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Wolfson: Q&A With Twins GM Terry Ryan on Plans for Free Agency, etc.

Updated: 10/25/2013 1:22 PM
Created: 10/25/2013 12:46 PM KSTP.com
By: Darren Wolfson

For what it's worth, the Twins wanted Cardinals filthy reliever Carlos Martinez when he was an international free-agent as a teenager.

"He was no secret," a team official said.

It's getting lucky a few times on a comparable move, especially with pitching that will get the Twins back to elite status. Probably not spending wildly on 30-somethings in free agency. It's the combination of shrewd trades, conventional draft and development, and international free agency that are expected to remain the backbone of the Twins' foundation.

But as general manager Terry Ryan said in a lengthy phone conversation on Wednesday afternoon, he has enough financial flexibility to spend this free-agent offseason, one that starts five days after the World Series.

Below is the full Q&A with Ryan, which includes thoughts on the current roster, both the 25-man and the minor leagues, what he'll do with his arbitration-eligible players, free agency, and even his much-maligned analytics department:

 

Does Alex Meyer have a chance to crack the opening day rotation?

That's a little aggressive. He certainly has stuff. There's no doubt. That's just a little aggressive. He didn't have many innings at AA because of his shoulder (injury). We'll get a good look at him this spring, and I want to get a look at him this fall to see where he's at. He has a lot of talent. That's evident.

Does Byron Buxton -- left shoulder strain - have clearance to play in the Arizona Fall League?

It should be in the next day or two or three.

You told a few of us this time last year that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor wasn't a fit on the major league coaching staff. Why is he a fit now?

Last year, as you recall, I was looking for a catching presence since we didn't have one. We went and got (Terry) Steinbach and that fit. Then, of course, they changed the rules and allowed us to add another coach in late March. So we have an extra spot. That's how this thing played out. Paul wasn't a catching guy. That's why we hired Terry. That's why he wasn't a fit.

The good thing is Gardy reached out (to Paul). It wasn't me. That's a good thing. I just had to contact Paul to check his interest level, and he had interest. It worked out pretty well.

Did Gardy bend a little bit in enabling Molitor to be on his staff?

No, I don't think so. I don't doubt that this thing could've worked if it wasn't for that catching thing. There's not too many staffs without a catching presence.

Gardy and Molitor have been around each other quite a bit in their coaching lives. They know each other. I just know Gardy had a lot of interest in bringing him aboard, which was fine by me.

I saw in the release that Molitor will help out with in-game strategy. That should be interesting. I'll say this: Molitor will want to use closer Glen Perkins for 4 or 5 outs. I bet philosophically from talking to Molitor that he and Gardy won't agree on everything.

I don't think there's any question. Gardy and I talked. He doesn't want yes men behind him. It should work. I'm not going to tell you that all of our ills are fixed. They're not. We have issues here. But adding Molitor to the staff is a nice start to the fall.

What is the main issue? What keeps you up at night?

Starting pitching. We have to get better on the mound. We're not giving ourselves a chance. We're not getting deep enough into games. We're overexposing the bullpen. We got through a few things last year. One was Kyle Gibson. He made it through the year with no setbacks. I'm sure he learned quite a bit. Now it's time for him to step forward. We lost (Sam) Deduno. We had to keep an eye on (Mike) Pelfrey. (Scott) Diamond had an off year. (Kevin) Correia had the type of year I was hoping for, really. But our starting pitching has to be improved.

Correia is really the only guy you can lock in to the starting rotation for next year, right?

I would think Deduno. You can put him in there somewhere. He was pretty good for quite a few starts. If and when he starts to throw it over with any consistency they just don't hit him. I'm not saying he's a lock to be a 200-and-something inning guy. That might be a stretch. But when he's healthy, he's not too bad.

Any chance you keep Pelfrey off the free-agent market, and get something done in the next handful of days?

Probably not. His agent (Scott Boras), of course, will probably want to field what's out there for him -- that's like most free agents, although I saw Tim Lincecum re-signed with the Giants (2-years/$35M). When a guy has free agent status and he's this close, unless you overwhelm a guy, the chance of him not exploring what's out there is minimal.

Well, the Giants overwhelmed Lincecum. I think that contract will affect the market.

I don't know about that. We say that every year when a guy signs early. Everyone tries to portray that as the market. I don't necessarily agree with that. That's one instance. There will be a couple (contracts) that come into play this winter, or fall, and we will all grasp some. But that doesn't mean it sets the market.

What about the offense? You didn't stutter when you said pitching is your top issue. I might argue it's the offense. I know you have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, etc. coming up. But you've told me before that there are no guarantees with any of those guys. Don't you need to fix the offense too?

