

The Minnesota Vikings brought the curtain down on their 2013 season over the last couple of days in a manner that was all too familiar to Minnesota Twins fans. And for those of us who are fans of both, the similarity was something we could certainly have lived without.

Still, there were some rather striking differences in how things played as those seasons drew to a close; differences that say something about how the two franchises are being run.

Back in September, the Twins wrapped up another disappointing season in which they accumulated just a .407 winning percentage. In the final days of the season, many players, including Joe Mauer, the Twins’ superstar face-of-the-franchise, publicly voiced their support for manager Ron Gardenhire.

Immediately after the season ended, Gardenhire was given a two-year contract extension to continue managing the Twins.

In early October, Twins owner Jim Pohlad said the following to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer-Press concerning the decision to retain Gardenhire:  “But in the end, it is his (GM Terry Ryan) decision. That’s his job. We could have the ultimate call if we wanted to, but Terry — we told him — he has the ultimate call. That’s the call we made: ‘Terry, it’s your decision.'”

Not long after, in an interview with TwinsDaily.com’s Parker Hageman, Ryan had the following to say about the decision to retain the Twins manager: “If Ron wasn’t coming back, I probably shouldn’t be back. Now, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter invited me back, so I brought Ron back with me. A lot of times you should evaluate a manager on the personnel he has. And unfortunately, we’ve fallen a tad short here as far as productivity. And I take total responsibility on that, so I shouldn’t pass the buck on the manager and the coaching staff.”

The Vikings finished their season with a win over their least rival-like Divisional rival, the Detroit Lions, on Sunday, leaving them with a sub-Twins-like .344 winning percentage. The final game was a battle between two underperforming teams with head coaches on the hot seat. After the game, many Vikings players, including their superstar face-of-the-franchise Adrian Peterson, seemed united in their support for retaining head coach Leslie Frazier.

Monday morning, Frazier was fired by the Vikings with another year left on his existing contract.

According to media accounts of the press conference announcing Frazier’s firing, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf awkwardly read a prepared statement and left without hearing, much less answering, questions from the media, leaving GM Rick Spielman to deal with the fallout.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman

Vikings GM Rick Spielman

Spielman said the decision to fire Frazier was primarily made by the man who had just walked away without taking questions (wasn’t that convenient?).

Spielman also made statements that appeared to conflict with comments made by Frazier as recently as Sunday concerning who was deciding what with regard to the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Frazier had indicated that decisions concerning who would be getting playing time at QB were made jointly between himself, ownership and the GM. Spielman seemed to lay all responsibility in that area on Frazier.

Spielman did take responsibility for forming the Vikings’ roster but, unlike Ryan with the Twins, he seemed to wash his hands of any responsibility for those player’s performance on the field, which he blamed on Frazier.

So, according to Spielman, he isn’t responsible for anything that went on with the Vikings this year. Kind of makes me wonder exactly what he does to earn a paycheck.

There are a couple different ways you can look at the situations the Twins and Vikings found themselves in after their respective disappointing seasons.

You could argue that, unlike Pohlad, Wilf insists on someone being held accountable for failure. That argument seems to come down to an insistence that someone must be responsible for a losing season, so someone must be fired, period.

Those of that mind probably prefer Wilf’s more active and visible involvement in day to day decision making with the team he owns over Pohlad’s more laissez-faire approach to owning a major sports franchise.

Twins GM Terry Ryan

Twins GM Terry Ryan

Personally, I’m not sure what it is about billionaires who made their billions doing something other than running sports teams that we should assume makes them better judges of what it takes to win professional football or baseball games than people who have been making their livings their entire lives in such endeavors. Still, if you think being rich makes you smarter than everyone else at everything, I’m not going to bother trying to change your mind.

I guess if all you care about is that someone gets fired when you lose 60% of your team’s games, then you’re pretty happy with Wilf and Spielman this week. I’m sure if you polled Vikings fans, the decision to change head coaches is a popular one.

It may even turn out to be the right one.

