Picking a Twins Manager: Get it Right

Over a week ago, I wrote about what I would do if I owned the Minnesota Twins, including giving my GM instructions to fire his manager. Obviously, Jim Pohlad not only read my article, but took it to heart because less than a week later, Ron Gardenhire was out as manager of the Twins.

GM Terry Ryan

GM Terry Ryan

In the days since that announcement, speculation has been rampant concerning who the next manager might be.

For his part, General Manager Terry Ryan said he would cast a wide net. He indicated he would look inside and outside the organization and that “diversity” would be a factor, both for the manager position and, ultimately, for the Twins’ coaching staff (further evidence that my advice, which included instructions for adding more Latin American coaches, was being followed almost to the letter).

It occurs to me, now, that I may have done a disservice to the Twins GM in my earlier article. I honestly didn’t expect Twins ownership to follow my advice. Heck, I didn’t even know Pohlad was one of my loyal readers.

Had I known how quickly he would take my advice to heart and act on it, I would have included advice to Ryan on how to go about replacing Gardenhire. But I didn’t. My bad.

But today, I’m going to rectify that oversight. Better late than never, right?

The Twins are a tight-knit organization. Rare is the case when something involving the internal workings of the front office reaches the public until the top dogs in that office want it to.

How do you know when they want the public to know something? Just assume that if you’re reading it, they want you to know it. You’ll be correct 99% of the time.

So here’s what the Twins want us to know about their manager search, so far:

Paul Molitor and Doug Mientkiewicz have been interviewed, Molitor more than once. Both are serious candidates for the job. Gene Glynn will be interviewed. Ozzie Guillen will not. That’s about all of it.

You know what? Molitor, Mientkiewicz and Glynn would all, in my opinion, have the potential to be excellent choices. If Terry Ryan introduces one of them as the next manager on Monday morning, you won’t find me yielding a pitchfork and marching on Target Field.

But it would be wrong.

To explain, allow me to digress briefly and talk about Iowa Hawkeyes football – specifically the head coaching job at Iowa.

A lot of Hawkeye fans love long-time coach Kirk Ferentz. A lot of Hawkeye fans would like to see Ferentz replaced. But, a good number of those fans have an unrealistic view of the Iowa program and the kind of coaching candidates the Iowa job might attract. Iowa is not Alabama, USC or Ohio State. You would not get top tier coaches tripping over themselves to take over the Iowa program. You would have to either hire from within or hire a lower tier outside candidate who has not yet proven himself.

In other words, when you talk about replacing Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, you’d better be careful what you wish for.

But here’s the thing: The Minnesota Twins are not in that position.

Sure, they’ve had 90+ losses for four straight years. That might seem like the kind of thing that would relegate the organization to a position where they have to be satisfied with the left-overs after the good teams in Major League Baseball decide who they want as their manager.

However, “good” MLB teams already have their managers in place. It’s not like there are going to be teams in the postseason immediately letting their managers go the day after their seasons end.

Manager candidates are being interviewed in a number of locations across baseball, but each of those teams has one thing in common – they played bad baseball in 2014.

Currently, there are three managerial openings: the Texas Rangers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Twins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Milwaukee Brewers added to that list in coming days, but as things stand right now, the Twins’ 92 losses are the fewest among teams currently interviewing for a new manager.

The Minnesota Twins should be choice number 1 for anyone with designs on landing a big league manager’s job in 2015.

Texas and Arizona have had front office disruptions in recent years. In Arizona, your new General Manager was a player agent a couple weeks ago and will be reporting to an executive who was a Hall of Fame caliber manager. In both locations, the manager is going to have multiple bosses looking over his shoulder, all of which likely believe they could do your job better than you do (and in at least one case, he’d probably be right).

Arizona and Texas don’t have terrible talent. They have some guys who know how to to play baseball and they have minor league organizations considered to be at least average in terms of the talent moving through the pipeline. (It’s that dreary farm system of the Brewers that anyone considering a run at a potential Milwaukee opening should be wary of.)

