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  • What Are the Twins Doing... and Why?

    It has been a weird offseason for the Twins, hasn’t it?

    I’m not complaining. mind you. It’s refreshing to see General Manager Terry Ryan being aggressive in the free agent market, addressing the team’s starting pitching needs. Signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year contract with a fifth year vesting option was more than a little out of character for the Twins. Adding Phil Hughes on a three-year deal two days later was almost downright giggle inducing.


    Terry Ryan (Photo:Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs)

    (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)

    I mean, not only did Ryan go sign a couple of guys who were clearly in demand elsewhere, but the organization obviously looked beyond just wins, losses and ERA in determining whom to target. That’s just not normal for this front office.

    But the thing is, Ryan’s apparently not even close to being done with his offseason shopping. Based on media reports, Ryan has also been actively looking to upgrade his roster at other positions, most notably at catcher and in the outfield.

    Like most Twins fans, I imagine, my first reaction to all this activity has been, “Great! It’s about time!” But, at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, my second reaction has been to wonder why this is happening all of a sudden.

    I suppose, if you were inclined to take the comments made by the Twins ownership and front office management at face value, none of this should surprise us. I think owner Jim Pohlad, team president Dave St. Peter and GM Terry Ryan have all pretty consistently told any reporter inclined to ask that they were not happy with recent results on the field and they understood that the roster had to be improved.

    But after three consecutive 95+ loss seasons, they’d have sounded pretty out of touch with reality to say anything else. They all said pretty similar stuff a year ago.

    So, again you ask yourself, why has the approach apparently changed so dramatically this offseason?

    Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have some theories to share.

    New MLB Media Money

    Starting this year, the Twins, like every MLB team, have a big chunk of new annual national media rights money coming in. Reports estimate it at $25 million per club, though the MLB offices have tried to downplay that a bit by pointing out that, while the new overall money divided by the number of teams might be $25 million, part of the money is retained by Major League Baseball itself. I guess to pay for Bud Selig’s platinum parachute, maybe.

    Regardless, it’s a bunch of new money and it’s essentially “found money” because it doesn’t come with a nickel’s worth of corresponding expenses. In theory, it could (and arguably should) be dedicated wholly to improving the talent being put on the field at the Major League and minor league levels. That is to say, there’s no reason only half the money should go to payroll, which is the portion of revenues the Twins have claimed in the past that they earmark for payroll.

    The bottom line is that, with the new money, the $40 million or so of payroll space the Twins would have had even without the new money and the lack of any significant long term commitments for anyone not named Joe Mauer, money is honestly no object for the Twins this offseason. That’s a concept that is almost impossible for most Twins fans to grasp, but it’s true.

    The 2014 All-Star Game

    During the fourth season in their new stadium, the Twins hosted the MLB All-Star game. They put on a good show, but the game itself was not all that exciting. Te Twins, in the midst of yet another generally poor season and sitting 11 games out of first place at the break, had only the minimum allowable one reserve player named to the American League roster.

    No, I didn’t slip in to my DeLorean and zap to the future for that information. Rather, that’s a recap of the 1985 All-Star Game the Twins hosted at the HHH Metrodome.

    I don’t think Jim Pohlad likes the fact that most Twins fans in Minnesota (and a few of us in Iowa and the Dakotas, too) wonder why, with that beautiful taxpayer-funded ballpark, he won’t spend the money necessary to put a decent team on the field. If that’s true, he’s probably even less enthralled with the idea of every baseball fan in America asking the same question during All-Star week next July.

    If the Twins are going to suck in 2014 – and they certainly may – I don’t think Pohlad will let it be because he’s seen as having pocketed all the new stadium and national media revenues, rather than spending some of that money on real major league ballplayers.

    Peer Pressure

    When you own a major league baseball team, you run with a pretty fast – if somewhat conservative – crowd. And I’m not talking about your fellow owners.

    Your peer group includes owners and CEOs of other big time businesses and, while I certainly have no personal experience to back this up, I have to imagine that such a peer group tends to keep score.