If the only measure of success is whether you’ve won the Super Bowl or the World Series championship, then perhaps anything less than winning more games than you did the previous year is grounds for someone to get fired.

Personally, that’s just not how I think.

I think the smartest business owners are those who hire the most knowledgeable  people they can at running their specific type of business. They understand that all businesses have peaks and valleys and, while they expect to see well thought-out plans to extend peaks and pull out of valleys, they resist the urge to meddle or make dramatic changes out of emotional reaction, because doing so might just be good public relations or, worst of all, just out of a need to show people who’s in charge.

I don’t really know Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad, Leslie Frazier, Rick Spielman or Zygi Wilf. I’m in absolutely no position judge their character.

I have heard or read comments from people who play/work for Gardenhire, Ryan, Pohlad and Frazier that indicate, to me anyway, considerable loyalty and some degree of respect for their integrity.

Gardenhire clearly has the respect of his players and coaches. Ryan acknowledged that he failed to assemble a competitive roster for the manager to compete with and had Gardenhire’s back in discussions with the Twins ownership. Pohlad is, for now anyway, trusting Ryan to do his job with the people he believes in, but he has made clear that he expects the Twins fortunes on the field to improve.

Frazier, similarly, had the respect of his players and coaches. Spielman, however, faced with an owner who appears to have been insistent on someone’s head rolling after a disappointing year, seems to have done what he had to do to save his own job. In doing so, he somehow managed to avoid being complicit in the team’s greatest failing (the QB situation) while also abdicating any responsibility for his coach’s dismissal.

I’m not smart enough to know whether Frazier was a good NFL head coach or if he was the right coach for the future of the Vikings, just as I’m not smart enough to know if Ron Gardenhire is a good MLB manager or the right manager to lead the Twins in the future.

In fact, I don’t claim to know anything.

But here’s what I think:

I think people with integrity eventually bring more success to their organizations than people without it. I also think people with integrity prefer to work for someone that they believe also has integrity.

Actually, there is one thing I do know.

I know that, if I were a gifted athlete, a coach, a manager, a trainer, a front office employee or worked in any field where I might find myself with a choice between working for the Pohlad/Ryan led Twins or the Wilf/Spielman led Vikings, I’d chose the Twins right now… and it wouldn’t even be close.

– JC

What Are the Twins Doing… and Why?

It has been a weird offseason for the Twins, hasn’t it?

I’m not complaining. mind you. It’s refreshing to see General Manager Terry Ryan being aggressive in the free agent market to address the team’s starting pitching needs. Signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year contract with a fifth year vesting option was more than a little out of character for the Twins.Adding Phil Hughes on a three-year deal two days later was almost downright giggle inducing.

Terry Ryan (Photo:Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

Terry Ryan (Photo:Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

I mean, not only did Ryan go sign a couple of guys that were clearly in demand elsewhere, but the organization obviously looked beyond just wins, losses and ERA in determining who to target. That’s just not normal for this front office.

But the thing is, Ryan’s apparently not even close to being done with his offseason shopping. Based on media reports, Ryan has also been actively looking to upgrade his roster at other positions, most notably at catcher and in the outfield. And despite a number of assumptions to the contrary, he’s also apparently not done trying to land starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo.

Like most Twins fans, I would imagine, my first reaction to all of this activity has been, “Great! It’s about time!” But, at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, my second reaction has been to wonder why this is happening all of a sudden.

I suppose, if you were inclined to take the comments made by the Twins ownership and front office management at face value, none of this should surprise us. I think owner Jim Pohlad, team president Dave St. Peter and GM Terry Ryan have all pretty consistently told any reporter inclined to ask that they were not happy with recent results on the field and they understood that the roster had to be improved.

But after three consecutive 95+ loss seasons, they’d have sounded pretty out of touch with reality to say anything else. They all said pretty similar stuff a year ago and, probably, a year before that.

So, again you ask yourself, why has the approach apparently changed so dramatically this offseason?

Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have some theories to share.