Arizona is going to be rebuilding and trying to compete in a division with the Giants, who field perennial championship level teams, and the Dodgers, who are clearly committed to leaving the New York Yankees in the dust when it comes to being willing to spend money to buy championships.

The Rangers “only” have to deal with the Angels and A’s, I guess.

The Twins, on the other hand, had one of the top ranked farm systems in baseball heading in to 2014 and have a General Manager about whom their owner has stated that he’d be the GM for as long as he wants to remain in the job. That GM leads an organization that has demonstrated loyalty (to a fault, some might say) to managers.

The Tigers are aging and the Royals’ postseason run assures that they’ll retain Ned Yost as manager, which virtually assures that you won’t be viewed as the worst manager in your division, no matter what.

Who, in his right mind, would prefer one of the other open positions over the Twins’ job?

Which, finally, brings us to this advice for Terry Ryan:

You need to get this right. That’s not only the most important thing, it’s the only important thing, in this process. And here’s the process:

Step 1 – Talk to those in baseball you respect and ask them who they believe are the top 3 potential managers in all of baseball not currently under contract to manage another MLB team. Then make your own list of the top half dozen names or so.

Step 2 – Interview everybody on that list and identify those that not only are likely to succeed in 2015, but have a, “you never stop learning,” approach to life in general and baseball in particular, which you can envision allowing him to lead your team to success for the next decade. Ask each of them to tell you what they’ve learned about the game of baseball in the past two years that they didn’t know before. Anyone who can’t give you a number of ways in which they have expanded their baseball knowledge in that time should immediately be crossed off your list.

Step 3 – Rank your candidates after interviewing all of them, and not before.

Step 4 – Hire the name at the top of your list.

It’s really that simple.

Don’t get lost in a quagmire of details like how many years of experience they have as a manager at the big league level or at the minor league level or as a coach in the big leagues or whether their players liked them or not. Everyone who has coached/managed at any level has players who liked them and players who didn’t. Every one of them has success stories – and has failed at something.

Just act like you are the General Manager offering the best managerial opportunity in baseball and you are entitled to hire the best managerial candidate. You deserve that. The Twins deserve that.

Twins fans deserve nothing less.

– 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

Interview with Twins GM Terry Ryan – Part 2

Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan had surgery for squamous cell carcinoma in February and has undergone radiation treatment as well. In the meantime, Assistant General Manager Rob Antony has filled in as the interim GM for the Twins, though Ryan has been in regular contact with Antony and others in the Twins front office.

During the past Cedar Rapids Kernels homestand, Ryan was in town observing the Twins’ young Class A prospects and sat down Sunday for an interview that covered a range of topics.

In Part 1, we covered his return to work, his view of the current state of the Twins at the big league level and his thoughts concerning the upcoming MLB First Year Player Draft.

Today, Ryan shares some thoughts and observations concerning the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.

Like their parent club, the Kernels have hovered near the .500 mark most of the season. That’s been no small achievement given the number of injuries that manager Jake Mauer’s club has sustained. They currently have seven players on the Disabled List and have others who have been on the DL and come back already.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan

Ryan acknowledged that it’s a very different club than local fans saw a year ago when top prospects like Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Adam Brett Walker and Travis Harrison were wearing Kernels colors.

“We had a very talented club here last year, you’d like to think we could supply this affiliate with that kind of talent every year, but it’s not going to happen. We’ve got a different looking club this year.

“We’ve got some pitching here. Don’t have the thump. Don’t have the type of line up we had last year, which was a very dangerous line up. We don’t have that type of size. We had monstrous guys here so yeah it’s different.

“But every year is going to be different no matter what you try to do or accomplish at a minor league affiliate. You’re looking for players, you’re trying to develop players. This is a little different lot.

“So you adjust. Jake and Tommy (Watkins, the hitting coach) and Ivan (Arteaga, the pitching coach) are going about their business. It’s a little bigger challenge this year because you don’t have a Buxton here, you don’t have a Walker. You don’t have a Polanco.

“But that comes with the territory. When you’re running a Class A club, you’re going to have different personnel every year. You’ll have a few repeats, but for the most part it’s a different club and a different atmosphere and different results.”

