• The Twins Way

    How many times have we heard someone say, “The Twins need to get back to emphasizing the Twins Way?” Or, perhaps just as often we hear, “the Twins need to forget about the Twins Way crap… it doesn’t work.” Either way, “The Twins Way” has become a cliché and a pretty tired one, at that.

    But what is The Twins Way? We have some vague idea that it’s about playing good defense, running the bases intelligently, moving runners effectively and, yes, “pitching to contact” (how’s that for using one tired cliché to define another one?).



    But I think it goes much, much deeper than all of that. I think The Twins Way is a philosophy – a culture that is embedded at every level of the organization.

    It is a culture that has led to a fair amount of success for the Twins over the years, as a Major League Baseball team and as a privately owned and operated for-profit business.

    It’s also a culture that has driven many Twins fans to such a level of frustration that they’re almost incapable of having any discussion about the ballclub that doesn’t include a loud cry to get rid of the ownership, the front office executives, the manager, the coaches or, quite often, all of the above.

    Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do.

    But if we’re going to have a dialogue about the pros and cons of The Twins Way, I think we should get our arms around what that actually means, so at least we all know what we’re talking about when we hear the term used or, heaven forbid, use the term ourselves.

    (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.)

    In my mind, The Twins Way starts with the concept of getting the best possible efforts and results out of whatever level of talent specific players might possess. The 1987 World Champion Twins. The “piranhas.” Brad Radke and Nick Punto.


    Terry Ryan discusses the “Twins way” with a minor leaguer during spring training in 2010. The player quickly tucked his jersey back in his pants.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept. It’s what every organization SHOULD strive to achieve, isn’t it?

    And if you have a baseball team filled with overachieving mid-level talent, you can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle and accomplish great things. When that happens, the entire community and fan base rightfully takes great pride in the accomplishment.

    Sometimes, however, it causes those in charge to conclude that catching that lightning is something that can be repeated consistently or, even worse, that what’s been accomplished is not due to something as random as lightning strikes, but was actually accomplished by intentionally identifying potential new piranhas or the “next Brad Radke.”

    In fairness, this aspect of The Twins Way has its roots in necessity. Going back to the near-contraction days, the Carl Pohlad-owned Twins had to find inexpensive ways to compete with the rich clubs. They weren’t going to get Roger Clemens, so they needed to figure out how to win with Radke-types.

    Scouts looked for a certain sort of “make-up” in high school and college players, not to mention minor leaguers. “Toolsy” position players and “pitch to contact” pitchers with good “make-up” were perhaps deemed more affordable, short term and long term, than top-tier talents who would not only be more costly to sign initially, but would be more likely to bolt for major market teams as soon as they could escape their serfdom with the Twins.

    Shopping the free agent market meant picking through the bargain bins once the teams with real money to spend signed all the best available talent. There was never enough money in the coffers to retain the Twins’ own free agents, much less pay for those hitting the market from other organizations.

    The move to Target Field was supposed to change things and, in many ways, it has. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the people running the show and they are smart people. They know baseball and they know they need to put a better product on the field. To their credit, they’ve made some of the necessary cultural changes.

    Starting with the draft and international signings, the Twins have begun to spend money. The Twins outbid the Pirates for Dominican Miguel Sano and they’ve used the early draft picks that come with having really bad seasons to select what are arguably the best athletes available, such as Byron Buxton, rather than use “sign-ability” as a code word for spending as little as possible on new talent.

    They re-signed the players they deemed the most critical to retain from among their own group of free agents, including a significant extension for Justin Morneau and an eight-year contract for Joe Mauer at $23 million per year.

    They’ve dipped their toes in the mid-range levels of free agency, signing players like Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia to multi-year contracts at mid-seven digit levels annually.

    As the Twins complete a third consecutive season in which they’re likely to lose at least 90 games, it may not seem like it but The Twins Way is changing.

    They’re still teaching the importance of fundamentals at the lower levels of the minor leagues, but they’re teaching those fundamentals to, on balance, a group of ballplayers with more pure talent than used to be the case. In time, we should see these talented players working just as hard as the piranhas did and winning more games as a result.