New MLB Media Money

The Twins, like every MLB team, have a big chunk of new annual national media rights money coming in starting this year. Reports estimate it at $25 million per club, though the MLB offices have tried to downplay that a bit by pointing out that, while the new overall money divided by the number of teams might be $25 million, part of the money is retained by Major League Baseball itself. I guess to pay for Bud Selig’s platinum parachute, maybe.

Regardless, it’s a bunch of new money and it’s essentially “found money” because it doesn’t come with a nickel’s worth of corresponding expenses. In theory, it could (and arguably should) be dedicated wholly to improving the talent being put on the field at the Major League and minor league levels. That is to say, there’s no reason that only half the money should go to payroll, which is the portion of revenues that the Twins have claimed in the past that they earmark for payroll.

The bottom line is that, between the new money, the $40 million or so of payroll space the Twins would have had even without the new money and the lack of any significant long term commitments for anyone not named Joe Mauer, money honestly is no object for the Twins this offseason. That’s a concept that is almost impossible for most Twins fans to grasp, but it’s true.

The 2014 All-Star Game

During the fourth season in their new stadium, the Twins hosted the MLB All-Star game. They put on a good show, but the game itself was not all that exciting and the Twins, in the midst of yet another generally poor season and sitting 11 games out of first place at the break, had only the minimum allowable one reserve player named to the American League roster.

No, I didn’t slip in to my DeLorean and zap in to the future for that information. Rather, that’s a recap of the 1985 All-Star Game that the Twins hosted at the HHH Metrodome.

I don’t think Jim Pohlad likes the fact that most Twins fans in Minnesota (and a few of us in Iowa and the Dakotas, too) wonder why, with that beautiful taxpayer-funded ballpark, he won’t spend the money necessary to put a decent team on the field to watch. If that’s true, he’s probably even less enthralled with the idea of every baseball fan in America asking the same question during All-Star week next July.

If the Twins are going to suck in 2014 – and they certainly may – I don’t think Pohlad will let it be because he’s seen as having pocketed all of the new stadium and national media revenues, rather than spending some of that money on real Major League ballplayers.

Peer Pressure

When you own a Major League baseball team, you run with a pretty fast – if somewhat conservative – crowd. And I’m not talking about your fellow owners.

Your peer group includes owners and CEOs of other big time businesses and, while I certainly have no personal experience to back this up, I have to imagine that such a peer group tends to keep score.

If you can run your baseball organization at a good profit, see your organizational value (which is reported on annually in business magazines such as Forbes) climb and do it all while making customers/fans happy by winning consistently, your fellow local billionaires are going to look on you, personally, as a winner.

But if you, say, lose 95+ games a season for, I don’t know, maybe three years in a row and you see attendance start to dwindle and your fans are all talking about how cheap you are now that they have paid for your new stadium, those peers (some of which are probably paying premium prices to advertise at your stadium) may start to ask some of the same questions your fans are asking. Like, for example, “do you really need TWO AAA teams, one in Rochester NY and one here in Minnesota?” That’s embarrassing.

So…

Looking back at a number of interviews with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I think there are two quotes, one each from Pohlad and Ryan, that give pretty good clues as to what’s gotten in to the Twins.

The first, from the owner, I included in an earlier post. In an interview with Adam Platt of Twins Cities Business, Pohlad acknowledged that roster changes were needed and that improvements would necessitate spending money on free agents. He finished with, “I’m not encouraging him (Ryan) to wait.”

Was that just an owner saying what he thought fans wanted to hear? Was it a not-so-veiled statement that, if money wasn’t spent, it wasn’t because he told his GM he couldn’t spend it? Or was it a hint that perhaps he had given his GM direct instructions to, “use the damn ladder to get out of that hole,” and spend some money to put real ballplayers on the field?

We don’t know.

We do know, however, that about a week or two later, Nolasco and Hughes had deals with the Twins.

This past Monday, Terry Ryan was quoted by Star-Tribune beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III as saying the following concerning the Twins’ own homegrown talent: “If they take a step forward, they will answer some of our problems and questions. A step backwards is going to be concerning not only for us but for their careers. We have given opportunities to guys here the last two years. And it hasn’t gone so well. So now we may have to look out for ourselves here a little bit more.” (Emphasis added)

I found that quote to be about as interesting as anything the Twins GM has uttered publicly in years.

