Terry Ryan News

I’ve been eagerly waiting for any news from the Twins, anticipating more changes to the roster, but today the news from Twins’ headquarters is not good.

I hope Terry Ryan and his medical team will be successful at getting rid of the cancer. From the brief reports in the media today, there appears to be optimism that he caught it early enough and the treatments will be effective.

Best wishes to him and his family.


24 Games In

With a day off on their current west coast swing, it is a decent time for an early season assessment. Having completed 24 games with a record of 6-18 and on now on a three game losing streak following the sweep by the Angels, the Twins are the worst team in the majors by far. To add insult to injury, the Twins were no-hit by Jered Weaver.

Is this team really that bad?

Short answer: yes.

While the dearth of hitting the last couple of games has been obvious, that is not the primary problem. Starting pitching is the real culprit and it is very difficult to believe it is going to get any better soon. Francisco Liriano showed a few signs of improvement in his start against the Angels, but he is going to have to continue to improve and demonstrate some kind of consistency to remain in the rotation. Carl Pavano may improve some as the weather warms up, but he is not a top of the rotation pitcher anymore. Nick Blackburn is also not a top of rotation guy, and if he cannot get his sinker working consistently, he should be moved to the bullpen as the long-man/mop guy. Liam Hendricks may have some potential to be decent, but he is likely to take a few more lumps as he learns. He would definitely have benefited from some more time at Rochester, but for various reasons he has been needed.  Jason Marquis looks to be a Pavano clone – ok for the back of the rotation, but not reliable enough to be a stopper. And there you have it. By far the worst rotation in the major leagues.

That being the case, the question that comes to mind is: how long will it be before Terry Ryan declares the season lost and starts the rebuilding effort in earnest.

My best guess is he has already started working on it, testing other GM’s to determine what interest there may be in which players, but not much will actually happen until June when contending teams start to seriously explore to fill their needs for the stretch run.


Much has been said during the off-season about the Twins’ lack of leadership. Although there may be some truth to that argument, I believe this situation is much more nuanced than that.

I find the topic of leadership one of interest, not only because of how much it is being discussed these days, but also because it has been a topic I have researched, studied and practiced for a whole career. So, here is my take on the Twins and leadership.

There are many levels of leadership in an organization such as the Twins – owners, senior management, field manager, coaches, players. Owners demonstrate leadership in how they set the expectations for the senior management. Senior management lead in the choices they make for lower level managers, etc.

One could argue that the two most important leaders in a major league baseball operation are the general manager and the field manager. They certainly are the most high profile positions when it comes to evaluating the success of the franchise. While some of the chatter about leadership the past few months has involved discussion of those two positions, most has been about team leadership or lack thereof from key players.

Once the tone is set by Twins’ ownership and senior management, including Gardenhire, leadership from the players can play an important role in the success of the team, but the tone definitely is set from the top. Ownership made a change in general manager and Terry Ryan has been public about some of the changes he wants to see. He has set the tone.

From all the public comments Ron Gardenhire has made this year, he seems to have decided that he needed to change his approach and is asserting himself more vocally and boldly. That may simply be because last year’s disaster was so embarrassing that he does not want anything like that to happen again, or it may be that he realizes he needs to be more directive with younger players and not assume they have absorbed all they have been taught coming up through the system. His previous style of practically deferring to veteran players who he knew would do the right thing did not work last year and so he is going to be more vocal and directive.

Since Gardenhire has clearly set that new tone this year, player leadership will emerge to compliment his new approach. With several new players on the team and some dominant personalities gone, it will take a little time for it all to work itself out, but before long we will see players settling into their new roles.

From outside the clubhouse, it appeared that Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan were key leaders in the past. I think it is important to emphasize the point about “outside the clubhouse” because none of us know what really goes on behind the scenes. We are thus left to speculating based on reading between the lines of comments made by management and players as reported by the media.

Leadership by players can take many forms. In sports, it is almost a worn out cliche that the best kind of leadership is leadership by example. One can find many stories throughout the history of baseball that illustrate the importance of this kind of leadership. Their play showed how it is done and others learned from that success trying to emulate it in their own work to be better.