    As I see it, there’s really one remaining major cultural paradigm within the organization that needs to change and it’s probably the most difficult change for the organization to make. It has to do with being prepared to spend significant money on top-tier free agents from other organizations, even if it means having to risk paying more for their talents than your best judgment tells you they are worth.

    Not doing so won’t prevent the Twins from eventually becoming competitive again. Three years from now (maybe even two, if everything falls right), the talent in their minor league pipeline could well have the Twins competing for an AL Central Division title again.

    But if they show their historical patience, how many fans will still be showing up at Target Field by then? It’s a lot harder to get fans to come back than it is to keep them, but you need to be willing to give them a reason to keep showing up.

    It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out what the Twins need to improve significantly next season. It will require the same thing everyone knew it would take a year ago… and the year before that. It will take better starting pitching – much better starting pitching.

    Adding the kind of pitching required won’t be easy. They’ll have to outbid teams that have had more recent success for one or more of the best available free agent arms and/or they’ll need to let go of some of their highly coveted young prospects to get pitching help via trade. Either way, they’ll need to be willing to spend money, perhaps a lot of it.

    If they add nobody of significance to their roster, they’ll start 2014 with a payroll just slightly more than half of what they had committed to their Opening Day roster in 2011, so there’s no argument to be made that money isn’t available.

    The only remaining question is whether General Manager Terry Ryan and others running the organization are prepared to let go of the last remaining tie to the old culture and spend that money.

    In his excellent article at TwinsDaily.com, Nick Nelson laid out a number of reasons Twins fans should be optimistic that Ryan will do exactly that.

    I hope he’s right. I want so badly to believe he’s right.

    But after expecting more aggressive moves the past two winters and being left thoroughly disappointed, I just can’t convince myself to believe it until I see it.

    - JC

    I opine about the Twins and Kernels regularly at Knuckleballsblog.com while my alter ego, SD Buhr covers the Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com.

    ~You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant~

    This article was originally published in blog: The Twins Way started by Jim Crikket
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Some very good insights. One inflammatory line that made me laugh. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
    1. Jack Torse's Avatar
      Jack Torse -
      The only remaining question is whether General Manager Terry Ryan and others running the organization are prepared to let go of the last remaining tie to the old culture and spend that money

      Is Terry Ryan really the one reluctant to spend money on FA contracts or is he just taking the heat for the Pohlads who don't want to spend the money? After all it was Jim Pohlad who said in a Phil Mackey piece that he couldn't justify spending more money on a 90 loss team. Makes you wonder what exactly the "philosophical indifferences" were with Billy Smith.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      In short, the Twins Way (TW) has clearly been trumped by the Rays Way (RW), and finally even the somewhat dull executives in this organization are starting to realize that their MLB product kinda sucks. It's not even that they don't win a Series. These guys aren't even fun to watch anymore.

      The result has been kidnapping Gene Glynn and stashing him in Rochester, signing teen superstars Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, luring TW survivors Terry Steinbach and Tom Brunanski back into the fold, trading a couple TW CF's for pitchers that can throw 95+, and drafting more pitchers that can throw harder than Andrew Albers.

      Sadly, it's a long way from TW to RW. This is gonna take awhile. Meanwhile, this team is going to continue to kinda suck for at least another couple years.

      Don't buy a jersey with a name on it.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      This was a very good article. Thank you. While I understand the impatience and even anger that many show towards the Twins organization, I tend to appreciate what the Ryan and others are trying to do here. I am old enough to remember when the Twins came to Minnesota in 61. In over 50 years of Twins baseball, there have been 2 periods of sustained competitive baseball by the Twins. The mid-sixties to early seventies stretch and the 2000's stretch. The 87 Twins and 91 Twins were exciting and fun, but both were the kind of rather flukey years that happen in baseball, not really the result of a strong and deep organization.

      I am excited for might happen over the next 10 years or so. The Twins have acquired some very fine front line talent, potential superstars. Things might happen and that might not occur, but clearly the talent is there. What I like, as you suggest, is that the Twins have not abandoned what has worked for them before. There are a number of potential Radkes and solid positional talent in the organization. Guys who will likely get the most out of their talent, and they could turn out to be better players then we currently expect.

