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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Presley CF
- Dozier 2B
- Mauer 1B
- Morales DH
- Drew SS
- Willingham LF
- Arcia/Kubel RF
- Pinto C
- Plouffe 3B
And now, with just a couple of adjustments later in the year or by 2015:
- Buxton CF
- Dozier 2B
- Mauer 1B
- Sano 3B
- Morales DH
- Drew SS
- Rosario LF
- Arcia/Kubel RF
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- This week Eric and Paul are joined by Jay Corn (@jay__corn, that’s right, two underscores!) to talk Twins baseball. This will be our fist dive into the post-season hot stove, and this week we talked about available starting pitching and which pitchers we thought, if any, made sense in Minnesota. Pedro Hernandez was removed from the 40-man roster and signed a AAA deal, Terry Ryan is putting the band back together, so to speak, and the AFL continues down in the “Valley of the Sun.” All that and more on this week’s Talk to Contact podcast.
Thanks for listening!
FOX reporter Ken Rosenthal reported Monday morning via Twitter that the Twins will be announce later in the day that manager Ron Gardenhire will remain the club’s manager.
There was no immediate word concerning how much of his coaching staff would be returning in 2014 with him.
EDIT: Mike Berardino of the Pioneer-Press has Tweeted that source tells him Gardy’s entire coaching staff will be back, as well.
Earlier Monday, the Twins announced there would be a press conference at 2:30.
Rosenthal also stated, again via Twitter, “Gardenhire would not have stayed with
#Twins on one-year deal. Presumably wanted assurances that team plans to increase payroll as well.”
Honestly, if I were Gardenhire, I would not have come back to the Twins. This team is not likely to be much, if any, better in 2014, which means he’s going to spend all of next summer catching the same grief he’s getting right now. Why would he want that?
I’ve contended since forever that Gardy got more credit for the winning years than he deserved and more blame for the losing years than is warranted. He’s not a baseball genius, but he handles a clubhouse pretty well and that’s a huge part of being a successful manager.
Had he walked away from the Twins, he’d have been unemployed about two weeks, if that long. He’d have been one of the most sought after managers on the open market and wherever he landed would have been a better situation than he finds himself in by staying with the Twins.
I hope he got the assurances he needed from Ryan concerning roster improvement and didn’t settle for a vague, “we’ve got talent in the pipeline.”
It may surprise some Twins and Kernels fans to learn that, even with the promotion of fan-favorite Byron Buxton on Sunday, the Kernels still have an outfielder in their line up that was ranked among the Top 10 prospects of the parent Minnesota Twins coming in to the season.
The reason for the surprise is that few fans have seen that prospect on the ball field yet this year.
Max Kepler was promoted to Cedar Rapids last week and arrived just in time to join the team for their trip to Appleton, Wisconsin to face the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He had five hits in the four-game series and three of those hits were doubles.
I ranked Kepler #9 on my list of top Twins prospects back on December 31, which was directly in between the #8 ranking he was given by mlb.com and the #10 ranking by Baseball America before the season started. He was expected to open the 2013 season as a member of the Kernels’ outfield, but an elbow injury suffered during spring training resulted in Kepler being held back in extended spring training.
Kepler is a native of Berlin, Germany, and was given an $800,000 signing bonus by the Twins in 2009, the same off-season that the Twins signed Miguel Sano. That was the highest bonus ever given to a European player by a Major League organization. Kepler was just 16 years old at the time of his signing and moved to the United States shortly after signing with the Twins. He finished high school at the Fort Myers high school that adjoins the Twins’ spring training facility.
He has played for the Twins’ short season rookie league teams the past three years and was expected to begin his first full season of minor league ball with the Kernels in April.
I was covering the Kernels and Timber Rattlers series for Metro Sports Report over the weekend and I had an opportunity to interview Twins General Manager Terry Ryan before the Kernels game on Sunday. He shared some of his thoughts on Kepler.
