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

Episode 57: The Hot Stove, and Other Wives Tales

Episode 57 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

hotstove

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!

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 have magical iTunes powers, which helps Paul Molitor use the infield shift in 2014.

-ERolf

FOXsports Reports Gardy Will Be Back

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.”

Gardenhire1Hopefully, Gardy got that assurance and it didn’t just mean Ryan would pay the current collection of AAAA players more money.

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.”

– JC

Kernels Post-Buxton Era Begins: Welcome Max Kepler

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.

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

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.

Max Kepler and Caleb Brewer sign some autographs

Max Kepler and Caleb Brewer sign some autographs

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.

– JC

Free Agent Pitching: 20/20 Hindsight

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.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan

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.

– JC

Surviving TwinsFest

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

The plan was simple:

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

Easy.

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

TwinsFest2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– JC

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gathering at Hubert's, hosted by Twins Daily

The gathering at Hubert’s, hosted by Twins Daily

Catching Up On All Things Twins

Sometimes you take a little business trip and pull back from the blogging thing for a few days and almost lose track of what’s going on with the Twins. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of great Twins blogs and podcasts to help bring you back up to speed. Of course, there also are some great Twins beat reporters that also keep us abreast of Twins news. So now that I’ve had a couple of days to get caught up, I’ve got some thoughts to share.

About those beat reporters

When one local newspaper announces a change in assignments for its Twins reporter, you don’t really give it much thought. When a second newspaper does the same, it may or may not raise an eyebrow.

But, while I don’t really keep close tabs on who is or isn’t covering the Twins for which traditional media outlet, I think a third Twins beat reporter took a different assignment last week… and I’m not sure he ever really started covering the Twins full time before he got his new gig.

Now Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN also is dropping the Twins beat, in favor of a switch to afternoon drive-time slot for his radio show. I understand that “drive-time” is a big deal to radio folks, since for many of us, the only time we even listen to the radio any more is during our commutes to/from work. And of course, the fact that 1500ESPN won’t be carrying Twins games going forward might have a little something to do with this change at Mackey’s station.

In fact, I’m sure there were plenty of good reasons for each of these moves… some apparently at the request of the respective reporters themselves, but FOUR beat reporters dropping the Twins beat? If it’s all a coincidence, it’s one heck of a coincidence, isn’t it?

By January, I’ll officially be following more FORMER Twins reporters on Twitter than current Twins reporters.

And some people say bloggers tend to come and go quickly.

Twins Moves… And Lack Thereof

When I boarded my flight for St. Petersburg FL about a week ago (which, as it turned out, did not actually land in St. Petersburg, but that’s not important here), Terry Ryan had recently traded away his second center fielder, Ben Revere, for another pitching prospect and for Vance Worley, who projects to slot in ahead of Scott Diamond in the Twins rotation. Not many were excited about losing Revere, but Ryan was generally praised for the bold move because, unlike his trade of Denard Span, this deal also helped address the 2013 pitching rotation.

We also tried to guess what Ryan’s next move would be. Certainly, he would need to wade in to the free agent pitching market if he intended to make good on his public promises to add enough starting pitching talent to assure the Twins can at least be competitive in 2013.

Worley was just the start. Of course Ryan would add more pitching, but we had to be patient. After all, Zack Greinke hadn’t signed anywhere yet, so the market for pitching hadn’t been set. Once that first domino fell, Ryan would know what the going rate for second tier pitching would be and he’d make his moves. Yes, more pitching help was coming. We just needed to be patient.

Since that time, Greinke has signed with the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez has agreed to terms with the Tigers (and, perhaps the Cubs, too?), Ryan Dempster has signed with the Red Sox, Brandon McCarthy has joined the D’Backs, Joe Blanton has become an Angel, and Dan Haren has been inked by the Nationals… just to name a few. All in all, you’d have to say the market has now been set.

Even the Royals pulled off a big trade this week, sending a boatload of prospects to Tampa Bay in return for TWO starting pitchers. Say what you wish about how wise or unwise the Royals were for giving up what they did, but they made one thing clear to their fans… they are planning on competing in 2013.

Kevin CVorreia

Kevin Correia

The Twins? Well they haven’t stood idly by either. They signed Kevin Correia to a two-year contract. He wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for and my initial reaction was pretty much as negative as most others, but I actually have little problem with the Twins signing Correia. I think they overpaid, but as we’ve mentioned before, they’re the worst team in the AL and that means they will have to overpay for pretty much any free agent.  Correia doesn’t have good “peripheral stats” so he’s certainly not a darling of the saber-metric community, but I do think he could well be better than most of the in-house options the team has.

My problem at this point isn’t with signing Correia, it’s with NOT signing other… better… pitchers.

Right now there’s no indication that the Twins are even thinking about Shawn Marcum, Edwin Jackson or anyone else of any quality. They are being linked to various has-beens, never-will-bes, and long-shot reclamation projects. The consensus seems to be that they’ve been scared off by the high prices being demanded by the remaining pitchers who could actually be… well… good at pitching.

In other words, they waited for the market to set the price of pitching and then decided that price was too high. What a surprise that is, right? How un-Twinslike! Now aren’t you glad we were patient?