      What is needed is a certain amount of patience. I have nothing against going out buying some front line starting pitching, even if it means overpaying. What I hope we don't see, is getting too impatient and trading potential front line talent for 2 years of even very good pitching. I think Kansas City will regret trading Myers even though the trade has made them much more competitive than they would have been without the trade. The discussion yesterday about trading Rosario illustrates what I mean. If you are sure he isn't a front line talent and he can bring back 2 or more years of top flight pitching, make the deal. But he could be pretty special, I think, and making this sort of deal is probably pretty short sighted. It could make you more competitive right now, but is highly unlikely to turn you into a playoff team, and will almost certainly make you worse 3 or 4 years from now.

      Personally, and I realize that many don't feel this way, I want a team that has a good chance to be competitive year after year for many years. I don't believe in rolling the dice and trying extra hard for a World Series in any particular year. It is too easy for what happened to Toronto this year to happen and now you have morgaged your future, saddled yourself with long term contracts that you can't easily get rid of, and each year your chances of competing get worst.

      Again I appreciate, your post.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      It's premature to say "The Twins Way" has been replaced--let's be blunt nearly all of those who crafted "TTW" are still in/running the organization. The active roster sure looks like the same sort who we have watched for years (except not as skilled). It will take much more than new buzz words to convince me that there has been real change.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Starting with the draft and international signings, the Twins have begun to spend money. The Twins outbid the Pirates for Dominican Miguel Sano and they’ve used the early draft picks that come with having really bad seasons to select what are arguably the best athletes available, such as Byron Buxton, rather than use “sign-ability” as a code word for spending as little as possible on new talent.
      True, although the Sano signing was already 4 years ago, under the previous GM. Did they go big internationally, before or since? And the Buxton signing didn't happen until MLB implemented hard draft slots, severely limiting the negotiating leverage of draftees -- hopefully that change nets us more talent like him, but it's hard to give the Twins too much credit for just going along. That would be like crediting NBA teams for spending restraint just for following the max contract guidelines.

      They re-signed the players they deemed the most critical to retain from among their own group of free agents, including a significant extension for Justin Morneau and an eight-year contract for Joe Mauer at $23 million per year.
      Again, previous GM (although to be fair, they haven't had any players worth re-signing in awhile). And some of those investments were questionable -- Morneau was a 1B, Nathan was a closer, and they inexplicably waited pretty late to extend obvious Twin for life Mauer.

      They’ve dipped their toes in the mid-range levels of free agency, signing players like Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia to multi-year contracts at mid-seven digit levels annually.
      Correia is mid-range? "Mid-seven digit levels annually"? You realize the AVERAGE MLB salary is around $3.5 million, and that includes all of the pre-arbitration players working for peanuts? If Correia is a mid-range free agent, what the heck is a low-range free agent? You can't really sign a starting player to a guaranteed deal any lower than Correia's annual salary.

      Outside of Willingham, there isn't even a trend. They went just above average MLB salary for Ramon Ortiz and Livan Hernandez too, although I guess they didn't tack on the second year (although I believe TR has said he resisted giving the second year to Correia).
    1. strumdatjag's Avatar
      strumdatjag -
      Tommy Lasorda once said the "Dodger's Way" meant that at every level the players would be taught to turn a double play a particular way, and handle other plays the same way. So, when a shortstop would be called up from the minors, he would already be on the same page with the second baseman for example! The Twins Way includes a similar philosophy.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      You can't teach everything thru the minors. Fast-tracked, young and with a language barrier, Arcia is still a work in progress. After toiling in the Indy Leagues for a decade, Colabello has less than two years in The Twins Way. Sometimes, you have to learn on the job.

      At this point, the better question is: do the Twins have to play it safe and hold-back prospects until they fully mature (in the Twins Way) in the minors, or just throw them into the mix, shuffling them up-and-down and seen fit.

      The Twins also have to throw roster time out the window. If they guys deserve to advance and play now, don't worry about an extra year of arbitration or having too many guys hit free agency at once. If the guys are that good, they also have worth to other organizations. In that way teams like the A's and Rays go above and beyond the Twins in moving talent in and out.