“Yeah, he’s had a bad elbow and it’s been frustrating for all of us because we can’t figure out what the problem is. Now he’s playing and he’s playing the outfield. He can play left, center and right. He can play first. He’s got a lot of life in his bat. We’ll wait for him to get up to par here, because he’s way behind everybody. But I think you’re going to like what you see in Kepler as the summer progresses.”
You can read my entire interview with the Twins GM by clicking here.
Kernels Manager Jake Mauer concurred with his boss. Mauer told me over the weekend, “Kepler’s going to help us. He’s going to be a pretty good hitter.”
But just who is this young German outfielder?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kepler before Sunday’s game in Wisconsin to ask some questions that may give fans some insight in to that question.
Jim Crikket: You were expected to open this season with the Kernels. Can you tell us what happened and what you’ve been doing the past couple of months?
Max Kepler: I’ve been rehabbing. I’ve been set back three times and it was due to an elbow strain that happened during spring training. I made a throw to home and it just didn’t feel good in my elbow and I was taken out of the game right then and there.
I got an MRI and got the results and it was said to be an elbow strain. We worked on it, but I’ve been set back a couple of times and that’s why I’ve been out for so long, which is unfortunate. But now I’m back!
JC: It had to be tough staying back in Florida while the guys you were training with and playing with in during spring training in March were going north to Cedar Rapids.
Kepler: You know, it happens.
Yeah, this is the same team we had back in E’town (Elizabethton, the Twins rookie league team that won the Appalachian League championship last season), so I missed leaving with them, but I’m glad to be back with them now.
JC: I have to ask, you were growing up as a kid in Germany – why baseball? It’s not exactly the German national sport, right?
Kepler: That’s true. I went to an international school and my mom’s from Texas, so she kind of got me in to baseball.
I was doing like four to five sports at the time and it came down to soccer and baseball and I had to make a decision between either one. I just chose to go with baseball. I wanted to go to the States, go abroad.
Soccer’s real big in Germany so I would have spent the rest of my life in Germany if I’d stuck to soccer. So, yeah, I went with baseball.
JC: You said you played four or five sports, what were the others that you were playing when you were younger?
Kepler: I played soccer, baseball, I had a scholarship in tennis, I swam, played basketball and some minor little sports on the side.
JC: For a lot of the international guys, the down side to playing minor league baseball is that the family doesn’t get to watch them play a whole lot. Does your family find a way to follow you or get to see you play at all?
Kepler: Yeah, you know the time zone is a lot different there so they’re up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning just getting to see the first half of the game. But they love doing it and they’ll be down pretty soon, a couple weeks.
JC: I saw you in your first spring training with the Twins three years ago and I saw this skinny looking guy on one of the back fields. That’s not you anymore and the difference showed up a bit in your power numbers last year.
Kepler: Yep. I gained some weight (laughing). It happens.
I put on some weight and learned to pull the ball better in those couple of years and it paid off!
JC: Do you have a particular hitting philosophy? Do you see yourself as a power hitter or are you just concerned about driving the ball and if it goes over the fence, fine?
Kepler: I used to strictly see myself as a contact hitter. I came to the Twins as a contact hitter, just going (opposite field) all the time.
Now, basically, it’s just a start to a new season, first couple games, just see the ball right now and hit it. But when I’m in a groove, I like it to go far, the ball to go deep.
JC: Off the field, in your down time, what sort of things do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
Kepler: I like staying active. Last year, in E’town, we used to go out on lakes, go fishing. E’town didn’t have much to offer, but we found stuff to do.
JC: What about during the offseason?
Kepler: I love working out. Just getting back with friends and family. Spending a good time with family.
JC: Do you go back to Germany in the offseason?
Kepler: Yes, that’s very valuable to me. I only get like a month because they (the Twins) usually send you somewhere to play winter ball. I spend most of that time with family.
Kepler will make his home debut at 12:05 Tuesday afternoon when the Kernels open their first home series of the second half of the season against the Burlington Bees.