    If you can run your baseball organization at a good profit, see your organizational value (which is reported on annually in business magazines such as Forbes) climb and do it all while making customers/fans happy by winning consistently, your fellow local billionaires are going to look on you, personally, as a winner.

    But if you, say, lose 95+ games a season for, I don’t know, maybe three years in a row and you see attendance start to dwindle and your fans are all talking about how cheap you are now that they have paid for your new stadium, those peers (some of who are probably paying premium prices to advertise at your stadium) may start to ask some of the same questions your fans are asking. Like, for example, “do you really need TWO AAA teams, one in Rochester NY and one here in Minnesota?” That’s embarrassing.

    So…

    Looking back at a number of interviews with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I think there are two quotes, one each from Pohlad and Ryan, that give pretty good clues as to what’s gotten into the Twins.

    The first, from the owner, I included in an earlier post. In an interview with Adam Platt of Twins Cities Business, Pohlad acknowledged that roster changes were needed and that improvements would necessitate spending money on free agents. He finished with, “I’m not encouraging him (Ryan) to wait.”

    Was that just an owner saying what he thought fans wanted to hear? Was it a not-so-veiled statement that, if money wasn’t spent, it wasn’t because he told his GM he couldn’t spend it? Or was it a hint that perhaps he had given his GM direct instructions to, “use the damn ladder to get out of that hole,” and spend some money to put real ballplayers on the field?

    We don’t know.

    We do know, however, that about a week or two later, Nolasco and Hughes had deals with the Twins.

    This past Monday, Terry Ryan was quoted by Star-Tribune beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III as saying the following concerning the Twins’ own homegrown talent: “If they take a step forward, they will answer some of our problems and questions. A step backwards is going to be concerning not only for us but for their careers. We have given opportunities to guys here the last two years. And it hasn’t gone so well. So now we may have to look out for ourselves here a little bit more.” (Emphasis added)

    I found that quote to be about as interesting as anything the Twins GM has uttered publicly in years.

    The Twins – and Terry Ryan specifically – have been famously adherent to a process of building from within. They focus on the draft and international signings. They work hard to develop players and promote them deliberately through the minor leagues. When those players are ready, they use them as their primary source of talent to replace players that have aged and/or been judged too expensive to retain. That’s all part of the Twins Way.

    Ryan’s quote is a shot across the bow for Chris Parmelee, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Trevor Plouffe and any other young player who might be inclined to think that, having survived several years of development in the Twins organization, he now is entitled to a roster spot with the Twins. And just in case any of those players didn’t grasp the meaning of Ryan’s statement, they can now ask Liam Hendriks, who designated for assignment, for an interpretation.

    Why is Terry Ryan talking to free agent catchers and free agent outfielders when he has Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia?

    Ryan answered that question pretty clearly, in another part of Neal’s posting Monday.
    “We have all kinds of areas that could be upgraded,” Ryan said. “We’ve got people where, if I told you the positions you would say, ‘Well, this guy is going to be there.’ But some of those guys we need to take a step forward. We can always upgrade any spot anywhere. So if something came to our attention and it looks like an upgrade, we should probably pursue it.”
    When Ryan said, “we may have to look out for ourselves,” I’m not sure if he was referring to the Twins, generally, or to himself.

    But I wouldn’t be feeling too comfortable if I were any player on the Twins 40-man roster not named Mauer or Perkins, because I think Terry Ryan means what he’s saying right now.

    And I like that.

    - JC
    This article was originally published in blog: What Are the Twins Doing... and Why? started by Jim Crikket
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Good article. I agree. Lot's of posters here extrapolate from last year and draw conclusions about this year. I understand the sentiment. I even expressed frustration with Ryan last year. But it didn't jibe with some of the things Pohlad and Ryan said towards the of last year, which you quote here. So I hoped for what he's doing now. And I hope for more.
    1. minn55441's Avatar
      minn55441 -
      Nice article JC.