Asked for his observations on specific players, Ryan was reluctant to go in to much detail, given that he had seen just four Kernels games at the time of the interview.

“It’s a little dangerous when you start naming names.

“I haven’t seen Stewart (Kohl Stewart, the Twins first round draft pick a year ago), of course. He’s pitching today. But he’s the most recognizable name on this roster for a lot of reasons. He’s talented and he’s a big draft. I’ll be interested to see how he does today.

“He had a tough outing his last go, I understand, I didn’t see it. He went two or three innings and they had to go get him. I doubt very much that he’s experienced that in his life but this is the ideal spot (to experience that). Alright, let’s see how he handles this. We’ll see if he bounces back today and gets back to his normal self. If he doesn’t then I would be a little concerned. But if he does, which I would expect, it’s just a matter of growth.

For the record, Stewart did indeed bounce back under the watchful eyes of the GM. Stewart threw six innings Sunday, giving up just one earned run, in the Kernels’ win over Burlington.

“He’s an athlete, he’s confident,” continued Ryan. “He’s got the skills that you’re looking for. There’s a reason the guy was picked fourth in the (draft). He was picked up there because he’s got strength, he’s got a body, he’s got mechanics, he’s got stuff, he’s got competitiveness.

“He’s got the kind of mechanics and arm action that would be conducive to pounding strikes, which is good.”

Kernels fans are getting the opportunity to see a native Cedar Rapidian in action with the Kernels this season.

Chad Christensen, the Twins’ 25th round pick a year ago out of the University of Nebraska, played high school ball at Cedar Rapids Washington. He came north with the club out of spring training and is hitting .290 while playing all over the field for the injury-plagued Kernels.

“One of the things that I think we were impressed with when he came out of Nebraska was his ability to have some versatility for a club,” Ryan said of Christensen. “He’s got strength and he’s got speed. He’s got strength in his bat. He can play a number of spots, including centerfield, which is pretty good.

Twins GM Terry Ryan chats with members of the Cedar Rapids grounds crew

Twins GM Terry Ryan chats with members of the Cedar Rapids grounds crew

“When he showed up last year after signing, he made a good impression and then in spring training. He’s got the type of make-up that you want to have him on your club. I’m sure Jake was pleased when he did come here and I think he’s even more pleased with what he sees in the results.

“He’s just been a good player on this team, home town or not. That’s a little bit more pressure for a kid to come in here and play in front of your home town. He’s handled it quite well. In fact, he might be the most consistent guy we’ve had on this club. Not that I’ve been around much, but I read those things, the reports and that stuff.”

Ryan is aware that the Kernels have had more than their fair share of injuries, but doesn’t feel they should be keeping the team from performing well on the field.

“It’s no excuse. We’ve got other players.

“(Jason) Kanzler came in because of an injury to Zack Granite. So here comes Kanzler and he’s been quite good here. There are other people that we can go get and hopefully fill in for an injury.

“Now, we’re starting to get healthy. A bunch of these guys are going to get healthy here soon.

“Getting back on the diamond is important for a 21 year old, because they can’t afford to spend a lot of time on the Disabled List. You just can’t do anything with them. There’s no development time, they’re getting bypassed, stuff like that. They’ll get healthy and we’ll get them back here.

“We’ve got some kids with ability but so far it’s been a slow go for them. I’m not so sure the weather was too conducive to what they were trying to do. The thing is, you’re going to have to learn to do that. We play in Cedar Rapids, we play in New Britain (CT), we play in Rochester (NY) and we play in Minnesota. Minnesota is not too much different than Cedar Rapids.”

About a year ago, Twins top prospect Byron Buxton and others were promoted from the Kernels up to Class high-A Fort Myers shortly after the mid-June Midwest League All-Star break. Ryan’s visit shouldn’t be interpreted as a precursor to similar promotions, however.

“When I come in here, I don’t worry about that stuff. That’s Brad Steil (Twins minor league director) and that would be Jake and the minor league coordinators.