The Twins – and Terry Ryan specifically – have been famously adherent to a process of building from within. They focus on the draft and international signings. They work hard to develop players and promote them deliberately through the minor leagues. When those players are ready, they use them as their primary source of talent to replace players that have aged and/or been judged too expensive to retain. That’s all part of the Twins Way.

Ryan’s quote is a shot across the bow of Chris Parmelee, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Trevor Plouffe and any other young player who might be inclined to think that, having survived several years of development in the Twins organization, they now are enetitled to roster spots with the Twins. And just in case any of those players didn’t grasp the meaning of Ryan’s statement, they can now ask Liam Hendriks, who has been Designated for Assignment, for an interpretation.

Why is Terry Ryan talking to free agent catchers and free agent outfielders when he has Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia?

Ryan answered that question pretty clearly, in another part of Neal’s posting Monday.

“We have all kinds of areas that could be upgraded,” Ryan said. “We’ve got people where, if I told you the positions you would say, ‘Well, this guy is going to be there.’ But some of those guys we need to take a step forward. We can always upgrade any spot anywhere. So if something came to our attention and it looks like an upgrade, we should probably pursue it.”

When Ryan said, “we may have to look out for ourselves,” I’m not sure if he was referring to the Twins, generally, or to himself.

But I wouldn’t be feeling too comfortable if I were any player on the Twins 40-man roster not named Mauer or Perkins, because I think Terry Ryan means what he’s saying right now.

And I like that.

– JC

Pohlad: “We took our eye off the ball”

With a hat tip to Twins Daily’s Parker Hageman (@OverTheBaggy) for sending the link out via Twitter, I found this interview with Twins owner Jim Pohlad by Adam Platt of Twin Cities Business to be another indication that Pohlad is not looking for this offseason to be “business as usual” for Twins President Dave St. Peter, General Manager Terry Ryan and the rest of the Twins front office.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

Certainly there’s plenty in Pohlad’s words that skeptics (and really, who in the Twins fan base is NOT a skeptic at this point?) might roll their eyes at. But for me, I’m seeing more evidence that St. Peter, Ryan and their group have different – and quite specific – marching orders this winter.

The Twins owner wants a better product on the field and he doesn’t want to sit around and wait through another miserable season before he gets what he wants.

Platt asked Pohlad if losing hurts the bottom line, to which the owner replied: “Poor performance will always be out ahead of poor financial performance. 2010 was the best year in our ownership history. It’s been declining ever since, and if we don’t improve it will decline next year.”

Pohlad pointed out that success among some organizations is cyclical, while others are able to win consistently. The Twins want to be among the latter group going forward and are doing some analysis to determine what differentiates one group from the other. Platt asked Pohlad if ownership had a role in the current down cycle. “I was probably not pushing enough in the good years. We became self-satisfied. We took our eye off the ball,” Pohlad admitted.

His further responses would seem to indicate his eye is back on the ball – and on the people who work for him.

One of the more insightful exchanges came as Platt asked Pohlad about the organization’s perceived insular nature. The Twins have a reputation for almost exclusively promoting from within to fill leadership roles when they open up, rather than looking to bring in people who have come up through other organizational cultures.

Said Pohlad, “Well, in order to have the ‘Twins way’ be successful, you have to have a methodology, but you also need players. We do embrace new perspectives. Loyalty and low turnover can inhibit that, I admit. We need to always be asking ourselves if we have the right mix of people, policies, and procedures to develop the right players.”

Platt followed up by asking if Terry Ryan is open to that and Pohlad responded, “We’re pressing him on it. I’m not saying Terry isn’t somewhat old-fashioned. He is. But he wants to win.”