      I will add that I think Terry was given the same speech last off season and he couldn't bring him himself to sign some of the big name pitchers that he knew had flaws. By the time we hit January and he found himself with a terrible pitching staff and a lot of money in his pocket, he literally "couldn't give the money away".

      Terry is sharp, he wasn't going to let that happen again. He knew the 6 or 8 guys he liked in this seasons FA class and the first 3 to put their signature to paper were Twins.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      Good article!!!

      I think another factor is a losing team = declining attendance = less $10 beers and $8 hotdogs sold. Less revenue = less money to spend on players next year = a losing team again. The longer they let it spiral downward the harder it is to reverse the spiral.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      If the money is there, spend it...wisely. You will make a mistake or two and maybe have to be prepared to eat $10-15 million in salary a season. The Twins have done that. You try not to. That's the biggest hurdle.

      But, yes...you can sell season tickets, but if the fans don;'t come, you ell less concessions. You sell less jerseys. People stop listening on the radio, stop watching TVC, Ad revenue can take a hit.

      If the funds are there, spend it wisely. No one says it is easy to run a major league team. You have to think now, and think the future. Someone does have to watch the bottom line. But the GM's job is to put a sellable team on the field. The manager's job is to play the team and organize the batting order and rotation so they can go forth and win. Someone else can count the beans, set the budgets, draw the charts, pull in the reins or open the checkbook according to the day-to-day operations. And one person gets to bask in the glory of a championship team, or shake his head when things don't work out. And wonder how to fill this giant beautiful ballpark in downtown Minneapolis!
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      I would like to think TR actually was forced to watch the starting pitching staff from last year he would see what everyone else did. That was not in anyway shape or form a professional staff. Cole DeVries, Andrew Albers, Scott Diamond, Pedro Hernandez, Liam Hendricks, PJ Walters, and Vance Worley should not be on major league staffs except to fill in for an injury. None of them have demonstrated any real upside. They are all minor league depth players and yet all of them saw significant time in the majors the last few seasons.

      Throw on top of that the guys with upside like Gibson were probably the worst of the sorry bunch. TR cannot just hand these guys jobs for no other reason than they are too cheap to field a professional staff. I commend them for finally figuring this out.

      I'm not saying Correia, Pelfrey, Nolasco, and Hughes make them a contender but they all can do enough to keep you in games abd probably make this team 10-15 games better.

      I'd say if they go into the year with what they have now they have a good shot at being .500. That is a step in the right direction.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      With Pelfry signing and non arb players we are about back to last years payroll, low 80's. At this point blowing the horn and throwing confetti for Terry may be a little hasty. Nothing has been done with the offense, other than lose Morneau. Same old slow plodding outfield and a lineup of strickout machines. Until he takes the next step by adding some players on the offense side and actually increasing the payroll, what he has done really shows us he hasn't changed all that much at all.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winston Smith View Post
      With Pelfry signing and non arb players we are about back to last years payroll, low 80's. At this point blowing the horn and throwing confetti for Terry may be a little hasty. Nothing has been done with the offense, other than lose Morneau. Same old slow plodding outfield and a lineup of strickout machines. Until he takes the next step by adding some players on the offense side and actually increasing the payroll, what he has done really shows us he hasn't changed all that much at all.
      I hope this isn't being intentionally argumentative. Yes, there is more work to be done, and I think that has been recognized by all, including the Twins. But I guess I just don't see how this year's off-season moves to date can be compared to previous years and the resulting analysis is "what he has done really shows us he hasn't changed all that much at all."

      He said from day one of the off-season that starting pitching was the number one concern (a fact acknowledged by many here as well), while at the same time recognizing a need to beef up other areas. The fact that he focused on pitching first as aggressively as he has justifies, at least for me, the thesis that this offseason represents a change in approach from previous years.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by IdahoPilgrim View Post
      I hope this isn't being intentionally argumentative. Yes, there is more work to be done, and I think that has been recognized by all, including the Twins. But I guess I just don't see how this year's off-season moves to date can be compared to previous years and the resulting analysis is "what he has done really shows us he hasn't changed all that much at all."