“If someone is dominating, as you know, we’ll move them. I don’t know if we’ve got any of that going on here. I don’t think we’re in that position quite yet.

“Although if somebody starts dominating this league in the next month or so and they put up numbers and you say, ‘what more do they have to do?’ That’s about the time you start saying ‘let’s move him up.’”

Ryan was asked for an update on the condition Buxton, who has missed almost the whole season so far with a wrist injury.

“We had him see a specialist with that wrist about two weeks ago and there was no alarm. He re-aggravated that thing and we’re taking our time. It’s getting better. I read that yesterday in a medical report. He’s still not ready to take the field.

“He’s not going to lose a whole year. Unfortunately, April and May are shot, but he certainly played pretty good in March (during spring training). With him going through Major League camp, it was a good experience. He handled himself pretty well. He handled himself with some class. He understood, he listened, was very coachable.

“We’ll get him back up there. We’ll salvage the year, I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll be able to do some things to get him at-bats.”

Interview with Twins GM Terry Ryan – Part 1

During a routine physical exam early this year, Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan asked his doctor to take a look at a lump on his neck. Testing found Ryan to have squamous cell carcinoma.

Ryan had surgery in February and has undergone radiation treatment as well. In the meantime, Assistant General Manager Rob Antony has filled in as the interim GM for the Twins, though Ryan has been in regular contact with Antony and others in the Twins front office.

GM Terry Ryan observes Cedar Rapids Kernels batting practice on Sunday

GM Terry Ryan observes Cedar Rapids Kernels batting practice on Sunday

During the past Cedar Rapids Kernels homestand, Ryan was in town observing the Twins’ young Class A prospects and sat down Sunday morning for an interview that covered a range of topics.

In Part 1, we’ll cover his return to work, his view of the current state of the Twins at the big league level and his thoughts concerning the upcoming MLB First Year Player Draft that kicks off Thursday, June 5.

Usually a regular presence at spring training and all around the Twins minor league affiliates during most seasons, Ryan has understandably not been making those trips to this point this year. So the first question anyone would likely ask is, how is he feeling?

“I’m feeling OK. This is my first trip. I wanted to come here (to Cedar Rapids) so just in case I couldn’t handle it, I could just get in my vehicle and come back, but I can handle it.

“I’ve got a lot of physical therapy and a lot of rehab to go still. I’m doing that. But I’m OK, I’m fine, I’m fortunate actually.”

Ryan indicated, however, that there still is no specific timetable for his return to full time General Manager duties.

“I’m going back for the draft after this game today (Sunday). That’s a huge piece to our year. It’s one of the most important days to our entire year – maybe the most important. So I’ll be going back for the draft. That’ll be a huge step for me, because I’ve got to get acclimated to the players.

“On an everyday basis, I’ve certainly been participating. I haven’t taken any road trips but that’s about all. And when we’re home, I’m usually at a game up there. So it’s not like I haven’t been involved.

“(Rob Antony) has done a nice job. He certainly knows what he’s doing, he’s been around it. He’s been around Gardy a lot and he’s been around the team a lot. We’re in good hands.

“Ultimately when the time is right, I’ll take a road trip and we’ll kind of make a seamless transition again. I’m not sure when that’s going to be, but it shouldn’t be down in the future too far.”

Asked if that meant we should expect to see him back in the GM chair before the end of the current season, Ryan responded, “Yeah, no question.”

As Ryan indicated, he was headed back up to Minneapolis after Sunday’s Kernels game to participate in the organizational preparations for the First Year Player Draft. The GM wouldn’t tip his hand concerning who the team is targeting with the fifth overall pick in the first round, but Ryan shared what he’d like to see accomplished in the draft.

“Where we’re picking, everybody’s always trying to get the best guy. Nobody cares if they take a pitcher or position player.

“It’s like when took (Byron) Buxton. Everybody thought we were going to take a pitcher. We didn’t. And I caught hell up there. It was ‘pitching, pitching’. Well, the guy is named minor league player of the year. We’ll take the best guy there.