For those of us hoping to see the Twins jump in to the deep end of the free agent pool this winter (or at the very least, venture out of the kiddie pool of the free agency marketplace), Pohlad responded in this way when asked specifically what could be done to fix the team’s problems in 2014: “We have a lot of prospects, but most aren’t quite ready. We don’t have a lot of trading inventory. We have to go into the marketplace. Terry knows that. I’m not encouraging him to wait.(emphasis added)

There’s nothing in this interview that indicates Jim Pohlad has lost confidence in Terry Ryan. I believe he genuinely likes Ryan and believes he’s among the best in the business at evaluating baseball talent. However, he also admits at one point that, “The toughest thing for an owner is patience and avoidance of meddling…”

I encourage you to read the entire interview and come to your own conclusions, but I get the distinct impression that Pohlad’s patience is not unlimited. In fact, his patience is being tested every bit as much as is ours in the fanbase.

I also get the feeling that, if things don’t change soon, the days of ownership not “meddling” may come to an abrupt end. Pohlad does not come across to me as an owner who is content to let his front office stubbornly stick to old-fashioned approaches indefinitely, especially once they start to cost him real money.

At one point, Pohlad also says, “There’s not one bit of truth that you can make money and lose consistently. Long-term losing destroys your brand.(emphasis added) I don’t believe you can make money and lose indefinitely.”

That sounds like a man who is tired of losing.

– JC

Surviving TwinsFest

It has taken me a little longer than expected to put up a post here about my trip up to Minneapolis for TwinsFest. That’s because it took me a little longer than anticipated just to get home from TwinsFest.

The plan was simple:

  • Drive up to Minneapolis Saturday morning
  • Go to TwinsFest Saturday afternoon
  • Go to Hubert’s Saturday night for the TwinsDaily-hosted social event
  • Sleep a few hours at my hotel
  • Go to brunch with my Knuckleballs “family” Sunday morning
  • Drive home Sunday afternoon

Easy.

Yes, I got a later start than I expected Saturday morning, due, to some degree, to staying at the local sports bar with my family alonger than I’d planned Friday night, but I made it to my Eagan hotel by 1:00-ish. It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t brought my camera with me, which is kind of a big deal for me (some of you may have noticed I enjoy taking pictures when I travel). I got to the hotel early enough that they didn’t have a room ready for me to check in to. They were more than happy to take my credit card information, of course, so all I would have to do would be pick up my door card when I got back from downtown that night.

TwinsFest2013

TwinsFest 2013, with a glimpse of Puckett’s Pond writer Paul Pleiss (in the Koskie jersey)

After taking the Light Rail from the Mall of America to the Metrodome, I wandered around the place for a bit. I ran in to several familiar faces, caught up with a few friends and listened in to some of the interviews taking place on the 1500ESPN stage.

Before long, I made my way to the “Down on the Farm” area and chatted a while with the folks at the CR Kernels’ booth, including General Manager Doug Nelson.

I didn’t do the autograph thing this year, but I did enjoy seeing some of my own boyhood heroes signing. Rollie Fingers, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins were at one station on the main floor of the Dome and seeing them all together made me smile.

As TwinsFest was getting set to close down for the evening, just before 6:00 pm, I wandered across the street to Hubert’s for the little social event planned there by the good people at Twins Daily. I wasn’t sure how many people to expect to see, but the guys were promising free beer, so I really didn’t need much additional incentive to show up. My plan was to stick around long enough to talk with a few people I don’t get to see often, then part at an hour appropriate for someone of my advanced years. It was a reasonable plan.

I’m not sure how many people the Twins Daily guys were expecting, but it seemed like a great turnout to me. People came and went, but I’m almost positive at least 100 different people showed up. It’s a considerable understatement to say I had a great time. I got to spend time talking to a few people I have met before at other blogger gatherings and a lot of people I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before. We talked Twins, we talked Kernels, we talked about writing. We watched the Timberwolves blow a lead and lose.

Time really just flew by and the next thing I knew, it was after 11:00 and I was finally getting around to eating… at a totally different place, where a number of us had moved to as things wound down at Hubert’s.

Fast-forward a couple of hours and I finally made it back to my hotel where, it turns out, they lock the doors to the lobby at 11:00 pm. Of course, you can let yourself in with your room key… and they assume all guests would actually HAVE a room key. It took a little longer than expected, but I did eventually get checked in to a room for what was left of the night.