By the end of the coming weekend, the Twins will have reached the one-quarter mark of the season with 40+ games under their belts. It’s as good a time as any to reflect upon how some of the decisions made by General Manager Terry Ryan in building the team’s roster have turned out.
As a team, the Twins have been hovering over the .500 mark most of the season and, after Monday night’s win over the White Sox, they are one game over the break-even point. Over the weekend, Ryan told 1500ESPN that .500 wasn’t what he was looking for out of this team, that he wanted them to be contenders. It’s great, of course, for your team’s GM to say that kind of thing, but I think most fans would have been pretty satisfied with the prospects of a .500 year out of this Twins team.
You also have to consider that those words were coming out of the same mouth that, last November, told TwinsDaily’s John Bonnes that the Twins would be pursuing one of the “pretty darn good” pitchers on the free agent market last season and then went out and made Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey the cornerstones of the team’s free agent class.
In that same interview, Ryan also told Bonnes that he felt the free agent pitching market was, “thin,” when most of us felt there was a pretty solid group of middle-to-upper-half of the rotation arms available.
Now, looking back over the first six weeks of the season, is it possible Terry Ryan was right?
Back on November 20, I posted an article here at Knuckleballs in which I shared my wish list of free agent pitchers for Ryan and the Twins to pursue. Other fans and writers were naturally sharing their own advice for the Twins GM about the same time. Let’s see how our suggestions have been panning out compared to the guys Ryan actually signed for the Twins.
Not many of us were suggesting the Twins should (or even could) sign Zack Greinke, who eventually signed a six-year deal for $159 million with the Dodgers. Greinke was actually off to a decent start until he broke his collarbone (or rather, Carlos Quentin broke Greinke’s collarbone). Maybe Greinke will bounce back and pay dividends on his deal with the Dodgers, but I’m not sorry the Twins didn’t try to outbid the Dodgers for his services.
I argued in my post that the Twins should go ahead and pursue not one, but two of the other big dogs among the free agent pitching class, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson.
Sanchez is one guy who is putting up the kind of numbers you would hope for, so far, as his 2.05 ERA , 1.082 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 52.2 innings would attest. However, he eventually re-signed with the Tigers (5 years/$88 million), so there’s certainly doubt as to whether he and his agent would ever have even considered a move to Target Field.
Jackson, on the other hand, is not exactly earning his 4 year/$52 million contract with the Cubs. Yes, he’s striking out almost one batter per inning pitched, but otherwise, his 6.02 ERA and 1.569 WHIP are pretty close to what the Twins are getting out of Mike Pelfrey (6.03/1.689)… and Ryan is on the hook for about $48 million less than Theo Epstein owes Jackson.
The third pitcher on my wish list was Joe Saunders. I felt the Twins needed another lefty in the rotation and while he wasn’t likely to be a headliner, Saunders looked to me like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the next couple of years. When he eventually signed with the Mariners for just one year and $6.5 million, I was pretty certain the Twins would regret not outbidding the M’s for Saunders’ services (though I recall there was some talk about Saunders not being interested in pitching for the Twins, regardless).
Saunders has pieced together a 3-4 record despite a 5.51 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP. He’s struck out exactly as many hitters (20) as Correia has for the Twins, but has walked more than twice as many batters. Correia’s ERA (3.09) and WHIP (1.200) are certainly looking better than Saunders’.
So maybe my ideas, outside of Sanchez, weren’t as good as I thought they were (and apparently not as good as the ideas Ryan and his staff were having at the time).
But what about the other pitchers on the market last off season? With all of the talent we thought was out there, surely there must have been several pitchers that have turned out to make the GMs who signed them look smart.
Many of the best options, like Sanchez, were re-signed by their 2012 clubs or, in some cases, had options picked up by their teams. But there were still a number of pitchers generating buzz among the Twins faithful.
There was some chatter about Dan Haren, who ended up with the Nationals on a one-year deal for $13 million. He’s put up a 5.17 ERA and a 1.487 WHIP while striking out 27 batters in 38.1 innings over seven starts. That’s not real impressive to me, but hey, he does have a 4-3 record if that’s what you’re in to.