Yeah. I stated when we left spring training that I thought our offense would be ok. I didn't think we'd be a force offensively. But I thought we had pretty good balance and some power. We had a number of right-handed hitters to get in there to offset the lefties. We had some experience. Then as the season progressed we had people who had off years. (Josh) Willingham had an off year. (Ryan) Doumit didn't have the same kind of year. (Justin) Morneau didn't hit it over the fence. (Joe) Mauer got hurt. (Trevor) Plouffe didn't hit it over the fence. All of a sudden things didn't go so well. I think some of that can be corrected. But we also need to do some stuff to help that offensive side. We struck out at an alarming rate, as everyone knows. The Doziers, Florimons, even Arcia, some of those guys who struck out -- even (Aaron) Hicks -- shouldn't strike out. That was my biggest concern. You can't have catalyst-type guys striking out at that rate. Probably even more alarming to me is when they struck out. Bases loaded, no outs, and we can't have that type of stuff. That happened frequently. My expectations maybe I exceeded. Maybe I thought everything was fine and it isn't. I know people had off years. Some of it injuries and some of it not. It just didn't happen.

What if this is who these guys are? I'll cite Plouffe, Doumit, Willingham. What if Willingham had his career year in 2012, but this year was more indicative of who he is? Same with the other two.

Doumit and Willingham are different since they've been around seven, eight, nine years. Willingham has had decent years up until this year. I know he had a tremendous year the previous. Doumit: I don't exactly know how to describe it. The fact he got out on his own so much. He's not a bad hitter. He's got power from both sides. We'd take an average year. I don't think he had that. Plouffe is a two-plus (year) player. I won't make excuses for anyone. But that's a relatively inexperienced player that should still be on the upside. Most players if they become *players* it's in their third or fourth year. I won't panic on that one.

So, you'll tender Plouffe?

Yeah. He's got power. There's no reason why he can't be a player. He did improve defensively. I know it's not up to standards we're hoping for. We need more out of him. He has enough arm. He has decent-enough hands.  Now it's anticipation and positioning and knowing the hitter and pitcher. We've been patient with him and we'll continue to show patience. Hopefully he rewards us in the very near future.

Do what the A's do: sign a bat to platoon with Plouffe and have him only start vs. lefties.

You could do that. That's a possibility. I'm not saying that's something that has been discussed. It could be. I'd like to think we can find guys who can play 140, 150 games. That's one of our problems. We've had very little continuity in any lineup. We've had guys bouncing all over. I'm not saying you couldn't put (Eduardo) Escobar over there. You could. Escobar's got some pop in his bat. There's a spot for him if he wants to take it. So, there's always that possibility.

Any thought into having Hicks bat just right-handed? We see Shane Victorino doing that for Boston.

No. He switched over because he had rib problems. I think Hicks is too young to do that. Nobody in the organization who's had him has advised me to do that - (Tom) Brunansky, (Joe) Vavra, anybody else who has handled him through the system. He had a good year two years ago from the left side. Usually our history says things go in cycles. Christian Guzman was the last guy we wanted to do that with. Ultimately he hit better from his weaker side. I think it's too premature.

You and Hicks OK with him not playing winter ball?

Yeah. That's a choice. We've had other players not go to winter ball when I thought it'd be advisable. It happens. Not everyone is comfortable going to winter ball. Some, if not many of those players came back with something to prove and did a decent job. I think it would've helped him. But I still think he has a good ceiling. I think he'll be OK.

Tell me why I'm wrong: Joe Mauer plays more games at first base in 2014.

Well, it remains to be seen. It looks like he's symptom-free (from his concussion). I haven't talked to him, but Gardy has. I've been advised my some of the medical people. That's one good thing. The other thing is we've tried some of that stuff when he DH's, plays first, catches, and like I said before, I want to get to the point where we can put guys out there for 600 plate appearances. You'd like to have a set position and a set lineup. I'm not quite sure how that will play itself out. We're a little shallow into the fall and winter months.

You move him to first and sign a free-agent catcher. There's enough guys out there.

Yeah. I understand. I hear you.

I heard Molitor on 1500 ESPN, and Gardy said this earlier in the month: you want to bring in winners. I'm not sure how to quantify that. Personally, I'd take nine Joe Mauer introverts.

I'd take winner players like Mauer, and for some of the criticism he takes, he's a pretty good player. That's regardless of whether he's a verbal player or catches or hits it over the fence. Joe Mauer knows what he's doing. He's a darn good player.

The people who criticize him make no sense. I'm just saying a catcher whether it's Carlos Ruiz, Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, you've got some winners.

If we weren't talking about this concussion business, I'd want him behind the plate.

But it's the elephant in the room. Logic says being a catcher you're more likely to get a concussion.

Not necessarily. But I understand where you're coming from. The physicians have told me that just because a guy has one doesn't mean he'll have a repeat.

Would you give up your 2nd round pick to sign a free-agent?

If he's good.

Really? That surprises me.