In the last decade or so, it appears to me that more emphasis has been put on vocal leadership than in the past. Leaders are now quite often identified as guys who speak out, call out teammates who are not playing up to their potential, and assert a dominant role by their dominant personality. I think there may be some truth to that kind of leadership being important in today’s game, but I also think players who lead quietly by example are critical to success.

It would be interesting to know who really commands the most respect in the Twins’ clubhouse. Was Cuddyer really the acknowledged leader among peers or was he just the public face because he was most comfortable talking to and with media? With Cuddyer and Nathan gone, who now do the players look to as the most respected guys?

I have a feeling the real, most highly respected leaders might contain a few surprises to us fans and even the beat writers. My reason for that is I think some of the more introverted players may have more influence than we think. We might get occasional glimpses or hints of who the real leaders are by comments made by players in answer to less direct questions. Maybe even some of the tweets provide insight that might not be obvious if you are not looking for it.

From some of this year’s evidence, it appears Jamey Carroll has quickly gained respect and may become a key leader. If that is true, it will be very good because on the field one of the positions that requires leadership is shortstop. In my opinion, it was as much the failure of leadership at shortstop as it was poor play and errors that led to such a bad year for the Twins last year. Alexi Casilla has all the physical skills to play shortstop well, but he does not, apparently, have the leadership skills needed. It may be largely a language issue with him, as I’m sure was a factor for Nishioka, but it is more than that. It requires a take charge personality that exudes quiet confidence and Alexi seems to be more of a good follower than a leader. He is, therefore, better suited to second base, if he is going to be a regular.

Catcher is the other most important leadership position on the field. Mauer does that well when he is able to play, but may not be a forceful enough personality or extroverted enough to do that much off the field. The other players who played so much behind the plate last year may have done alright calling the games, etc., but the inability to hit made them liabilities as complete leaders. This year it will be interesting to see if and how Doumit emerges as a leader.

Although I have no way of knowing this for sure, I suspect Jason Kubel may be missed more in the clubhouse and on the field by some players than Michael Cuddyer. The reason I say that is he led by example. He apparently said very little, but always showed up and gave full effort. I think the younger guys noticed that and those with less than big personalities will emulate that, or at least I hope so.

I’m going to be bold and predict that Denard Span, Matt Capps, Jamey Carroll and Glen Perkins are going to be important leaders this year. They will each lead in their own way. For example, Perkins is their new union representative, and that demonstrates that players have some level of respect for him.

In addition, I think Morneau will lead again if he is able to play well, otherwise he will not be a dominant voice on this team. It will take a full MVP year for Mauer to assert himself and even then he may never be a clubhouse leader because of his mild manner and introverted personality. His value off the field may be in how well he relates to and works with the pitchers and pitching coach, Rick Anderson. Both Mauer and Morneau have publicly stated more than once that they believe they lead best by example, so they need to be in the lineup regularly and playing well.

One more player to watch is Josh Willingham. He is said to be similar to Cuddyer off the field and if that is the case he could emerge as a leader.

With spring training games now underway, the players are no doubt feeling their way into their appropriate roles for this year. I am looking forward to this year in part to see who the players look to for leadership from their peers.

Payroll Debate

I just ran across this article about the Yankees that might be surprising to most Twins fans. During the off-season especially there was quite a bit of moaning and groaning from fans and bloggers about the Twins lowering payroll for 2012. Now we see that the biggest spenders of all intend to lower their payroll by more $20 million over the next few years. That is so they can be at the threshold for the luxury tax instead of above it. Almost certainly at $189 million, their target, they will still be at or near the top of baseball payrolls.

What impact will this have on the Twins? Probably not much as the Twins ownership and front office seem to set their own goals independent of what other teams spend. The current $100 million payroll is likely to be the norm for the Twins the next couple of years unless they are in a position to win and decide to go for a final key piece or two at the summer trade deadline. In 2013 when Morneau’s current salary comes off the books, the Twins may even take the opportunity to reduce payroll again, depending on how the young players develop.

As I have said before, I don’t think the payroll level is any guarantee for success when it is high and/or failure when it is low, but the idea that even the Yankees are going to look at limiting payroll increases is definitely worth watching the next few years.


Gardenhire Philosophy

On the Twins Caravan yesterday Ron Gardenhire made very clear that he was looking forward to this spring training. He compared it to last year by saying this year everything will be on HIS schedule. Last year he had to follow schedules made up by doctors for Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer. As he said, we all know how that turned out.