By 10:00 am Sunday, I was sitting down for brunch at Chammp’s in St. Paul with fellow Knuckleballers KL and Babs (and her hubby, Andrew).  I can’t say I was 100% on my game, at that point, but I’ve been much worse.

It was just starting to spit a little something when we left the restaurant, though I wasn’t sure whether it was rain, sleet or snow. Before I got out of the Twin Cities area, heading south, things were a much worse. By the time I reached Albert Lea, I’d pretty much seen it all: Freezing rain. Some ice. A bit of snow. Cars and trucks in ditches. Cars and trucks actually leaving the road and driving in to ditches. In short, I saw enough to know I didn’t want to join them, so I pulled in to my old home town and found a hotel room.

Not only did I find a hotel room, but the hotel had a nice little sports bar/restaurant attached to it! The waitress/bartender was kind enough to find the Iowa-Purdue basketball game on one of their TVs for me while I enjoyed an excellent quesadilla and a beer or two before heading back to my room for the night.

When I looked out the window of my hotel room early Monday morning, I couldn’t see my car. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone’s car. Fog had pretty much engulfed us. Not being all that interested in getting on a slick interstate with no visibility, I had breakfast and spent a couple hours working in my room before checking out.

By then, you could see maybe 200 yards in front of you on the interstate, so it wasn’t too bad. I had to make two more stops of an hour or two each to deal with work-related phone calls, but finally rolled in to my garage around 4:00 pm… almost exactly 24 hours after I SHOULD have been home.

While things didn’t exactly go as planned, it was definitely worth the trip just to have a chance to see so many friends Saturday and Sunday.

We don’t all agree on everything Twins-related. In fact, some of us rarely agree on anything Twins-related. But we all have a mutual interest in the Twins. In fact, for most of us, it’s probably more accurately called a mutual passion for the Twins.

I don’t know how the upcoming Twins season will turn out, but it’s great to know we’ll all share the experience together.

I’ll wrap up with a handful of additional photos I did manage to take with my phone-camera.

– JC

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne "Big Fella" Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

The gathering at Hubert's, hosted by Twins Daily

The gathering at Hubert’s, hosted by Twins Daily

Money Matters

I’m constantly struck by how so many otherwise intelligent people suddenly sound like idiots when discussing issues related to money. A number of these people are certainly not idiots… they’re accomplished business owners and/or people who have achieved considerable success at running businesses. So if they aren’t as stupid as the words they’re saying makes them sound, one can only assume that they think the people hearing/reading their words are stupid enough to believe what they’re saying.

Yes, I’m referring primarily to the Twins front office.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

It was over a month ago that the Twins held a press conference and made owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan available to the mainstream media. Predictably, the topic of the team’s potential 2013 payroll came up. Also predictably, the Twins brass was non-committal. Here’s an excerpt from the story written at the time by MLB.com’s Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger (click here for the link):

Pohlad said that payroll will not be a concern this offseason, but wouldn’t give a firm number on what that will be. The Twins entered the 2012 season with a payroll right around $100 million.

“We’ve never told anybody they have to spend ‘X’ dollars or that they can’t spend whatever they are recommending,” Pohlad said. “So it could go up, it could go down. It’s whatever Terry tells us. We’ve talked about spending in that 50 percent of revenue, but it doesn’t mean Terry will spend that.”

Ryan said that the payroll situation will be fluid and that it should not hinder him from acquiring the starting pitching the club needs to compete next season.

“I think we can quit fooling ourselves that money is the answer,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have to make good decisions to create a pitching staff that’s going to give us a chance.”

Well, I’m glad they put that question to rest, aren’t you? I’m so glad to know that money doesn’t matter.

We don’t know whether the Twins could have made a deal with the Marlins for the same package of players that they dealt to Toronto last week. There’s absolutely no doubt, however, that the addition of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes would have gone a long way toward addressing the biggest holes in the Twins lineup and the level of players the Jays sent back to Miami certainly could have been made available by the Twins.