      He said from day one of the off-season that starting pitching was the number one concern (a fact acknowledged by many here as well), while at the same time recognizing a need to beef up other areas. The fact that he focused on pitching first as aggressively as he has justifies, at least for me, the thesis that this offseason represents a change in approach from previous years.
      I think one of two things happened. The most likely scenario is this is the off-season where the Twins finally understood that free agent prices were not going to flatten out or go down. Seems like we don't get involved every years because the prices go up higher than where we think they should be.

      Or, the reports were true that we had legitimate offers last season to guys like Joe Saunders and others, who didn't want to sign here because we have lost 95 games two years in a row (three now). So we realized that we need to be aggressive and get the team to .500 first, then make another jump to contention with a few more pieces.
    1. shimrod's Avatar
      shimrod -
      I'm in the declining revenues camp. I don't for a second think the Pohlads have changed their spots. It's all about the money, every time, and if free agent spending has changed that means the business folks have projected team revenues into the future and convinced the boss the team requires capital investment.

      I'm not going to criticize it; making the right move for the wrong reason still means you've made the right move. It should make the team a lot easier to watch in 2014.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      I feel also it is the money. If the Twins lose 90+ games again this year season ticket base will take a big hit next year with no All Star game to inflate the season ticket base. They had to move this year or be in a spiral where the base will not come back until the Twins start winning again.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      Lots to analyze here. Check out the Twins Season Ticket Sales, they have declined for three seasons, but the percentage decline is increasing.

      I think what happened is two-fold:

      1. The Twins, and by extension the Pohlads, came to the conclusion that once a team slips below a certain threshold of ticket sales, or maybe even the percentage decline in ticket sales on an annual basis, they hit the "Must Respond to Threat" button on their baseball strategy.

      We've got to realize, the Twins have access to consultants and number crunchers around corporate strategy for baseball operations that make the guys on TwinsDaily seem like elementary school teachers. And I like elementary school teachers. It's just that the Pohlads can bring in people who make very persuasive arguments using actual examples of actual teams and what happened to them and why.

      Their point would have been: If you think things are bad now, one more terrible year and your franchise value and potential revenues hit a period of sustained and irreversible decline.

      The Pohlads are smart enough to respond to that kind of financial analysis.

      The other thing that happened is the explosion of cost around starting pitching. I think TR was shopping last year and brought his 1990s calculator and sensibility with him. And all he could get was Kevin Correia. At that point he realized: This ain't the same market I grew up with.

      The actual cost of experienced starting pitching in MLB has mushroomed to previously considered ridiculous levels. But, the market is still the market, especially when a team, like the Twins, have had really poor results trying to grow their own pitching staff. Fact is, at that point, you have to go out and pay what it really costs to get innings. And that price has increased far above other eras and other positions.

      And, add to that, that the same number crunchers as mentioned above can point out that if a Phil Hughes or Kevin Correia or Mike Pelfrey has a good year or even just outperforms expectations, they represent a tradeable asset that can be cashed in for something valuable and young.

      I think that's a key point: none of these guys is a sure thing or a keeper, come what may. But each of them is a potential trading chip down the road. The Twins have placed four bets on free-agent pitchers altogether, and one or two of them is going to pay off, if we're lucky maybe more, but depending on where the team is at in the standings, that investment can be flipped for something else, for a player down the road, that will be the perfect fit for a better team.

      So, you invest in your team because you believe in your team and your organization's ability to take an asset on the mound and make something with it over time.