In his typically humorous way he said he had been practicing yelling and even has learned how to “yell a little bit in Japanese”! He proclaimed himself ready for spring to begin. Obviously, the manager likes things to be done his way.

Reading between the lines on his comments, it seems to me pretty obvious that Gardenhire is not about to change his philosophy of how to run a ML ball club, in spite of the worst year he ever had as a manager. He is convinced he knows how to prepare a team for the long season ahead and he plans to execute his plan leaving little doubt about who will be in charge this spring. It won’t be the doctors/trainers, the players, or, for that matter, the players’ agents. The latter group may have had too much influence, or at least communication control last year. It also won’t be the General Manager, so if there are any “philosophical differences” between the two, Gardenhire is prepared to put himself on the line.  For the record, I don’t think there is much difference in philosophy of how the manager should operate between Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. They have known each other for a long time and if there was a significant problem, last fall would have been the time to correct that by moving to the future with a new manager and coaching staff.

We can debate whether or not Gardenhire’s philosophy of management of a team is as good as some other managers, but other than last year, it is fair to say that the Twins preparations for the season and spring regimen have been quite effective for winning division titles.

An important element of his philosophy appears to be having a determined role for each player. He has said he believes players respond better when they know their role and expectations for that role. This is almost certainly the reason he has named a starting pitcher for opening day already and yesterday indicated who he would like to see in his opening day lineup.

Last year he deviated from that approach because he had not seen Tsuyoshi Nishioka play before he arrived at spring training so Gardenhire waited to see how Alexi Casilla and Nishioka worked together and how they looked at shortstop and second base before making a decision on who would start where. As it turned out, that combination never got a chance to gel before Nishioka’s injury. This year, there is no hesitation on Gardenhire’s part. Casilla will be at second base and Jamey Carroll will be at shortstop.

Such an approach makes it easy for bloggers and beat journalists to “predict” who will make the 25-man roster at the beginning of the year and who will be in what roles. That does not mean there is not plenty of room for opinions on the wisdom of those decisions. In fact, I expect there will be continuing vigorous debate in the blogosphere about Casilla and Carroll with many believing Carroll would be better at second base, but barring an injury to Casilla, I don’t expect that to happen by opening day.

Another element of Gardenhire’s philosophy that many in baseball find wise is his belief that bench players need opportunities to stay sharp and regulars need periodic rest to get through the demanding 162-game schedule. Last year was an aberration, but otherwise the Twins have been strong down the stretch and many attribute that to this approach to managing players.

A little more into the speculative realm, I think Gardenhire gives more decision-making responsibility to his coaches, especially pitching coach, Rick Anderson, than most managers do, at least publicly. Glimpses of this philosophy appear every once in a while. For example, recently when talking about Carl Pavano as his opening day starter he said something to the effect that he talked to Anderson and Anderson told him Pavano was the guy. This is  certainly not the only time the manager publicly appeared to defer to his pitching coach. While this may well all be just for public display and something else actually goes on behind the scenes, I have no reason to believe Gardenhire would attempt such an ongoing ruse.

Gardenhire wins much praise on a regular basis for his ability to manage the people. Many players are very positive about working under his leadership, so much so that he has earned the reputation of a “players manager”. Many fans, on the other hand, are quite critical of this element of Gardenhire’s leadership style saying that he needs to be much tougher and take charge, show who is the boss. I happen to believe in this age of players salaries and attitudes, Gardenhire’s approach is much more conducive to a good working environment than what so many fans call leadership.

Over that last several years of following the Twins, I have come to believe he is good with people, but not very good at game management. His in-game decisions are sometimes really suspect at best and it ends up costing the Twins games. Also, when it comes to big games, such as the Yankees or the playoffs, he appears visibly nervous and I suspect that is because he knows he is not good at single-game management. In the playoffs especially, there is no long-term to balance out the errors in critical strategic decisions that sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing a game. With his particular set of skills, Gardenhire would be wise to hire a bench coach who is a master tactician who could be the game manager for him. Unfortunately, I don’t think Scott Ullger is that guy and neither was Steve Liddle.