Sure, if he's good. Depends on who it is and longevity and age and all that stuff. I don't think there's a club that wouldn't give up a second-rounder to get quality back, and longevity.

That means you'll have to spend some money. As you know, the richest outside free-agent contract you've given out is 3-years/$21M to Willingham. If you sign a guy who has been tendered, you'll crush that contract. Prepared to do that?

Depends who it is. I have flexibility with payroll.

But are you comfortable spending that sort of money?

As long as we have people who are committed. If we have someone who's been recommended by our evaluators and Gardy's on board, I'll be listening. I'll take their guidance. We have people who put their neck out and are committed to whoever the player is or the pitcher is, you move forward. If it costs you some money, we go to where we're comfortable. If we can't get it done, OK. That hasn't changed around here. I know we haven't spent a lot of money. Back in the day when we did well we didn't need to spend money because we drafted, scouted, developed, and promoted -- international, Rule 5, all that stuff.

The Cardinals are the model franchise with that stuff now.

They're one of them. They have done a lot of things right. They have pitching. They've drafted pitching. They've made trades. They have a great farm system and a great tradition. They have a lot of things going the right way.

How you would classify this free-agent pitching class?

It's OK. It'll be very competitive. There will be 25 clubs in on almost any quality starter. There's not enough to go around. We all know that. You'll probably be able to get one of them, hopefully. There's a couple guys out there that need to have their futures decided with an option and possibly a tender.

The Glen Perkins surgery: something you knew about, or discovered with his post-year physical?

I've been out of town the last few weeks. When I got back here I decided I'd let people know. It was just a clean-up. It's not anything serious. I wasn't worried about it. I knew he had it because he had it in the exit physical. The same with Darin Mastroianni (ankle). Nothing surprising.

Doumit and his concussion: That one is sort of forgotten.

It's not a problem anymore, and wasn't five, six days after the 7-day DL concluded. But we brought up the kids (Josmil Pinto & Chris Herrmann) and Gardy wanted to get a look at them. We put at DH and a little in the outfield. I'm not worried about him.

Will Doumit catch again?

Oh, yeah.

I thought Herrmann and Pinto exceeded expectations.

There's something there to work with. Pinto has offensive potential. Herrmann gives you protection in a few areas. There's something there with both. Pinto had one of the better years for us in the minors. That's encouraging. He's not afraid.

Trade market: there might be a pretty good pitcher or two available. Would you go all-in? Do something like the Royals did last year to get James Shields?

I'd be concerned about that with how long the guy's contract lasts. We've got a lot of work to do. One thing won't get it. There's a chance if we do some things right that we can certainly get closer than some people think. We have some ability in the minor leagues. We didn't have a lot go right this year. I'll be the first to admit that. If you find some of that pitching, it makes you look a lot better in a hurry. So, you'd have to give it some consideration. But it'd have to make a lot of sense. No doubt.

Well, Buxton and Sano are off-limits. But combine some of the other guys. You'd have to entertain the thought.

You entertain it. Like any GM, you take the phone call. Let's hear the facts and look at the contract. Let's look at his age and scouting reports. Then you make a call.

But will you be proactive? Will you seek out other GMs at the GM meetings next month?

I'm sure I will talk to GMs who have pitching available, which is few. You know that. There's not many people looking to move quality pitching.

Why do the Rays produce so many quality arms?

That guy down there is pretty smart (GM Andrew Friedman). They also have a good minor-league system and people out evaluating. They really stress pitching. Every year it seems like they grab people to pluck into various positions. They always seem to have pitching. It works for them. Maybe we need to gravitate toward that.

Why not hire some of their guys? Find their No. 6 or 7 guy and make him the No.4 guy under you?

Why don't I just copy what they're doing? I have a lot of trust in our guys. We'll get this thing squared up.

Are you adding to your analytics department?

I've got people. They are full-time people. I know it gets a lot of attention like we don't use it. That's the furthest thing from the truth.

I know you bounce stuff off (analytics boss) Jack (Goin) all the time.

I don't do anything without input. I will sway because of their input sometimes. It's a piece to everything I do. We have bright people over there. They give me numbers, tendencies, and what they think might happen in the future. Scouting, make-up, analytics -- I don't do much without all three. Don't think I don't use sabermetrics.

Two-person department?

It's more than two. Our director of pro scouting is into it deeper than almost anybody. Between Jack and Vern Followell, and it's not like I don't know what to look for. Not too many of these numbers get by us. I'd say it's closer to five.

You making any tweaks to the front office this offseason?

Yeah, there will be tweaks.

Anything headline-grabbing?

No. ... But important to this organization.

At liberty to give an example?

No.

Writer's note: I also asked Ryan about the other two arbitration-eligible players: pitchers Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak. He declined comment. League sources are convinced both will be tendered.

Twins GM Terry Ryan
Photo: KSTP File Photo

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