Terry Ryan's Approach to Free Agents with the Twins a Step from Competing

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I think that it is interesting to speculate how Terry Ryan might approach free agency this season, while the Twins are just a step away from competing, since it has been a while.   Looking back in Terry Ryan's 17 seasons as a General Manager for the Twins, Ryan did have a window when his team was competing, after his first seven seasons where they were finishing in either of the bottom 2 positions, in preparation for Contraction.  

The Twins were competitive between 2001 and 2006 with Terry Ryan at the helm.  Terry Ryan's history with free agent signings then, might be a guide to what he will do this off-season for the Twins.   Here is a complete list of Ryan's free agent signings and waiver claims from the end of the 2001 season to the end of the 2006 season (when he retired.)  :

 David Lamb, Kurt Abbott, Brian Meadows, Michael Jackson, Alex Prieto, David Lee, Scott Randall, Warren Morris, Saul Rivera, Mike Trombley, Garrett Jones, Jose Rodriguez, David Manning, Mike Duvall, Ben Ford, David Lamb, Carlos Pulido, Everett Stull, Chris Gomez, Jose Cabrera, Shane Andrews, Mike Fetters, Kenny Rogers, James Baldwin, Ryan McGuire, Seth Greisinger,Matt Guerrier, Chris Heitz, Greg Halman, Augie Ojeda, Peter Munro, Henry Blanco, Kevin Tolar, Aaron Fultz , Juan Diaz, Rick Helling , Brian Simmons,Jose Offerman, Andrew Lorraine, Sean Douglass, Terry Mulholland, Todd Dunwoody, Gary Glover, Corky Miller, Jason Tyner,Gil Velazquez, Juan Castro, Mike Redmond, Bud Smith, Glenn Williams, Trey Hodges, Luis Jimenez, Pat Strange, Brent Abernathy,Andy Fox, Eric Munson, C.J. Nitkowski,Jimmy Anderson, Jason Pridie, Tony Batista, Jason Hart, Andres Torres,Shawn Wooten, Rondell White, Ryan Glynn, Peter Munro, Tim Raines , Ruben Sierra, Dennys Reyes, Steve Lomasney, Donaldo Mendez, Erubiel Durazo, Quinton McCracken.

Hate to describe Ryan's free agent signing approach, when his team is competing, so I'd rather use a picture instead of words:

Of course, this approach will help the 2016 Twins' teams as much as it helped those previous teams, so he might have learned a lesson.  Still, it will be interesting to see whether Terry Ryan's Dumpster Diving is ingrained into his DNA or was just circumstantial...
Interview with GM Terry Ryan about Twins' 2015 and their off-season

Interview with GM Terry Ryan about Twins' 2015 and their off-season

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Twins GM Terry Ryan gave a long (14 minute) interview to Eric Perkins, KARE 11 Sports director.  The video is here.  He spoke in legth about the 2015 season and what the plans for this off-season are.  Some highlights:

  • The 13-win increase was "great but not good enough". "Nice", "not good enough", "progress" (but not success) are some words that he used to describe the Twins' 2015. Need to "perform better and get into the post-season".  Want to get "in the 90-win area".
  • Feels pretty good with the youth they have and the players who surfaced this year.  "Will be better next year" but "cannot rest on what happened this year."  He called on players who did that last year and went "backwards"; did not name names but Santana, Arcia and Vargas sound about right. Said that it is dangerous if you "anoint people" because it brings "entitlement". 
  • Buxton was rushed this year, he will be ok, not the way they prefer to do it.
  • Hunter "is a priority", he "will be around" and they will "take care of it in the near future". So, expect an announcement regarding Hunter, likely returning as a role player, as soon as the World Series is over. Don't know "how fast Kepler might come".  They "got a little OF depth", including Arcia, but always good to have more.
  • They "got numbers" in starting pitchers and "dollars wrapped up in these guys".  They will "take a look at pitching".  Always a priority.  Have "good source of revenue" and are "pretty middle of the pack, where they should be" as far as payroll goes.  Hughes had a disappointing season and Nolasco was hurt.  They need to fix that.
  • The Plouffe/Sano situation is "a good issue", can "have room for both of them"; will "see where it fits".
  • Will "have to address" the Catcher situation.  Maybe need to "take some load off" Suzuki.  Make sure he "stays fresh".  Will get someone either via a trade or free agency.
  • Molitor "did a wonderful job", there is a feeling that "they got they right guy" and "no place but up for him and his staff to go".