In spite of my misgivings, I expect Gardenhire and his philosophy to be around for a long time. The Twins’ ownership and management are not only satisfied with him in the dugout, they act as if they believe he embodies the Twins’ philosophy. About the only way he would be gone is if the Twins lose another 99 or 100 games in 2012 leaving ownership and top management no real option but to sacrifice the manager and coaches to appease what will almost certainly be hostile fans.

I’d be very surprised if 2012 is the disaster that last year was, but it will take some minor miracles to go from last to first in the division. More about that in a future post.

Rebuilding the Red Wings

One of the stated goals of the Twins organization for the off-season is to rebuild their AAA franchise in Rochester, NY. After two consecutive years of 90+ losses the Red Wings faithful are more than restless. Beyond fan reactions, the franchise agreement expires at the end of 2012 and the management there has made it clear that they are not happy with what the Twins have provided in recent years and have threatened not to renew the agreement.

I am no expert in minor league baseball management (most of my information about the Red Wings comes from following Jim Mandelaro’s blog), so I am wondering just how serious the situation is or might become. Do the Red Wings and Rochester have good alternatives for attracting another MLB organization to take the Twins’ place? If they decide to move on, what alternatives do the Twins have for another location for their AAA affiliate?

As I contemplate these and other questions, I can think of at least one good reason that the Twins might benefit from a change. Rochester is not an easily accessible place for travel to and from the Twin Cities. That sometimes delays the call ups from getting to the Twins in a timely fashion. Even the time zone difference is less than ideal.

I would think the most daunting obstacle to change for the Twins is finding a city that has or is willing to build a stadium to serve a AAA team. The closest current AAA cities are Omaha and Des Moines and both are entrenched with their parent clubs.

The closest team affiliated with the Twins is the Beloit (WI) Snappers and presumably one could consider them as possible partners, but the stadium there seats only 3,500 currently, one of the smallest in the class A Midwest League. The city is also not large enough to realistically consider expansion.

Ultimately, it appears the Twins must mend fences and work out a new agreement with the Rochester Red Wings. That begins with a more competitive team on the field in 2012.

With all the minor league signings in the past couple of months, the Twins have added several players who should be able to make a difference this year. In addition, some highly touted prospects are likely to be promoted from AA to Rochester. Look for Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, and Brian Frazier to give the offense a boost and Liam Hendriks is expected to play a prominent role in their starting rotation.

A fresh outlook from the point of view of a new manager, Gene Glynn, and the addition of Tom Brunanski as the new hitting coach should also help.

In all, there is good reason to be hopeful in Rochester in 2012, especially if the parent club can remain healthy and if relatively few players the Red Wings are counting on for an improved record get called up before the end of the AAA season.

Mid-December Speculation on Off-Season Goals

Even with some action in recent days by the Twins to provide fodder for new posts, I am finding plenty of room for speculation on what is yet to come. Not all the holes have been adequately filled and it is fun to do a close reading of comments made by Twins officials that allude to what they are trying to accomplish this off-season.

Based on direct comments and actions to date, it seems to me there are two primary goals Terry Ryan is pursuing this winter:

  • First, build a major league roster that can win without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau;
  • Second, build a AAA roster that will be much more competitive fulfilling the need to give Rochester fans and management a reason to continue a relationship with the Twins after the current contract expires in 2012, as well as provide viable substitutes for the Twins in case of prolonged injuries as was the case in 2011.

The first goal comes from a statement made by Ron Gardenhire during the winter meetings. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, albeit a welcome one, that the Twins were going to be that aggressive in building the roster. And I must admit when I first heard it, I thought it might just be Gardenhire in a bit of hyperbole, but as the off-season progresses, I’m not so sure it is just hype. I am surprised because Bill Smith did virtually nothing last year to provide a plan B for either Mauer or Morneau when it was obvious that they were not a lock to be back to form as the season started, and even with the GM change this year, radical changes seemed unrealistic. I was critical last year because I did not see Cuddyer as a good option long term to replace Morneau at first base, and I couldn’t believe they did not even have more than two catchers – Mauer and Butera – on the 40-man roster during spring training with Mauer struggling to return from knee surgery. Evidence that this goal is operative might be a bit thin, but the signing of Willingham followed by the confirmation that Cuddyer and Kubel were still possibilities is a pretty strong indication that Ryan is a long ways away from being finished and plan B’s are much stronger this year than last.