“This has got a little more pitching flavor to this draft. There’s not a clear cut number 1. There are a handful of guys that could go 1. But at 5, we’re sitting in a good spot. We’re going to get a good player or pitcher, it doesn’t matter which way we go. We’re going to take probably the best guy.”

Ryan was asked whether this year’s high number of “Tommy John” injuries among pitchers across baseball makes him feel any greater inclination to draft heavy on pitching.

“I’m guessing we will. We did last year. We did the year before. We’ll draft a lot of pitching just because of the attrition. We need to make sure we have numbers and competition.

“Actually the depth and some of the talent in our organization is starting to lean toward pitching. We’ve got some pitching in AAA. We’ve got some arms that can run it up there with some velocity now, which is good to see.

“But we won’t have enough, so we’ll take a bunch more.

“I’d like to see us take more left handed pitching. That would be my preference. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first guy, but that wouldn’t bother me either.

“For me, left handed pitching is a commodity that’s very difficult to come by. You’ve got to take it and hopefully develop a few of them and get lucky with a few of them. If we took a lot of left handed pitching, I would be very pleased.”

While his trip to Cedar Rapids was his first road trip of the season, Ryan has seen a lot of the parent club’s home games in Minneapolis. The Twins have hovered near the .500 mark through most of the season and just completed a rare series win over the Yankees in New York over the weekend. Ryan was asked for his impressions of the Twins’ performance so far.

“We’re better. It didn’t help us when (Josh) Willingham and (Oswaldo) Arcia both went down at the same time. Although at that time, we were scoring runs. (Chris) Colabello carried us for a month, maybe more. We’ve had trouble offensively again this past month.

“Our pitching is improved, our hitting went the other way. It was directly opposite in April. We’re a better club. We’ve got more depth.

“We’ve had a couple of pleasant surprises, particularly (Eduardo) Escobar. He’s kind of emerged and looks like he might want to take that shortstop job. I think (Trevor) Plouffe has improved. (Kurt) Suzuki has been a good addition. (Phil) Hughes has been a good addition. Unfortunately, we lost (Mike) Pelfrey, again. But we’re better.

“We’re competitive. We have not embarrassed ourselves, maybe a game here or there, but not too much. Unlike last year when we were out of games in the fifth (inning) a lot.

“We do have some chemistry and character on this club that seems to mesh pretty well . When you go to the park, you feel pretty good. At least we’re going to be a competitive team in this game. That’s a big difference.

“The one constant, our bullpen has been pretty good over the last number of years. (Glen) Perkins in the back side of that thing has solidified that.

“We’ve got a handful of guys up there that people didn’t see last year, which is kind of neat. Between (Josmil) Pinto and Escobar and (Danny) Santana and (Caleb) Theilbar and Arcia, all those guys are 20-25 or so.

“We’re getting there. We’ve got a ways to go. What we’ve done the last three years has not been good at all, but we are getting there. It’s going to take a little bit more.”

Tomorrow, in Part 2, Ryan shares some of his observations concerning the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the challenges they’ve faced this season.

Episode 70: The Ethan Mildren Fanclub

This week on the podcast we discuss the nature of government work and pushing children at work. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Last week we talked about Ethan Mildren when we went Down on the Pond, this week we talk to Ethan Mildren.  He tells us all about his offseason workouts, his goals for 2014, and what it has been like transitioning from college baseball to Minor League baseball.  We also discuss MiLBer Zach Larson, recent Twins news including Terry Ryan‘s health and the waiver claim of Brooks Raley.  And of course, we talk about all the beer we can drink, and all the news from around the league.  
89 minutes of fun.  


You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Jason Bartlett make the 25-man roster.

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

Can Terry Ryan Truly Change His Stripes?

There’s a lot of chatter on this here interweb thingy lately concerning what Twins General Manager Terry Ryan’s next moves will be and should be. He came out of the gate fast this offseason, immediately setting out to shore up – if not completely rebuild – the Twins’ starting pitching rotation by signing free agents Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey.

But there’s still more than a little doubt as to whether this is truly a new Terry Ryan, willing to spend Pohlad money to make the Twins more competitive (or at least more watchable) immediately. There seems to be two schools of thought concerning what Ryan is likely to do next.