Happy to hear that Ryan did not say that the season was a success, but be disappointed in the final result, and call it not good enough, which has been the sentiment around here, as well... 

As far as off-season movements go:
  • Re-signing Hunter
  • Getting a starting pitcher, if they have the opportunity
  • Getting a backup catcher to spell Suzuki off
  • Resolving the Plouffe/Sano situation, but they don't have to trade Plouffe
  • The interesting language he used to say a. that Plouffe might not be a numbers problem and b. Nolasco was hurt (instead of awful) might indicate that he is looking to trade them without looking like he has to.

seem to be his priorities.   Unfortunately, not mention about fixing the bullpen, which is the biggest and sorest issue with the 2015 Twins, which was unaddressed during the season.   Hopefully it will be a priority and was just not mentioned in this interview. 

Minnesota Twins 2015 Season Post Mortem

Minnesota Twins 2015 Season Post Mortem

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medical : an examination of a dead body to find out the cause of death
: a discussion or analysis of something (such as an event) after it has ended
(Thanks to Merriam-Webster)

The Twins' season ended a full two weeks ago, in arguably their only meaningless game this season,  and enough time has past to be able to look at what happened in 2015, without the disappointment of not making it to the post-season, even though they were so close, being front and center.

As far as expectations go, most fans and the press did not expect the Twins to have a winning season in 2015, much less a season competing for a post-season spot.  My point of view was a bit different:  I suggested that the Twins needed to do only 3 things after 2014, to be able to compete in 2015.  It was a pretty bold suggestion by any means, so I did have to qualify it as follows:

At first read, the title of this series sounds very much like A Midsummer Night's Dream: Do I dare suggest that the team that went from 99 to 96 to 96 to 92 losses the past five seasons needs to do only three things to compete?   The next number to that Arithmetic Progression up there is between 88 and 92 and that is not competing by any means.   Let me explain my train of thought here before the nice kind people in white come and get me to warmer climates:  [..] In order to make significant, measurable and effective change, you cannot focus on changing 20 things.  Too many balls in the air, some will drop.  Focusing of few things that you can change and make an effort to do so, is much more effective.

Let's see what were those three things, in reverse order of suggesting, and how the Twins did: 

1. Fixing the Attitude

The clubhouse was different in 2015 that in was in 2016, and that was partially because the attitude was different.  Part of it was dismissing Ron Gardenhire and Company.  Back then I  suggested that breaking ties with Gardernhire, Anderson, Ulger and Steinbach (even though they did not go far enough in my opinion, but this is all another matter,) is the equivalent of starting the seasons with (at least) plus five wins.   I think that the results show that this was pretty much correct, if anything, the five wins number might have been on the conservative side.   One cannot help to think what would had happened, had Terry Ryan chosen Paul Molitor instead of Ron Gardenhire to lead the Twins back at the first time in 2002, but that is a whole different story...

Another thing that the Twins did in 2015 to change the attitude was to sign Torii Hunter.  It made no sense from baseball reasons to bring in a 40-year old player with diminished skill to play every day, and potentially block several top prospects.  And that he did.  Trying to justify Hunter's signing, I wroteTorii Hunter [..] has had the reputation of playing hard and giving it all.  And keep working.  And then work some more.  Hopefully, he will bring the right attitude to the team of so many young players with so much potential.  Hopefully he will be an example for hard work and never giving up.  And never stop working. It looks like it happened and the Twins are looking to bring him back in 2016 for that reason.  I will not comment on events that have not happened, and this piece is not for 2016, so I refrain judgement.

As far as accomplishing this, the 2015 Twins, hit a bull's eye akin to the one that is outside their ballpark

2.  Fixing the Outfield.

The 2015 Twins Outfield defense was very bad.  It was bad enough for me to title the piece that was describing the defensive metrics of the 2014 Twins' outfield, Catchers in the Outfield.  My premise back then was that with small changes and improvement of the young players like Aaron Hicks, even though Hunter is a below average outfielder, the Twins could have an average outfield.  My conclusion was this:  So, the total differential is about 36 runs, or 6 wins better than 2014, using this calculation.  This still projects a below average outfield (basically because of Hunter at RF,) just not an outfield as horrible as 2014.  Thus the 36 run differential vs the 57 for an average with that calculation.  Can the outfield get even closer to average?