The second goal is a continuation of what was begun by Smith this fall when the manager and hitting coach of AAA Rochester were fired after two consecutive 90+ loss seasons. The Twins have committed to improving that Red Wings roster as well as management. The roster will get a boost when some of the Twins’ top prospects – Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Brian Dozier, Liam Hendriks – are promoted to Rochester from AA last year. Additional evidence of that commitment comes by way of hiring strong leadership and signing a bevy of minor league free agents assigned to Rochester. Several of those are players who have good AAA records and have seen time in the major leagues. Initially I was not impressed with all the minor league signings, but the more I think about the need to improve the Red Wings, the more it makes sense to view these free agents as part of a grand plan to add depth.  This coming season should be a much better year for the Red Wings.

When spring training arrives, with the then advantage of hindsight, we’ll know just how accurate my speculation about the off-season goals is. More to come.

Hints from Gardenhire

News about the Twins has been hard to come by the last week or two and that leads to bloggers searching for things to talk about. One of the most recent little morsels came as a result of the November 30 ESPN 1500 radio interview of Ron Gardenhire.

After listening to the podcast, I found there were several interesting tidbits that are worth commenting on here.

Regarding some of the player decisions that need to be made, his comments about Justin Morneau are both revealing and alarming. He said he had kept in contact with Morneau through exchanges of text messages getting updates on his progress. Gardenhire wants to make a decision before getting too deep into the off season on whether Morneau will be at first base or the DH. The fact that there is still some doubt about the former MVP’s ability to play first base regularly is not good news. If doctors are going to be making decisions about his ability to take the field, it is probably best for him to be the full time DH. It sounds like that is the way Gardenhire is leaning right now and the longer it takes to hear definitively from Morneau, the more that is the likely outcome. If that is the case, finding a first baseman this off-season will becoming a high priority.

We have been hearing for a while how the Twins want to bring back Matt Capps. Gardenhire was almost effusive in his praise of Capps. I’ll have more to say about this later, but it is my fervent hope that the Twins are patient and leave the closer decision until the rest of the roster holes are taken care of.

It was good to hear that there is some serious interest in upgrading the starting rotation. In my opinion, that is a more urgent issue than finding an experienced closer. Carl Pavano’s age could become a liability quickly. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have not been healthy for a full season in recent years and Liriano is still a huge question mark. Which Francisco is going to show up in 2012? If Duensing is going back to the bullpen as is sounds like will happen, that leaves Kevin Slowey as the fifth starter. I’m not convinced he is fully recovered from the wrist surgery and am wondering if he ever will have the breaking ball needed to be effective again. Another proven starter is a must if the Twins want to be at all competitive.

I was also intrigued by Gardenhire’s comments about Terry Ryan. When asked whether his relationship with Ryan was about the same or different from Bill Smith, he first gave a typical “safe” response of about the same, but then elaborated at little bit saying something to the effect that Ryan communicates more and keeps him updated more regularly. He indicated that Smith “kind of got away from that a little bit sometimes”.

Later in the interview Gardenhire when responding to the question about if he has had some time off to relax said that one thing about Ryan is he communicates regularly. He calls all the time, so Gardenhire has been more involved than before, even calling some guys such as Jamey Carroll to give them an idea of what to expect if they sign with the Twins.

This may just be a case of what psychologists call “confirmation bias” on my part, but his talking about communication so prominently seems to support my opinion that differences in communication including quantity, quality, and style are at the core of the philosophical differences cited when Smith was fired and Ryan hired.

While I’m focusing on Gardenhire, I’m going to mention what I believe to be his two most obvious flaws. He definitely has an obsession with mediocre players who “get after it” as he says. Matt Capps is the latest example. Somehow someone needs to get through to Gardenhire that performance results do count! Trying hard is not enough. Winning consistently requires effort that produces results. I certainly hope the more regular communication with the general manager does not lead to over paying for players who are average at best. If Capps is to be the closer for 2012, let it be because he came at a much lower cost later in the off-season.

The other major flaw I see in the manager is his unhealthy fear of ego in players. The way he has handled Danny Valencia, for example, has contributed to less than stellar play not encouraged better effort and results. This is not the only example. Other bloggers and sports writers have commented on this as well.