Brandon McCarthy was also a hot commodity in the blogging world. He got a two-year deal from the D’Backs totaling $18 million. For that, he’s accumulated a 5.63 ERA, a 1.542 WHIP, and has gone winless. I’ve read that McCarthy has been “unlucky,” as reflected in a higher than average batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That’s fine. But if you buy that, you need to also give a couple of the Twins (such as Pelfrey and, to an even greater degree, Vance Worley) pitchers the benefit of the same doubt for their “bad luck.”
Ryan Dempster got beat up a bit by the Blue Jays on Sunday, but I don’t think the Red Sox are doubting their two-year/$26.5 million investment too much, so far. He’s got a 3.75 ERA, even after giving up six earned runs to the Jays in five innings of work. His 1.146 WHIP is certainly competitive, but it’s his 61 strike outs in 48 innings that’s perhaps more impressive. Again, I don’t think there was ever any chance Dempster would sign with the Twins since he likely had more than enough suitors from among contending teams.
Shawn Marcum, though, was certainly a guy that a number of Twins fans thought might be obtainable by the club. Marcum signed a one-year deal with the Mets for just $4 million. It turns out the Mets may have overpaid. Marcum has put up a nasty looking 8.59 ERA to go with a 2.045 WHIP. He’s thrown only 14.2 innings covering three starts and one relief appearance.
Were you one of the fans touting Joe Blanton as a possible Twins rotation addition? If so, you might want to keep it to yourself. Blanton signed with the Angels for $15 million over two years and has repaid them with a 0-7 record covering eight starts. His 6.46 ERA and 1.870 WHIP would indicate his record is not terribly misleading.
It’s starting to look like Terry Ryan’s assessment of the pitching market as “thin” might have actually been pretty accurate, isn’t it?
But certainly there must be some success stories, right? Of course there are.
If, while the rest of us were laughing at the absurdity of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie to a 3 year/$25 million contract, you were actually going on the record saying it was a shrewd move certain to pay dividends, give yourself a pat on the back.
Guthrie is 5-0 with the Royals and while he’s not striking a ton of hitters out (30 Ks in 47.1 innings), he’s put up a 2.28 ERA and a 1.183 WHIP in his seven starts for the Royals. He’s gone at least six innings in every start and has one complete game shutout of the White Sox to his credit. Oh yeah, and the Royals are three games above .500 going in to Tuesday night’s games, 1 ½ games behind Division leading Detroit.
Of course, Guthrie isn’t the only free agent pitcher making his GM look wise.
Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman were among the pitchers Epstein added to the Cubs and it’s pretty clear that neither of them are primarily responsible for the Cubs being six games under .500. Villanueva sports a 3.02 ERA and a 1.007 WHIP, but has only one win in seven starts to show for his efforts. Feldman’s ERA is even lower, at 2.53 and his WHIP is a very respectable 1.148. He’s actually gotten enough support to put up a 3-3 record.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t recall a lot of wailing about Terry Ryan allowing Villanueva and Feldman to slip through his fingers. And before you credit Theo Epstein for being so much more brilliant than Terry Ryan, take a look at what Epstein and the Cubs are getting in return for outbidding Ryan for the services of Scott Baker this season. Baker’s next pitch in a Cubs uniform (if he ever makes one) will be his first.
There are probably a few more pitchers worth checking in on that are escaping me at the moment. But from the looks of things, I’m starting to think Correia and Pelfrey weren’t such bad ideas after all. I’m not convinced Correia will continue to perform at the levels of his first few starts, but I do think that as Pelfrey continues to work out the post-TJ-surgery kinks, he may actually improve as the year goes on.
Even with the benefit of perfect hindsight, I’m not 100% sure I’d jump for joy at those free agent signings, but I certainly like the way they’ve turned out so far a whole lot better than most of the other options.