Actually, the 2015 Twins, exceeded this expectation.  Their outfield was 8 runs above average. How did that happen? Practically replacing Oswaldo Arcia with Eddie Rosario (+10 runs in 2015) more that half of the season, the improvement of Aaron Hicks (-3 in 2014,+2 in 2015) the sporadic play of Byron Buxton (+4), Shane Robinson (+3) was enought to balance Hunter's glove (-8).  Even when the two utility players (Nunez (+1) and Escobar (0)) played the outfield, they did not hurt the Twins, like Gardernhire's catchers.

A second bull's eye for the Twins.

3. Fixing the bullpen.

Two out of three might not be bad in Meatloaf's world, but it was in the Twins', since the state of their bullpen, was the major reason they did not make the post-season in 2015.   Looking at several pitching metrics, I concluded that the Twins had only 2 pitchers who were above the proverbial average pitcher in 2014:  Glen Perkins and Tim Stauffer.  The problem was that Stauffer forgot how to pitch starting at Opening Day, and Perkins' effectiveness nose dove after the All-Star break.  Two of my suggestions on how to fix the pen by adding above average relievers was to turn Mike Pelfrey to a reliever (which would had happen, if Ervin Santana was not suspended before he threw a pitch in a Twins' official game, and would had been intriguing to see) and see what Trevor May can do in the pen.  I wrote on May:  Similar discussion with Pelfrey, his 91.9 mph FB average will get to the mid 90s as a reliever, plus he had the second best K% of the group in the majors and a respectable SwStr% (mostly as a starter, and will get better as a reliever.)  And the cherry on top is that we led the 2014 Twins' pen with 2 Ground Balls per Fly Ball and a 57.1% GB%. May projects as an above average reliever.   Spot on, but still was not enough for the Twins.

And here is where the frustration with the Twins' front office comes in 2015.  They know that they are competing, they know that their bullpen is leaking.  At the All Star Break the Twins was 2 games ahead in the second wild card spot, half a game before the Angels for the first wild card spot.  At the trading deadline the fell 2 games behind the Angels and were holding to their lead for the second spot by just a game above Baltimore and Toronto.  Getting Kevin Jepsen, albeit effective was the only positive move that Ryan made in the deadline.  At that point, the Twins had only Jepsen and May as above average pitchers.  Thirty five year old Neal Cotts and his 5.99 FIP were just dumpster diving as usual.  To quote Meatloaf again, there ain't no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, and the Twins' general manager should know that by now... And the came so close.  Hopefully for 2016, close will not be enough, but that is a story to be told later.

So Two out of Three were bad...

My overall expectation for the 2015 season after I saw the 2015 Twins play in Spring Training was positive.  I wrote: I did get some 1987-like excitement there, like this might be a magic year (like that one.)  But I think that they are one year away.  So my prediction for 2015 is that the Twins will have the same record as their Pythagorean in 1987: 79-83.  But, yes, this year feels a lot like 1987, and you never know what is going to happen...

So the story of the 2015 Minnesota Twins goes: it came so close to happen.  Maybe they are indeed just one year away... 

Terry Ryan Quickly Signs a Catcher for the Twins

Terry Ryan Quickly Signs a Catcher for the Twins

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The Twins have announced that they have signed Independent Canadian-American Association League MVP Joe Maloney.  The 25 year old righty Catcher/Outfielder hit .337/.432/.559  with 14 HRs, 106 Ks and 57 BBs in 433 PAs.   Maloney, a Chester, PA (suburban Philadelphia) native, was drafted by the Rangers in the 10th Round of the 2011 draft from Limestone College.  His last affiliate baseball season was 2013 when he hit .210/.265/.374 between A and high A.  Maloney caught only 17% of base stealers and allowed 7 passed balls in 34 games as a Catcher this season.  He played mostly in the Outfield and while in the Texas organization, he was almost exclusively a First Baseman.

This is a "depth signing".  As a reminder, Terry Ryan, in his second iteration as a General Manager, has a habit of collecting Independent League MVPs and Maloneys.   The Last Maloney did not work that well for the Twins; hope Terry's latest "value signing" will fare better, but while that could have been the way to go in 2012, dumpster diving is not the way to open the Twins' off-season in 2015, a year that they played meaningful games in September...