Can Terry Ryan change his stripes?

Can Terry Ryan change his stripes?

First, there’s still some smoke out there indicating Ryan is not done shopping for starting pitching. The top tier of free agent starters haven’t really fallen in to place yet while the world waits to hear whether Masahiro Tanaka will be posted by his Japanese team. Would Ryan make a play for Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo or even Tanaka, himself? There are at least a few people out there who think he might.

The more prevalent thought, however, seems to be that Ryan is done shopping for starting pitching and is shifting his focus toward addressing what was a pretty anemic offense in 2013. He swung and missed at the top catching free agents, but may still be kicking the tires on backups, especially now that Ryan Doumit has been shipped to Atlanta to make room for Pelfrey on the 40-man roster.

Ryan has added a pair of former Twins, Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel, on minor league contracts with invitations to the big club’s spring training. But, as people far smarter than I am have been pointing out, no combination of the Prodigal Jasons and a new backup catcher is going to result in significantly improved run production for the Twins.

The good folks at MLBTradeRumors.com pointed out recently that, of their “Top 50 free agents” list going in to the offseason, only five position players remain unsigned. That list includes Stephen Drew, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez.

A while back, there was some buzz that the Twins were one of the teams that agent Scott Boras was talking to about Drew. I’m not sure which surprised me more, that the Twins were actually considering signing a player that would cost them a draft pick as compensation (Drew rejected the Red Sox’ Qualifying Offer) or that Terry Ryan apparently sat down in the same room with Scott Boras.

Certainly, the Twins have had Boras clients in their organization (and still do). But Boras has clients and then he has CLIENTS. Players like Drew are Boras CLIENTS – the kind that Boras uses every bit of leverage he can find to pull every last nickel and every last year out of a team to sign.

From what I’ve read among the Twins blogosphere and twittersphere, it’s hard enough for most Twins fans to believe Ryan would allow a draft pick – even a second rounder – to be pried from his hands in order to sign a free agent, but to give up that pick for a free agent represented by Scott Boras is just not something fans can get their heads around.

If you’re one of those fans, that’s okay. I understand. I do. But you might want to stop reading at this point, because if you can’t grasp that concept, what I’m going to propose next could make your head explode.

If I were Terry Ryan, I wouldn’t sign one of those five remaining “Top 50” MLBTR prospects. I wouldn’t sign one of the free agents that would cost me a draft pick. I wouldn’t sign one of Scott Boras’ CLIENTS.

I’d sign two.

First, I would absolutely sign Stephen Drew. He’s okay defensively and he’d be an offensive upgrade at one of the very few positions that the Twins could logically expect to upgrade at this point, given that third base and centerfield will be getting upgraded with top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton soon enough that it is likely impossible to attract strong free agents at those positions.

If you or Terry Ryan have concerns over losing that second round draft pick, I suggest you glance over the list of recent second rounders that Andrew Bryz-Gornia assembled over at Twinkie Town earlier this week. Or you could just take my word for the fact that giving up a second round pick for multiple current years of Stephen Drew is a no-brainer.

And, once I had a deal with Boras for Drew, I’d tell him I want Kendrys Morales, too.

Morales makes sense for the Twins.

Trust me, it feels as peculiar for me to say that as it does for you to hear it. But it’s true.

Morales turned down Seattle’s Qualifying Offer, as Drew did Boston’s. But if Drew is worth coughing up a second round pick, then the third round pick that Morales would cost the Twins is barely worth mentioning.

Morales was the Mariners’ primary designated hitter, but also filled in at first base occasionally. He’s a switch hitter with better results on the right side, which is something the Twins could make use of.

Certainly, you could make the argument that the Twins already have a relatively crowded DH corps with Kubel, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello already on board. But, seriously, those are exactly the types of players the Twins should be looking to improve upon. Having their presence keep you from signing a Morales is even more absurd than letting the presence of Bartlett, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar keep you from adding Drew. A guy like Florimon at least has some defensive value to consider, which is more than you can say for Kubel, Parmelee and Colabello.