Twins Hall of Fame

While the General Manager’s office has been busy dumpster diving this week, the PR folks have opened up public voting for this year’s Twins Hall of Fame inductions. I haven’t quite figured out how much say the fan voting has in determining who eventually garners enough support to be added to the club’s HoF, but if nothing else, the ballot certainly brings back a lot of memories. You should check it out.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already saw who I voted for, but here’s the list of my choices: Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Mudcat Grant, Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack, Cesar Tovar.

There were others I could certainly support. Dean Chance, Corey Koskie, Jeff Reardon, Roy Smalley and Al Worthington are quite possibly worthy… some perhaps even more worthy than a couple of guys I voted for.

Cesar Tovar tries to score

Cesar Tovar tries to score

I personally feel Tovar and Mack are among the most underrated players in Twins history and deserve to be in the Twins’ Hall, but I’m not sure voters will agree. The one player that is, as always, the most controversial is Knoblauch.

Knobby certainly didn’t endear himself to Twins fans during his messy exit from Minnesota and he has the PED thing tarnishing his image further. Maybe some people don’t like voting for “cheaters”, but I’ll bet all my money against all of yours that the Twins HoF has several players already in it that were aided by taking amphetamines and if you don’t think those are “performance enhancing” drugs, you’ve never taken them.

Knoblauch was the best second baseman in club history this side of Rod Carew and he was a critical member of the 1991 championship team. So, yeah, he wanted out of Minnesota in the end. But frankly, the Twins showed absolutely no interest in fielding a competitive team in the mid 1990s and if I had been a member of the Twins then, I almost certainly would have done anything I could do to get out of town, too.

It’s too bad Knoblauch wasn’t born a few years later. Think of how much more fun he would have been having with the Twins now, what with the organization’s new commitment to competitiveness.

– JC

Winter Meetings Day 1: Twins News & Rumors

Day one of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville is drawing to a close and while the Twins rotation still sucks, there wasn’t a complete lack of Twins-related news coming out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort. OK, calling it Twins “news” might be a stretch, but at least the Twins were mentioned here and there among all the rumors floating out of Nashville.

The Grand Ole Opry… Nashville’s second biggest attraction this week.

I spent the better part of my day refreshing various web sites that track the latest rumors and reading Twitter messages being posted by all of the Twins beat reporters representing  various media outlets. After all, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting. I was keeping up pretty well, too, at least until someone with a pretty screwed up set of priorities scheduled me in to back-to-back conference calls starting at 3:00 pm.

Speaking of those hard-working reporters down in Nashville, you really should be following them on Twitter, if you aren’t already: Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (@RhettBollinger), Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN (@PMac21), Ben Goessling of the Pioneer-Press (@BenGoesslingPP) and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune (@LaVelleNeal). Of course, MLBTradeRumors.com is a must-follow this week (and most weeks), as well.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of what I saw and heard around this here interweb thingy today:

  • Terry Ryan stated that the Twins have checked in on every available free agent pitcher, but that some are more realistic than others. (Yeah… I bet.)
  • Ryan also indicated the Twins would almost certainly participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. They have the 4th pick so not participating would be pretty stupid.
  • The Twins remain interested in right-hander Brett Myers. They may or may not have competition for Myers from the Orioles, depending on whose rumor you believe.
  • Other lesser (and in some cases, much lesser) pitchers that the Twins have been linked to include: Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan. Mike Pelfrey and Vicente Padilla. Blanton and Lannan, in particular, are reportedly high on the Twins’ list.
  • Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher remotely close to being considered a top-half-of-the-rotation option that I’ve seen even mentioned in connection with the Twins today.
  • While the Twins have indicated they’re likely to be focused on free agents during the winter meetings, other teams have continued to check in with them about the availability of both Ben Revere and Josh Willingham.
  • Terry Ryan stated that Joe Mauer will not be traded.
  • In addition to pitching, the Twins are likely to acquire a third baseman to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe during Spring Training. However, it’s unlikely they’ll add more middle infielders, which means Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar are most likely going to be manning SS and 2B, for better or… you know… worse.
  • Pitcher Liam Hendriks had some elbow surgery to remove bone chips and won’t pitch for Australia during the World Baseball Classic. Nick Blackburn had a similar procedure done at about the same time. Both should be ready to go by Spring Training.
  • Joe Mauer (USA) and Justin Morneau (Canada) do plan to participate in the WBC for their respective home countries.
  • Manager Ron Gardenhire commented to media about his time in the Twins’ “War Room” at the hotel: “I’m listening to them all and they’re trading my whole darn team!” He was kidding. (We think.)
  • Chris Parmelee may be the early contender for the Twins’ RF job, but Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Doumit could compete for the job.

I’m posting this a bit before 8:00 pm CT Monday night and suffice to say I’m pretty disappointed in Day 1, so far. Joe Blanton is the top pitcher the Twins have been connected to in any manner more than just having “checked in on.”

Newsflash for Terry Ryan: Joe Blanton will not solve your problems, sir. Nor will additions of that caliber bring fans back to Target Field. You can do better.

You must do better.