      The era of loyalty is dead. You can't plan on having players spend their entire life with a team (we even had it waaaay back when Killebrew found fit to give a go with the Royals, when Yogi Berra decided to try another season with The Mets). And it should also be looked at in the front office. You don't always have to promote from within and having a lifetime job with the Twins with great responsibility shouldn't be the norm.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      The Twins way:
      a. Do not try a pickoff play, ever, especially the catcher, because why risk throwing the ball away?
      b. Do not try a squeeze play, ever, because you might lose a baserunner.
      c. Do not hit and run -- risk of swing and miss.
      d. Do not make yourself into a running team because you might make outs on the bases, even though you are not a power team.
      e. Do not try to hit home runs because you might strike out, and anyway, the Twins are more of a "do the little things" type team.
      f. Hit the other way, even if it means dinky singles from your number 3 hitter.
      g. Play for one run whenever possible, even with one of the worst pitching staffs in the league.
      h. Play your backup catcher or 1B in right field as often as possible because you need the offense you aren't getting from them in the first place.

      So, in essence, it boils down to: Don't take any chances. Don't risk anything. Just play the game the way it is supposed to be played, sacrifice often, run station to station, let the other team hit the ball and go get it -- no passion, no surprises, none of this high risk--high reward stuff. Definitely the most boring team in baseball. Hands down.

      And now, they are too afraid of having to replace a manager to let him go during the season. Talk about risk averse. A guy who has lost 90 games three years in a row, has a 12-game playoff losing streak and has only won one playoff series -- ever. I mean, the Twins lack of "going for it" -- for anything, anywhere, anytime, is ... for lack of a better word, pathetic.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      Great article.

      Money quote:
      As I see it, there’s really one remaining major cultural paradigm within the organization that needs to change and it’s probably the most difficult change for the organization to make. It has to do with being prepared to spend significant money on top-tier free agents from other organizations, even if it means having to risk paying more for their talents than your best judgment tells you they are worth.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      I am old enough to remember when the Twins came to Minnesota in 61. In over 50 years of Twins baseball, there have been 2 periods of sustained competitive baseball by the Twins. The mid-sixties to early seventies stretch and the 2000's stretch. The 87 Twins and 91 Twins were exciting and fun, but both were the kind of rather flukey years that happen in baseball, not really the result of a strong and deep organization.
      I think it's ok to include the 87 and 91 teams as part of one sustained run. More up and down seasons in that stretch, but it was the same core group of guys who put together the fun 1984 run and several of the clutch guys were part of the 87 and 91 teams (Gagne, Gladden, in addition to Puckett and Hrbek).

      Signing a big name free agent pitcher is what put us over the top in 1991 -- go figure!
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      True, although the Sano signing was already 4 years ago, under the previous GM. Did they go big internationally, before or since? And the Buxton signing didn't happen until MLB implemented hard draft slots, severely limiting the negotiating leverage of draftees -- hopefully that change nets us more talent like him, but it's hard to give the Twins too much credit for just going along. That would be like crediting NBA teams for spending restraint just for following the max contract guidelines.
      You're aware Pinto, Arcia, and Sano are International signings right? Sano is 20, so if you're asking about 19, 18, and 17 year-olds there is some really good information on the board. IMHO things look just fine.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      I think it's ok to include the 87 and 91 teams as part of one sustained run. More up and down seasons in that stretch, but it was the same core group of guys who put together the fun 1984 run and several of the clutch guys were part of the 87 and 91 teams (Gagne, Gladden, in addition to Puckett and Hrbek).

      Signing a big name free agent pitcher is what put us over the top in 1991 -- go figure!
      Some perspective...

      The big time free agent was 36. He was coming off three years of ERAs above league average. The previous two were well above. He was signed to a one year contract with options that were much lower than the base.

      This was written at the time...

      "At age 35 -- he'll turn 36 in May -- Morris is likely past his prime. He hasn't had a winning season or an earned run average below 4.50 since 1988. But his second half last season -- 9-9, 3.94 ERA, two shutouts, one one-hitter -- showed he still can pitch effectively."

      Wouldn't a one year Johan Santana signing this winter be very similar? Johan would be a year younger than Jack. He hasn't had a good season for three years. I looked for a different comp that was healthy but there aren't very many guys that put up ERA+ of 79 and 89 and continue getting the ball every fifth day.