But even if Ryan could be convinced that the two draft picks are worth giving up for Drew and Morales, could he find the money to pay what Scott Boras would extort from the Twins to sign them?

Heck, that’s the easy part.

After jettisoning Doumit’s salary commitment, my back-of-the-napkin math estimates the Twins are on the hook for about $80 million for 2014 (and that assumes that Kubel makes the team and gets the roster bonus that’s part of his minor league agreement with the Twins). So, as things stand, even after adding multi-million dollar deals for Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey, the Twins are still a couple million dollars BELOW their 2013 Opening Day payroll.

The Twins, by pretty much any reasonable estimate, operated a year ago well below their often self-stated goal of spending just over 50% of revenues on Major League payroll. They, like every other MLB team, are benefiting from new TV money that is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $25 million per team.

Conservatively – VERY conservatively – the Twins should be able to absorb a $110 million payroll in 2014 without so much as breaking a sweat concerning whether they will end up spending more than 50% of their revenues on payroll. Remember, that new national TV money comes with zero additional expenses to offset it. If the Twins took in $200 million in revenue a year ago (again a conservative estimate), those revenue projections just went up to $225 million.

That’s all a long way of saying that, yes, Terry Ryan can afford to add the $25-28 million in annual salary it may take to get Drew and Morales on board. From that point, you’re just talking about how many years and who has what options, etc.

But, would Drew and Morales actually sign on to join one of the worst MLB teams to take the field in 2013?

I grant that neither of them, nor Boras, certainly, had joining the Twins in mind when they rejected their old team’s Qualifying Offer. But times change.

Who else will give enough money to either of these two players to make rejecting those Qualifying Offers a good decision? The list of teams with enough payroll flexibility to afford one of them is short. When you cross off those teams that have no need for a shortstop or a designated hitter (no matter what Boras claims, I can’t see any NL team paying Morales to actually field a defensive position every day), the list all but disappears.

The Red Sox and Mariners, the players’ former teams which would not have to give up draft pick compensation to re-sign them, have recently added new talent at the players’ positions, quite possibly eliminating chances for return engagements.

The Yankees could use Morales, if not for the fact that they already have a boatload of over-the-hill position players that they’ll almost certainly need to rotate through the DH spot. The other free-spending clubs (the Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Tigers, Giants) look to me to be pretty set at Drew’s and Morales’ positions.

From where I sit, Terry Ryan and Scott Boras need one another.

Ryan’s Twins represent the kind of “surprise” team that Boras loves to pull out of his hat to prove how smart he is and that, when he tells a player he’s going to get paid, he gets paid.

Boras and his clients can provide Terry Ryan with what are realistically perhaps the only two true offensive upgrades that match his needs and will prove, once and for all, that he and his bosses are done sitting and waiting for “someday” to come.

Tell me this line up wouldn’t score runs:

  1. Presley CF
  2. Dozier 2B
  3. Mauer 1B
  4. Morales DH
  5. Drew SS
  6. Willingham LF
  7. Arcia/Kubel RF
  8. Pinto C
  9. Plouffe 3B

And now, with just a couple of adjustments later in the year or by 2015:

  1. Buxton CF
  2. Dozier 2B
  3. Mauer 1B
  4. Sano 3B
  5. Morales DH
  6. Drew SS
  7. Rosario LF
  8. Arcia/Kubel RF
  9. Pinto C

If you like Hicks in there somewhere to provide more OF defense, OK. Certainly, we could debate who should hit where in that line up. But the point is, that is a line up that suddenly looks very different than what the Twins trotted out there every day in 2013.

And it still wouldn’t project the Twins to be above the middle third of MLB team payroll on Opening Day (which is about where they rightfully should be), nor would it hamstring them from making future moves. In a worst case scenario, Drew and Morales are likely to be marketable assets, assuming Boras doesn’t talk the Twins in to full no-trade clauses.

Of course, none of this is likely to happen.

I expect Boras to let things play out for Drew and Morales, much like he did for Kyle Lohse a year ago before matching him up with the Brewers shortly before spring training camps opened up.