– JC

 

Winter Meetings: Time For Terry Ryan to Step Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s my point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– JC

Are We Seeing Bizarro Terry Ryan?

It’s been difficult for me this offseason to, on the one hand, listen to and read Terry Ryan’s comments about what his plans are for addressing the Twins’ obvious needs, while bearing in mind the Twins’ historical approach to offseason roster building. In fact, it brings to mind the “Bizarro World” introduced by DC Comics back in my younger (much younger) days.

Bizarro Superman #1

You remember Bizarro Superman, right? The “perfect imperfect duplicate” of Superman that was essentially the Man of Steel’s polar opposite. He lived, along with Bizarro versions of various other DC Comics superheroes, on Bizarro World… a cube-shaped version of Earth. In Bizarro World, down is up, yes is no, and virtually every uttered word means exactly the opposite of what we’re programmed to think it means.

Ryan’s stated plans for the offseason have pretty much convinced me that the Twins will be represented by Bizarro Terry Ryan at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville next week.

Consider, for example, Ryan’s comments in response to questions from Twins Daily’s John “TwinsGeek” Bonnes, as published in TD’s “Offseason Handbook” (which, by the way, you really should order if you haven’t done so yet). In response to a question by John concerning Ryan’s perception of the free agent starting pitching market, Ryan said his view is that the market is, “thin,” but that, “there’s a few guys out there who are pretty darn good.” Given that there appears to be a deeper pool of above average starting pitchers available this year than there has been for years, most of us would only characterize Ryan’s assessment of the pitching market as “thin” to be… well… bizarre.

Then consider Ryan’s response to the following questions:

Bonnes: Are you likely to be chasing some players who are pretty darn good?

Ryan: We better.

Bonnes: Are you willing to give multi-year deals to pitchers?

Ryan: You aren’t going to get a pitcher unless you give a multi-year deal.

That, in itself, is a little bit un-Twinslike. Was Terry Ryan really saying he’s prepared to step up and offer multi-year deals for “pretty darn good” pitchers? But wait… it gets better.

Bonnes: It sounds like you’re sitting back and seeing what in the market comes to you, as opposed to aggressively chasing a couple of targets.

Ryan: If I do that, we’ll probably be holding the bag. You know pitching is going to go off the board. We certainly have to be looking at it.

So, not only is Terry Ryan saying he’ll go multiple years for pretty darn good pitching, but he indicates an awareness that sitting back and waiting for pitching to fall to the Twins won’t get the job done.

Who is this man and what did he do with our GM?

This week, Ryan also was interviewed by Tom Pelissero and Phil Mackey at 1500ESPN and his message remained consistent with what he told Bonnes. Again, he used the term “thin” to describe the free agent pitching market, but he also went on to say the team needed more than one “Mark Buehrle” type pitcher. As he has stated in almost every interview he’s given this offseason, he continued to maintain that the Twins have enough money to fix the rotation and it’s his job to do so.

Add it all up and you have to say that Ryan’s message has been consistent. According to Ryan:

  • The Twins top… and perhaps only… priority is to fix the rotation. In the 1500ESPN interview, he went so far as to point out (accurately) that there’s been nothing published linking the Twins to anything but pitchers and that the only way they’d spend any significant money on anything but pitching would be if efforts to acquire serious rotation help ultimately prove fruitless.
  • Payroll is not an issue and money will not preclude the Twins from fixing the rotation.
  • Ryan intends to do exactly that… fix the rotation… even acknowledging that Scott Diamond, while having the potential to become a #3 pitcher, isn’t likely to be considered at that level in 2013. Ryan has also given every indication that he intends to actively seek multiple pitchers that exceed Diamond’s current talent level.
  • Ryan does not intend to sit back and simply scrape the bottom of the barrel of the available pitching talent. He certainly sounds intent on being aggressive in pursuing what he believes the Twins need.

None of that sounds much like the kind of noise coming out of the Twins front office in recent years. As recently as last offseason, Ryan was bluntly telling us that the payroll in 2012 would be cut considerably from the 2011 level. He played the “lower the fans’ expectations” game and then followed through by assembling a roster that reflected about a 10% decrease in Opening Day payroll, effectively meeting the reduced expectations.

So… what should we expect next week down in Nashville? Will Ryan’s actions (or lack thereof) contradict his newly-aggressive public persona? Or will he back up his words with strong action?

None of the “top half of the rotation” free agent pitchers have come off the board yet, nor have many of those rumored to be available via trade. So long as that’s the case, perhaps we can hold out hope that Ryan means what he’s been saying… that we’ll see a level of aggressive pursuit of pitching help, starting as soon as next week, unlike anything the Twins have demonstrated before. Maybe he’s not going to Nashville with one arm tied behind his back.

I hope that’s the case. But I have to admit that years of watching the Twins steadfastly avoid paying market-rate, multi-year salaries to top-shelf (or even middle-shelf) starting pitchers on the free agent market has me skeptical.

After all, as any true 1960s comic book fan could tell you, in Bizarro-speak, “me am signing good expensive pitching this time,” really means, “I’m going shopping for crap in the bargain bin again.”

– JC