      The Twins are in the game now, they control some chips, they have the ability to deal and play at a level where they have options. For the last two years, they had no options, and the loss in ticket sales reflects what that feels like outside the organization.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Terry Ryan stuck to his game plan of taking no shortcuts. Most on the board can already name the projected opening day lineup for 2015 and now can pretty much fill in the starting rotation also. Many teams rebuild thru the draft, yet only Buxton of draft classes 2012, 2013, and 2014, will be in the first wave. Approximately a decade ago, we started an initiative to improve our International presence and we are now among the top teams in that area. Nothing has really changed, it's just The Twins Way.
    1. Thor's Avatar
      Thor -
      I will throw one more thing out. Terry Ryan isn't getting any younger. He rebuilt this team once and retired. I could be convinced he is thinking a little of his legacy. If he rebuilds this thing again and can retire in 5 years after 3 straight 90+ win seasons,,,,,,,,

      He would be regarded as one of the shrewdest GMs of his time if he can retire again after 5 straight +.500 seasons, but he needs this one so he spent what he saved last year.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      Lots to analyze here. Check out the Twins Season Ticket Sales, they have declined for three seasons, but the percentage decline is increasing.

      I think what happened is two-fold:

      1. The Twins, and by extension the Pohlads, came to the conclusion that once a team slips below a certain threshold of ticket sales, or maybe even the percentage decline in ticket sales on an annual basis, they hit the "Must Respond to Threat" button on their baseball strategy.

      We've got to realize, the Twins have access to consultants and number crunchers around corporate strategy for baseball operations that make the guys on TwinsDaily seem like elementary school teachers. And I like elementary school teachers. It's just that the Pohlads can bring in people who make very persuasive arguments using actual examples of actual teams and what happened to them and why.

      Their point would have been: If you think things are bad now, one more terrible year and your franchise value and potential revenues hit a period of sustained and irreversible decline.

      The Pohlads are smart enough to respond to that kind of financial analysis.

      The other thing that happened is the explosion of cost around starting pitching. I think TR was shopping last year and brought his 1990s calculator and sensibility with him. And all he could get was Kevin Correia. At that point he realized: This ain't the same market I grew up with.

      The actual cost of experienced starting pitching in MLB has mushroomed to previously considered ridiculous levels. But, the market is still the market, especially when a team, like the Twins, have had really poor results trying to grow their own pitching staff. Fact is, at that point, you have to go out and pay what it really costs to get innings. And that price has increased far above other eras and other positions.

      And, add to that, that the same number crunchers as mentioned above can point out that if a Phil Hughes or Kevin Correia or Mike Pelfrey has a good year or even just outperforms expectations, they represent a tradeable asset that can be cashed in for something valuable and young.

      I think that's a key point: none of these guys is a sure thing or a keeper, come what may. But each of them is a potential trading chip down the road. The Twins have placed four bets on free-agent pitchers altogether, and one or two of them is going to pay off, if we're lucky maybe more, but depending on where the team is at in the standings, that investment can be flipped for something else, for a player down the road, that will be the perfect fit for a better team.

      So, you invest in your team because you believe in your team and your organization's ability to take an asset on the mound and make something with it over time.

      The Twins are in the game now, they control some chips, they have the ability to deal and play at a level where they have options. For the last two years, they had no options, and the loss in ticket sales reflects what that feels like outside the organization.
      I can buy the argument that the Twins realize the stadium effect will wear off and any more 90 or even 85+ loss seasons will cause a serious drop in attendence. Has anyone noticed not one person has said the Twins are spending this money because ownership is dedicated and passionate about winning and would rather win than make money? You have to wonder why the Pohlads still own the team. They don't seem passionate about winning and they don't seem to like the limelight of owning a team. I wish they would sell to a person who would be a passionate, win at all costs owner. By and large, the dramatic rise in franchise value has already happened after the stadium was built, so please move on.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I'm not really sure how much we can conclude about anything. If I am reading Jeremy Nygaard's chart correctly, the Twins are currently at about $84m for opening day 2014. I think that number goes up to about $86m if Kubel makes the team out of ST (there are also some incentives so it could be a little higher) and I'm not sure what would happen if Bartlett makes the team.

