Winter Meetings: Time For Terry Ryan to Step Up.

Baseball’s Winter Meetings get in to gear down at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville on Monday and that’s got me a bit nervous. The Twins, at least at the Major League level, are in a sorry state, having come off a 96-loss season which followed a 99-loss season. It just doesn’t get much worse than this, folks.

A year ago, just ahead of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, I wrote a post here headlined “M&M: Time to Step Up or Shut Up.” The point was that, following a season in which the Twins stars had spent more time not playing baseball than playing baseball, perhaps it wasn’t totally unrealistic for the front office to play a little “wait and see” before spending a bunch of money trying to rebuild the roster to a level capable of contending. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, among others, needed to play better in 2012 or it really wouldn’t matter whether the Twins spent money to buy them some help.

To their credit, I believe Mauer and Morneau did exactly what I asked. They both had much-improved seasons, managing to stay on the field and hit baseballs with some regularity. Whatever the reasons were for the Twins dropping 96 games in 2012, those reasons had little, if anything, to do with Mauer and Morneau. The failure can arguably be laid almost entirely at the feet of the pitching staff. And that’s not entirely surprising. We at Knuckleballs posted multiple articles last offseason expressing our disappointment about the Twins failure to add significant pitching help and we certainly weren’t the only people making that point.

So here we are, a year later, on the eve of yet another week of Winter Meetings, and guess what… the Twins need to significantly improve their pitching staff. Terry Ryan made what certainly appears to have been a reasonable trade this week when he sent popular and productive outfielder/leadoff hitter Denard Span to the Nationals for potential future top-of-the-rotation pitcher Alex Meyer. But that deal won’t do anything to make the product at Target Field any more watchable in 2013.

The reports we are reading leading up to these meetings indicate the Twins are expected to be very active and that Terry Ryan is looking to significantly improve the 2013 rotation largely through the free agent market. That’s encouraging to hear, but folks, we’ve heard that before.

Let’s hop in to our time machine and go back just one year ago, shall we? Here’s a summary of what we were reading about the Twins activities during the Winter Meetings last December:

  • On Day One last year, there was conjecture that the Twins remained interested in Edwin Jackson, but that Jackson was going to wait until CJ Wilson and/or Mark Buehrle set the market. The Twins were said to be interested in Jackson only if they did not spend the money to re-sign Michael Cuddyer. Of course, they signed Josh Willingham for considerably less money than Cuddyer was demanding, but we certainly did not see Jackson in a Twins uniform.
  • Speaking of Mark Buehrle, reports also came out of Dallas on Day One that the Twins were one of four teams (along with the Nationals, Marlins and Rangers) that were “still in on” Buehrle. He eventually signed with the Marlins and is now a Blue Jay.
  • So what DID the Twins do on Day One? They re-signed Matt Capps and claimed SS Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Orioles.
  • On Day Two, we read that Buehrle had narrowed his list to five teams and that the Twins had an offer in. Word also came out that the Twins would be meeting with Jeff Francis’ agent during the Winter Meetings.
  • On the other hand, the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III was reporting that the Twins had had no conversations with the agents of Francis and Jackson.
  • They didn’t add a pitcher on Day Two, but the Twins did part with one. They traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for a “player to be named later.”
  • And on Day Three, apparently worn out by all the activity the first two days, the Twins front office rested.

Of course, later in the month, Terry Ryan inked Jason Marquis to a one year contract, so it’s not like he didn’t add any starting pitching, right?

So what’s my point?

My point is that, while Terry Ryan and Dave St. Peter are saying all the right things right now about improving the Twins in 2013 by adding legitimate starting pitchers, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve heard it before. Just a year ago, the media was being fed reports about how the Twins were in on Mark Buehrle and interested in talking to Edwin Jackson’s agent. But when it came to actually spending money, they signed Jason Marquis.

And make no mistake, it would have been pretty easy to make a case to a top pitcher that their 2011 failures were fluke-ish… that injuries to Mauer, Morneau, Span, and others were responsible for the lousy record… and that with some pitching help and a return to health by their stars, the Twins could contend again in 2012. It won’t be nearly as easy to convince a top free agent that they’d be signing on to a contender in Minnesota this year. Last year, all Ryan had to so was spend money. This year he has to do a helluva sales job AND spend money.

It’s perfectly fine for fans to be hopeful that Ryan will do exactly that. As fans, hope is what we live on in December and January.

It’s also perfectly understandable for us to be skeptical that the Twins are really serious about being willing to spend the money that would be necessary to bring legitimate starting pitching help on board.

As I’ve written this past week, Terry Ryan has been saying all the right things. I’m sure the Twins would like fans to take them at their word when they talk about being willing to spend money to make real and immediate improvements.