So why wasn’t it the Twins that made the deal? I don’t know. But it’s such a friggin relief to know that whatever the reason was, it wasn’t money!

The Twins also lost Scott Baker to the Cubs last week. Baker got a good deal. $5.5 million guaranteed with another $1.5 million in incentives on a straight one year deal. According to the Star Tribune’s beat reporter, Joe Christensen, the Twins were very interested in keeping Baker, but wanted an option year for 2014, which Baker wouldn’t agree to. Again, it makes me feel so much better to know that the reason Baker won’t be wearing a Twins uniform in 2013 had nothing whatsoever to do with money.

Here’s something I’ve learned from working in Corporate America for the past 30+ years: Whenever someone in senior management tells you, “It’s not about the money,” that means that money is exactly what it’s all about.

As Twins fans, we’ve become programmed to just accept the “company line.” We’ve been hearing it since the days of Calvin Griffith and on through the Pohlad era at the Metrodome. Sure, there were hints that having a new stadium and the revenues it would generate might change things, but by and large, the fan base has continued to just accept the, “we’ll spend 50% of revenue on payroll,” line of crap that has always come out of the Twins’ offices.

It has become second nature, to the point where Twins fans seem to almost think that’s how every Major League team does business and we act surprised when other teams behave differently.

The Tigers went to the World Series, but clearly needed to improve at a corner outfield position. They looked for the best option on the market, moved quickly and signed Torii Hunter to a deal that seemed like it was a little excessive, given his age. How can they do that? Won’t that mean their payroll might exceed half of their revenues? Ah, but they’ve got an old owner who wants to win a World Series before he dies, so that’s why they can do what the Twins won’t, right?

The Blue Jays saw themselves needing much the same kind of help that the Twins need. They agreed to take on more years of higher salaries than they might have really been comfortable with, but they made the deal because they want to compete. But that’s ridiculous, right? Boy, they’ll sure regret having Buehrle and Reyes on the payroll toward the back end of those contracts because in a couple of years, their payroll might exceed half their revenues! Ah, but they’re owned by a giant Communications conglomerate and that’s why they aren’t limited as to payroll.

I’ve got a news flash, folks. Every team starts the offseason with a self-examination that identifies what their biggest needs are. The next step for most teams that are committed to being competitive is to identify the best options available via free agency or trades to meet the identified needs. Unless you’re the Rays (who have a whole bunch of financial issues unrelated to the quality of their team), your front office knows that the quality of the product on the field drives revenue.

But if you’re a Twins fan, you’ve been conditioned not to ask who would best fill the team’s needs, but who would fit in to the Twins’ designated payroll limit. That’s because the Twins have historically seemed oblivious to the basic business tenet that product quality drives revenues.

They’ve brainwashed fans in to believing that the only reasonable way to operate a business is by subscribing to the theory that a drop in revenues last year means they must cut payroll next year. It’s time for fans to become deprogrammed from that mindset and let the Twins know that their fan base is not as stupid as the club has treated them as being.

Maybe I’m being premature with this criticism. After all, it’s still early in the offseason and the Winter Meetings are still a couple of weeks away. Terry Ryan may actually sign honest-to-goodness legitimate starting pitchers to fill the Twins’ needs in that area, regardless of the cost. He may make a trade or two that will improve the middle infield, even if it means making his bosses nervous. Maybe he’ll prove that his words about payroll not hindering him from doing his job were more than just more of the same BS we’ve heard for the past decade.

But until the Twins start ACTING like money doesn’t matter, they should stop saying it. It just makes them look like fools… or like they think that’s what we are.

– JC

Be Careful What You Wish For, Twins Fans

We got what we wanted, right? Bill Smith is history as the Twins’ General Manager. Not only that, but he’s being replaced by Terry Ryan, the man credited with turning the Twins in to a contender through most of the past decade. All’s well in Twinsville, right?

Not so fast.

Before everyone spends the next week partying in celebration, I think we should look a little deeper in to what led to Smith’s departure.