      Last year's opening day payroll was $82m. Then there is $25m-$30m of new TV revenue so even taking just 50% of that, the team's opening day payroll 2014 should be at about $95m following the Twins most basic business model. (I'm not going to get into the question here of whether they are close to 50% of overall revenues).

      So, as of today, if TR makes no additional signings, the teams will STILL have reduced payroll as a % of revenue because they haven't yet spent 1/2 of the new TV revenues.

      While it seems to me that TR upgraded the quality of his free agent signings, it really wasn't a "splurge" compared to the money that was available to him.

      While I'd like to conclude that this signals that the Twins are moving from small-market to mid-market mentality in terms of willingness to accept some bigger risk that free agent contracts may go bad, I'm not sure that's a legitimate conclusion.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Let's not forget, the payroll picture appears as if it will be heading lower in the future as well. Next year you have Willingham ($7M), Correa ($5M), and Doumit ($3.5M) coming off the books. It is likely that you will have league minimums at 3B (Sano), CF (Buxton), C (Pinto), SP (Meyer), SP (Gibson), several bullpen guys, and potentially LF (Hicks) as a starting point.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I think TR did a nice job of taking the savings this year, and investing them on guys that could help the team in a way that is more likely than guys he has signed in the past......but there is NO evidence he has changed his spots yet. They have somewhere between 12 and 25 million more for payroll than they used to.....I just think it goes back to Bonnes' thread, we just don't know why things are changing, or even if they really are changing.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      TR may be taking a shot at the bow again this year like past years. Hopefully if he signs player to push players they are legitimate players to actually push them. Players in the past that were signed for this reason werent enough to actually scare the players for their jobs.
    1. BigTrane's Avatar
      BigTrane -
      Great thread, and it is the $64,000 question!

      Nolasco and Hughes were enough to get our attention, but then follow that up with the Pelfrey deal, the Doumit deal, continuing talk about Arroyo, and the fascinating tidbit from MLBTR that the Twins (!) were "in on Eric Chavez before he signed with the Diamondbacks".

      Utterly fascinating, completely unexpected, and maybe just a little weird.
      Most long-time fans give TR props, but knowing his long-standing dumpster-diving M.O. probably felt that it was more of the same upon his return. Until this offseason, that's been borne out. As recently as the conclusion of the regular season, he was quoted as saying that free agency is not they way.

      Clearly, a directive came down from on high. A cat like TR simply does not change his spots overnight just for the heck of it. Not that guy.

      This has Polhad's fingerprints all over it, and as a businessman, you can bet the bottom line is involved as a major factor. However, pride/self-respect may be a factor as well. Going into the playoffs, I sparred with my Birdo buddy about the Twins' future, and I (somewhat desperately) hoped aloud that the national media attention for the All Star Game would either pressure or shame Pohlad into doing something to fix what ails the Twins.

      All of this is conjecture, at this point, and the real story will only come out in dribs and drabs over years to come. My guess, however, is that Pohlad realized that you can't build a winning brand with a losing team. TR had returned, and done the same old, same old. Enough was enough, and he lowered the boom.

      To me, this feels like 'one last chance' for TR, that he was given an ultimatum to 'fix it now', and the charge to make use of the free agent market. The only way I can explain interest in Chavez is that Pohlad asked TR to write a list of areas that needed attention, and then demanded status reports on each position. Status, as in: who are you pursuing?

      Most of us figured that (the old) TR would do as before: take the lumps with Plouffe, and wait it out until Sano comes up. The Chavez story absolutely flies in the face of that thinking.

      The Twins famously value loyalty, but also accountability. If a message has been sent to players by the recent deals that their spots are not guaranteed, then you can bet that it's been communicated that TR's spot isn't safe, either, and he sent that message on down the line. Gardy's now on a short leash, too. This is a housecleaning.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      I may be in the minority here, but I don't think billionaires are naďve. I'm not saying the Pohlads didn't cordially mention they had a few extra million in the milk money, but free agency only happens once a year. Our favorite team had this planned for months.
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