      I thought maybe a guy like Buerhle but he has performed much better the last three years.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      This is a great article! Well thought out and fair.

      It's always strange to me that "The Twins Way" is hated as a cliche so much. It's like "Pitch to Contact." In its most basic state, both are wise. Pitch to Contact says, get ahead and throw strikes. We all know there are a lot of pitchers who have been successful without throwing 95. What we have seen the last several years is Pitch to too Much Contact, throwing it down the middle as opposed to good command, etc. The Twins Way speaks to max effort from everyone on the roster. It was influenced by the fact that Kirby Puckett was the Twins top player and yet he hustled and worked as hard as anyone on the roster. It meant playing the backups and expecting them to step right in and contribute, with max effort. The piranhas were a great example.

      Do people forget that The Rays Way was based off of The Twins Way, from when The Twins Way was working? The Rays Way took several years to get going, and was helped greatly by the fact that they picked at the top of the draft for many years in a row. It certainly didn't happen over night.

      Oh, and if we want to say that pitchers are just going to make more and the Twins are going to need to spend more, then no more complaining about Pelfrey or Correia-like signings.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      Some perspective...

      The big time free agent was 36. He was coming off three years of ERAs above league average. The previous two were well above. He was signed to a one year contract with options that were much lower than the base.

      This was written at the time...

      "At age 35 -- he'll turn 36 in May -- Morris is likely past his prime. He hasn't had a winning season or an earned run average below 4.50 since 1988. But his second half last season -- 9-9, 3.94 ERA, two shutouts, one one-hitter -- showed he still can pitch effectively."

      Wouldn't a one year Johan Santana signing this winter be very similar? Johan would be a year younger than Jack. He hasn't had a good season for three years. I looked for a different comp that was healthy but there aren't very many guys that put up ERA+ of 79 and 89 and continue getting the ball every fifth day.

      I thought maybe a guy like Buerhle but he has performed much better the last three years.
      Fair enough, and I did not dig for details prior that post, but the Morris signing definitely passed the WOW! test at the time, if not for his stats (but those too) then at least for his competitiveness and you banked on him pitching every fifth day.

      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      "At age 35 -- he'll turn 36 in May -- Morris is likely past his prime. He hasn't had a winning season or an earned run average below 4.50 since 1988....
      ...
      ...and it's always nice to read old quotes from Patrick Reusse, the eternal optimist.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      You're aware Pinto, Arcia, and Sano are International signings right? Sano is 20, so if you're asking about 19, 18, and 17 year-olds there is some really good information on the board. IMHO things look just fine.
      You missed the entire point of the post you quoted. He is making a valid point about whether this current group has the guts to go big on an international free agent or any other for that matter. It's a legitimate concern that does need to be shown before more talk is going to pass muster.

      I like quite a few things about the "Twins Way", but like any mantra of how to do things, without perspective it can lead to as many problems as it solves. Chief among them is that this team has gotten far too comfortable promoting from within and being too insular from outside ideas/perspectives.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      You missed the entire point of the post you quoted. He is making a valid point about whether this current group has the guts to go big on an international free agent or any other for that matter. It's a legitimate concern that does need to be shown before more talk is going to pass muster.

      I like quite a few things about the "Twins Way", but like any mantra of how to do things, without perspective it can lead to as many problems as it solves. Chief among them is that this team has gotten far too comfortable promoting from within and being too insular from outside ideas/perspectives.
      I didn't miss anything. I responded to a specific question posed by the OP as I'm privileged to do as a Senior Member Triple-A. There was no hint he was questioning somebodies guts.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      I didn't miss anything. I responded to a specific question posed by the OP as I'm privileged to do as a Senior Member Triple-A. There was no hint he was questioning somebodies guts.
      He asked, other than Sano:

      Did they go big internationally, before or since


      You then proceeded to list Sano as part of the group that proved this wrong. The other two - Pinto and Arcia - were not "big" international signings by any imagination. They were good ones, but completely irrelevant to the question asked. It was in reference to spending significant money to bring in players.

      Instead, you made it about what you want to keep saying, not about what the point actually was.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Lewin Diaz?
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Amaurys Minier, Lewin Diaz, Lewis Thorpe.
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