But if the Twins really want us to take their words seriously, they need to do more than talk about signing good pitchers. They need to do it.

You’re on deck Mr. Ryan. It’s time for you to step up.

– JC

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

Winter Meetings Chat: Day 2 (7:00-9:00 pm)

On the first day of Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan gave the Twins a new-old pitcher, Matt Capps, and a minor league shortstop out of the Baltimore organization, Pedro Florimon.

While the Capps debate rages on, here we’re ready to move on to Day 2. Let’s talk about what Terry Ryan has doing for an encore during the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. (We’ll open up the Chatroll window from 7-9 pm, then we encourage everyone to move on over to Seth’s and Jack’s Blogspot Radio podcast for additional arguing about the Twins’ moves.)

Kevin Slowey

  • The Twins started the day by announcing they’ve traded pitcher Kevin Slowey to Colorado for a “player to be named later”. This one had been discussed for a while as reports have floated around since before the season ended about the Rockies liking Slowey. Slowey was rumored to be a non-tender candidate, so chances are the Rockies aren’t giving up a significant player in return. For now, the Twins probably need the open roster spot, so it may be a while before we hear who’s coming over from the Rockies.
  • Not directly Twins-related but with the trade of Sergio Santos to the Jays, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has finally tipped his hand. He’s going to blow up the roster and rebuild. I’ve read comparisons to the Twins situation, but I think they’re very different. The White Sox didn’t have near the money coming off the books to work with in order to add pieces to remain competitive and, conversely, they have a lot more veteran players with significant trade value than the Twins do.
  • Jeff Francis’ agent will be meeting with the Pirates and Twins this week, in addition to the Mariners and, perhaps, others.
  • Mark Buehrle has “narrowed” his list of possible landing spots to five teams. Supposedly, the Twins are one team with an offer in to Buehrle. Here’s a question… if you were Buehrle, would you prefer to pitch for a team in the same division as the White Sox, where you have a significant amount of experience facing the hitters in that division, or would you prefer to go to a team where the opponents have little experience facing you (perhaps even to the NL)?
  • Not exactly Twins-related, but congratulations go out to Howard Sinker and the rest of the Star-Tribune staff who make their online content among the best in the business. The Star-Tribune web site has been awarded a “Top Ten” award by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) in the large market category (over 2 million average monthly unique users).
  • Speaking of congratulations being in order, Michael Cuddyer tweeted today that his wife, Claudia, gave birth to twin girls (Chloe & Madeline) today. The Twins also reportedly have offered Cuddy a 3 year deal for $24-25 million. Having “twins” on the date you get an upgraded offer from the “Twins” must be a sign, right? Is this a proud daddy, or what?
  • Since multiple sources have been posting most of the news coming out of the Twins suite at the Anatole, I haven’t been crediting specific sources very often, but the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III added a few little factoids to the end of his blog post this afternoon that I haven’t read elsewhere (yet, anyway). According to LaVelle, the Twins have had zero conversations thus far with the agents of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Jeff Francis and their interest in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada is “almost zero”.

Twins History Lesson – May 10-16

There are two off days this week (what’s up with THAT?) and I’m not sure what we’ll do to entertain/educate ourselves on Thursday, but tonight we’ll provide the weekly trip down Twins Memory Lane. As usual, we pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!“, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime“.

So let’s see what the Twins have done during this week in their first 49 years of existence.

There have been a few memorable (or at least noteworthy) home runs hit on May 10:

1962: Vic Power and Lenny Green lead off the game with back-to-back home runs off of future Twin Jim Perry, then pitching for Cleveland (who eventually went on to defeat the Twins 9-4).

1982: Gary Ward hits the first grand slam home run for the Twins in their brand new indoor stadium, the HHH Metrodome. (Yes, this means we’re having to wait longer for Target Field to be so initiated!)

2000: The game winning home run on this night was hit by a player only the most avid Twins fans are likely to even remember. Manager Tom Kelly had inserted Midre Cummings as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning, with the Twins trailing the Tribe. The Twins had trailed 8-1 entering that inning and, even after some heroics, still trailed Cleveland 9-7 entering the bottom of the ninth. One run later, still trailing 9-8, with runner Ron Coomer on 1B and two outs, Cummings laced a line drive in to the left field seats for the 10-9 win. (This is why we DON’T leave early, Twins fans!)

The Twins said good bye to two of their best relief pitchers on May 11… 17 years apart.

1982: Doug Corbett is traded along with infielder Rob Wilfong to the Angels for outfielder Tom Brunansky, pitcher Mike Walters and a few bucks in cash (the question, as always, is whether or not the “cash” was the most important part of the deal to owner Calvin Griffith).