In the mean time, maybe Terry Ryan will find creative ways to improve the Twins’ offense.

But if February rolls around and it still looks like the Twins are counting on Jason Kubel to provide their improved offense and Scott Boras is still looking for face-saving options for these two CLIENTS, then Ryan and Boras need to get back in a room together.

Of course, I’d prefer they do so right now.

– 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

Santa Came Early for Twins Fans

Yes, Santa Clause showed up early for Twins fans this year – and he brought presents.

Terry Ryan’s reputation among Twins fans has historically been more Ebeneezer Scrooge than Santa Clause over the years. Whether he’s been visited by apparitions who have shown him the errors of his ways or merely by an owner who has grown weary of being blamed by fans for being miserly, Ryan has been doing his holiday shopping early this year and he’s delivered a couple of early gifts to Twins fans.

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

Terry Ryan (Photo Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

More than a week before the traditional baseball flea market that is the sport’s Winter Meetings, Ryan has signed two of the more in-demand starting pitchers on the market in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

Nolasco and Hughes are not “aces,” so of course there’s a certain faction of Twins fans that are not happy with the additions. Some of those fans remind me of kids who, despite finding some cool presents under the tree on Christmas morning, simply pout because they didn’t get the pony they asked Santa for.

There’s absolutely no downside to these additions and plenty to like about them.

First, the obvious: Nothing short of an injury should keep both of these two pitchers from outperforming the 2013 levels of every starting pitcher who toed the rubber in a Twins uniform this past season.

Neither pitcher will cost the Twins a draft choice next June. Nolasco’s mid-season trade to the Dodgers was a blessing for the pitcher and the Twins.

Some have questioned the Twins for giving arguably generous multi-year deals to the two arms. That thinking simply doesn’t take in to account the Twins’ situation. There are teams who rightfully are interested only in signing free agent pitchers to one or two year deals. The Twins are not one of those teams.

Whether or not it was by design, the Twins have an enormous amount of “payroll flexability.” That’s shorthand for, “they have cut payroll to an obscenely low level, so there is literally nobody on the market they can’t afford.”

Almost everyone believes the Twins have no shot at being competitive for the postseason in 2014. (I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s a discussion for another day.) The consensus thinking is that the Twins have hitters either on the roster now or likely to arrive by 2015 or 2016 that will be good enough to score runs. There’s much less confidence concerning the pitching situation.

So, the Twins need veteran starting pitchers that have a likelihood of being at least legitimate middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, not just in 2014, but for a number of seasons beyond that. That is exactly what Nolasco and Hughes are.

Are they sure-things? No. Are they potential aces? Nope, not likely at all. A week ago, the pitcher most likely to become a true ace in a Twins uniform was prospect Alex Meyer. That remains true today.

But here’s something that wasn’t true a week ago: Before the Nolasco and Hughes signings, the agents for next off-season’s top-tier free agents did not see the Twins as players in the free agent market for their clients’ services. Now, as long as the Twins show some notable improvement this season, you can bet they’ll take a call from Terry Ryan next November and they’ll listen closely to what Ryan has to say.

In that way, the Twins demonstrating a willingness to pay what some might argue is above market value for good free agent talent could work in their favor down the road.

In fact, the Twins may not have to wait until next year for this benefit to kick in. Media reports are that the team is still actively looking to add another starting pitcher, as well as a veteran starting catcher. I’d be willing to bet there are players on the market (and their agents) much more interested in talking to the Twins today than they were a week ago.

Terry Ryan has made a statement. The Twins are intent on improving right now, not at some indefinite time in the future. And it’s a statement being made with actions – and money- not words.

I’m certain that current members of the Twins are excited to see indications the club is committed to winning more games in 2014. I am, too.

You could say these are the sorts of moves Ryan should have been making last year or even the year before that. You’d be absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate that it’s happening now.

Christmas came early for Twins fans this year. Enjoy it. You’re not going to get the pony – this year. But what you’re getting is a lot better than the chunks of coal Santa left in your stockings last year!

– 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