Sure, the JJ Hardy trade, itself, was probably grounds for dismissal and there were plenty of other questionable personnel decisions to build a sound case for “termination for cause.” But that’s not why Smith is no longer the GM. Not according to Dave St. Peter and Jim Pohlad anyway.

No, they essentially trotted out the, “we just weren’t on the same page,” cliche. I’m beginning to think that means Smith wasn’t going along with the Pohlad family philosophy of, “slash the payroll.”

If Terry Ryan was replacing Smith because of Smith’s failings, I’d sponsor a little party, myself. I’ve always been a Terry Ryan fan. Like a lot of Twins fans, I’ve always wondered what Ryan could have done as a GM if he had been given some money to build a real roster with, instead of having to implement a system where he had to develop all of his talent internally, fully aware that he’d eventually have to watch every player worth a crap walk away as soon as they got the least bit expensive.

But that’s not why Ryan’s taking over and, based on what he’s saying, he’s not going to be given the same payroll that Smith had to work with.

Terry Ryan

In response to questions about payroll during the press conference, Ryan alluded to potential payroll levels between $90-$100 million. Those figures would be somewhere 10-20% LESS than the Twins’ 2011 payroll. Put another way, the Twins are going to let Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel walk away via free agency and use the money to bring in… absolutely nobody!

And we’re all supposed to jump up and cheer because it will be Ryan overseeing this crap instead of Smith?

It amazes me how so many Twins fans take the BS that the front office hands out, without a question.

Toward the end of the season, a lot of people were talking about what the Twins could do to rebuild their roster if the Twins payroll was allowed to grow just a modest amount… say from $115 million to $118-120 million.

Then Jim Pohlad was quoted in media reports as saying the 2011 payroll was a bit higher than he was comfortable with and likely would be just a bit lower in 2012. Fans and media didn’t seem to bat an eye. Everyone just accepted what Pohlad said and started looking at what could be done with a $112-115 million payroll.

Now, not-exactly-new GM Terry Ryan says the payroll will probably be in the $90-100 million range and again it’s just going to be accepted with little question? Why?

Throughout this whole process, I’ve yet to read or hear a single member of the media ask the Twins WHY they feel payroll should be reduced. Not once. If someone can show me a link to such a question, I’d be grateful, but I’m not holding my breath.

Maybe the Twins project revenues to drop? Not likely, given that they’ve got enough of a waiting list for season tickets to more than make up for the number of people who were so disgusted by what they saw on the field in 2011 that they couldn’t stomach the thought of watching something similar in 2012 and there’s been no hint of a drop in broadcast rights fees or any other revenue source.

Is it asking too much of the organization to suggest that slashing payroll after just two seasons in a new ballpark (largely publicly funded) should warrant some sort of explanation to the fan base? Shouldn’t they at least offer some kind of reason?

Apparently not.

Some people are suggesting that cutting payroll is fine because it reflects an acknowledgment that 2012 will be a rebuilding year and the focus will be on building a team to compete a couple of years in the future.

Seriously?

You’re paying Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau a total of $37 million a year and you’re not even going to try to put a team around them to be competitive for a couple of years (by which time Morneau will be gone, by the way)? And that’s OK with Twins fans?

The Twins are just one injury-plagued season away from having won the AL Central Division. Explain to me again why the organization shouldn’t spend the money coming off their books on players that could propel them right back up in to contention if some of the health issues work out better next year than in 2011.

Because they may be losing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan? Nathan wasn’t even on the field in 2010 when they won their division, while Kubel and Cuddyer both had pretty mediocre seasons, posting almost identical OPS figures at around .750.

Don’t get me wrong… the Twins have significant holes to fill. Smith’s mistakes need to be corrected.

But if Terry Ryan, Dave St. Peter or Jim Pohlad use the misguided roster moves of Bill Smith as an excuse to slash payroll, they’re doing it for one reason and one reason only… to prove that this generation of Pohlads is every bit as cheap as the last.

And from I’m reading from various blogs and other social media responses, most Twins fans are just fine with that.

I’m not.

– JC