If he wants the “player’s manager” reputation he has to continue, he needs to figure out how to work with and motivate players with big egos. Yes, that kind of player can be very challenging, but virtually all of them actually need more support, encouragement and teaching and less public criticism because the public displays of ego are almost always a cover for insecurities of some sort.

Figure it out, Gardenhire! The Twins’ future depends on it because many young players fit this category.

Anticipations of December

December has arrived. For those who have kids (in my case, grandkids) that always means excitement and anticipation of good things to come. Soon.

In the baseball world, that translates to anticipation of activity at the winter meetings, now just a few days away.

As a Twins fan, this year I have a little more hope for something good to happen at those meetings than in the past. Terry Ryan will be getting reacquainted with old nemeses and meeting new ones. As he does so, he will undoubtedly be naming names and gauging interest for possible trades and free agent acquisitions.

Many of the Twins’ needs are not yet met and this will be a good time to at the very least establish the foundation for future trade discussions, if not complete some deals.

So far, the normally tight-lipped Twins’ front office have not let any rumors get too far along. The only thing I’ve heard so far was a quote from Ryan yesterday about Kevin Slowey still being a member of the team. That was in response to the question about whether or not the Twins will tender Slowey a contract.

This year the deadline for teams to tender contracts to those eligible for arbitration is the Monday following the close of the winter meetings. The deadline for those eligible to be free agents to accept arbitration offers if right in the middle of the meetings. Both deadlines lead to speculation that these meetings will be especially active with regard to trades and signings.

I share in the hope that the Twins will come out of these meetings with several holes filled and with more clarity as to which arbitration eligible players to tender and at what salary.

Anticipation and excitement are building! Twins fans need some good news. Soon.

Discovering the Philosophical Differences

When the Twins announced the firing of Bill Smith, the reason given was philosophical differences, that great catch-all phrase similar to “wanting to spend more time with the family” as a reason for resignations.

During this off-season one of the on-going themes will be trying to discern just what philosophical differences there might actually be between Smith and Ryan. Each statement or action of Terry Ryan will be more fodder for the feeding frenzy of the bloggers and other sports journalists.

One thread of evidence that has been present more than once in Ryan’s comments is the idea of the need for better communication. In one respect, that by itself may be the primary philosophical difference. Apparently Smith was not good at nor terribly interested in open communication. Already there are stories of efforts made by Ryan to communicate more.

Based on what we have seen so far, Ryan is likely to be more clear about his expectations with everyone than Smith was. There are reports he already has told Gardenhire and the coaches, the players and their agents, and the staff including the medical and training staff exactly what he expects.

A few comments by Gardenhire last season now have more meaning. He referred to having to communicate with injured players, particularly pre-spring training but also when they were on the disabled list, by having to go through the player’s agent. My guess is that will not happen this year.

More evidence: Ryan made direct contact with each of the players who became free agents after the 2011 season. No doubt he (or his surrogate) is in contact with the agents as well, but it is significant that Ryan is making direct contact with players.

As I said in my last post, my memory may be less than stellar, but it does appear to me that Ryan is being more up front with the media on what he intends to accomplish this off-season than Smith was in previous years. Just today in his comments about Joe Nathan’s signing with the Rangers, he was pretty clear about his intent to look to the free agent market or trade to find a closer for 2012. Many Twins fans had anticipated Glen Perkins would get a shot at earning the closer spot, but that seems to be unlikely based on Ryan’s comments.

Don’t look for the Twins to suddenly be an open book at the front office level. They will continue to play it very close to the vest as they have done in the past. Evidence for that is how cautious Ryan was in talking about the Jamey Carroll signing until after the physical was completed. The same is the case on the agreement with Ryan Doumit, who all media outlets have said is coming to the Twins, but no public announcement has been made and will not be made until he passes the physical and the contract is signed.

The one significant bit of information that we all would like more specificity on is whether or not Ryan sees 2012 as a year to compete for a division championship, a rebuilding year, or something in between. So far, he seems to be approaching the year as not quite full rebuild mode, but also not an all in-win strategy.

So, for now at least, I’m concluding that communication style and strategies are the primary philosophical differences. Others may become more apparent as the off-season progresses.