1999: The Twins ride eight innings of typically terrific pitching from Brad Radke to defeat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2-1. While nobody was aware of it at the time, closer Rick Aguilera’s 1-2-3 inning to earn the save would turn out to be his last as a Twin. He was traded to the Cubs a week later.

If you’re looking to get your money’s worth out of a game ticket, consider taking the day off and heading to Target Field on Thursday for the game with the BitchSox. May 12 has been “extra inning day” for the Twins in the past:

1972: The Twins drop a 22 inning game to the Brewers, 4-3. (They get their revenge the following day with a 4-2 win over the Brew Crew… in a mere 15 innings.)

1981: A “crowd” of 3,572 showed up to watch the Twins (already11 games out of first place) take on the Red Sox (seems some hockey team called the North Stars was playing game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals that night). Trailing 2-0 going in to the bottom of the 9th, the Twins forced extra frames when Ron Jackson hit a 2-run HR. After Yaz (that’s Carl Yastrzemski to you kids) gave Boston the lead with a sac fly in the 10th, the Twins answered with back-to-back home runs in the bottom half by Mickey Hatcher and Roy Smalley, both hit off of BoSox closer (and former Twin) Tom Burgmeier. (Anyone know if the hockey game was any good?)

2002: The Twins are ready to celebrate an extra inning victory over the Evil Empire when they score 3 runs to take a 13-10 lead in the top of the 14th at Yankee Stadium. The celebration is short-lived, however, as Jason Giambi hits a game winning, walk off, grand slam HR off of Mike Trombley in the bottom half of the inning.

May 13, 1985, may have seen one of the uglier games in Twins history when the Twins blew an 8-0 lead over the Evil Empire (do we see a pattern developing here?) through two innings, capped off by Don Mattingly’s 2-out, 3-run HR off of Twins closer (and we use that term loosely) Ron Davis. The final score is 9-8.

May 14 has seen a couple of peculiar games:

1965: The Twins commit 4 errors and yet still are in a position to pull out a win over the A’s as the teams are tied 3-3 (following a Bob Allison 3-run HR in the 8th) when the Twins hitting in the top of the 9th. After Jerry Kindall singles and Jerry Zimmerman reaches on a catchers interference call, Zoilo Versallales (who would go on to win AL MVP honors that season) fails… twice… to get a bunt down before singling to CF and scoring Kendall with the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run.

2006: This Mothers Day game didn’t finish nearly as postively as Mark Buehrle becomes the first pitcher in MLB history to give up 7 runs in the first inning and still go on to win the game. Luis Castillo also hits in to a triple play during the 9-7 loss to the BitchSox.

May 15, 1976 saw the MLB debut of Twins pitcher Pete Redfern. Redfern spent barely a month in the minors before his first start for the Twins in Anaheim during the second game of a twi-night doubleheader (two games in one evening… and you think staying up to watch ONE west coast game is tough!). The Twins staked Redfern to a 13-0 lead before he gave up his first hit in the sixth inning. Before that inning was over, he had also given up a grand slam HR to Bobby (Barry’s daddy) Bonds. The Twins held on to win 15-5.

May 16 has seen at least two remarkable efforts over the years… one of them by a man who never suited up for the team, but who we all perhaps owe a great debt of gratitude.

1967: Dean Chance throws a 5-hitter and makes the Twins’ lone run, on back-to-back 2nd inning doubles by Bob Allison and Zoilo Versalles, stand up as he retires the last 11 BitchSox he faces and never allows a runner past 2B, defeating Chicago 1-0.

1984: Only 6,346 fans show up to watch the Twins lose 8-7 to the Blue Jays, but thanks to Minneapolis businessman Harvey Mackay’s purchase of an additional 44,166 tickets (at a “Family Day” promotional discount cost of $218,718), the Twins will stay in Minnesota. The purchase was part of Mackay’s plan to assure that the Twins sell the necessary 2.41 million tickets necessary to preclude the Twins from exercising a contractual right to void their Metrodome lease after the season and leave Minnesota.

Finally, since the topic of this post is a “History Lesson”, perhaps this is a good time to cast a glance back to one year ago.

After the games of May 10, 2009, there were actually FOUR teams leading the three AL divisions (since the Central had two teams tied for the lead). Why is it important to look back?

Because despite one of those teams having a 22-12 record, NONE of those four teams made the playoffs in 2009. In fact, that team with the 22-12 record, the Toronto Blue Jays, finished a healthy 28 games out of first place and another, the Kansas City Royals (who were co-leaders with the Tigers after May 10), finished tied for last in the Central, 21.5 games behind the Twins.

It’s a long season, folks, and while it’s fun seeing the Twins uncharacteristically jump out to an early lead, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played.