By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - The 2012 season marked the second straight year that the Minnesota Twins finished with the worst record in the American League including back to back years with more than 95 losses. Thursday afternoon, general manager Terry Ryan kicked off the offseason by making what he called the first of many changes to this organization during the offseason when he opted to not extend the contracts of coaches Steve Liddle, Rick Stelmaszek, Jerry White and head trainer Rick McWane.
Friday afternoon, Terry Ryan sat down with owner Jim Pohlad and president Dave St. Peter by his side to hold an intimate round table discussion with writers from the Twins Cities area. The discussion lasted 45 minutes and the group tackled issues ranging from front office adjustments all the way back down to the players on the field and in the minor league system. This notebook is a brief summary of the main topics that were discussed yesterday in the bowels of Target Field.
Kicking off the meeting, Terry Ryan announced that he has decided to remove the interim label from his position as Twins General Manager. If you remember, following the 2011 season, Ryan came out of retirement to rejoin the organization as the Interim General Manager. Friday he explained what went into the interim label and why he decided that now was the time to remove it.
"[Last year] I had to make a decision in a short amount of time because of the circumstances," Ryan said. "I had a sincere desire to come back here and help so I wanted the interim tag to make sure that I knew what I was doing."
Ryan explained that he was nervous about the amount that the game has changed over the four years that he was away from it. The interim label simply served as protection during his adjustment back into the role. With a year under his belt now, Ryan felt comfortable stepping back into his old role on a permanent basis, and the Twins excitedly accepted his decision.
"I'll take Terry any way that he wants to be here," owner Jim Pohlad said Friday.
As I mentioned earlier, on Thursday afternoon Ryan let go of the team's Third Base Coach (Liddle), First Base Coach (White) and Bullpen Coach (Stelmaszek). Alongside these losses, Ryan also reassigned former Hitting Coach Joe Vavra and former Bench Coach Scott Ullger to be infield and outfield coaches respectively. During Friday's round table discussion, Terry Ryan explained some of the thought process that went into making these decisions.
"In this business, sometimes change is a necessary evil," Ryan explained. "I thought change was needed...I think it's time for some other people to get opportunities."
For fans of the Twins, the immediate focus for replacements to fill some of the new vacancies shifts to former Twins players Tom Brunansky and Paul Molitor who are currently working in the Twins organization.
Brunansky, currently the hitting coach for the Twins AAA affiliate the Rochester Red Wings, is a likely fit to replace Vavra as the team's Hitting Coach and, until Friday, it was thought that Molitor would be a good fit to maybe replace Ullger as Bench Coach.
Friday, Ryan explained that despite Molitor showing interest in at least one of the vacant coaching positions, he had made the decision that at the moment Molitor is no longer a candidate.
"At this time [Paul Molitor] is not going to be a fit," Ryan said flatly. "I've talked to him and I know he has interest...it's not going to be a fit."
The common thought behind this decision to leave Molitor as one of the team's roving scouts is that the addition of Molitor, say as the bench coach, would be a direct threat to current Manager Ron Gardenhire. It's commonly thought that Paul Molitor would be the heir apparent if Gardenhire cannot right the ship in 2013. Having Paul on the bench with Gardy every day may add unneeded pressure to the leader of a team that is already facing an uphill battle.
The final decisions on coaching replacements will be a joint decision made by Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire.
Heading into the 2013 season, Ron Gardenhire will be working in the final year of his coaching contract and as Terry Ryan explained Friday, the team is not ready to offer Gardy a contract extension at this point.
"We're committed to Ron," Ryan said. "But we are not going to [discuss extensions]. I've explained that to Ron and he's accepted that."
In fact, Ryan said that Gardenhire told him that coming off of back to back losing seasons he didn't think that he deserved a contract extension either.
"If we were coming off of 95 wins, I don't believe this would be happening today," Ryan said.
The decision effectively puts a "win or else" tag on the 2013 season for Ron Gardenhire (and pitching coach Rick Anderson). As mentioned above, the Twins think they have an heir apparent in Molitor waiting in the wings so it might be the understatement of the year to say that Ron Gardenhire is on the hot seat heading into next season.
During our discussion on Friday, Terry Ryan was sure to highlight some of the things that his team did well this season as well as highlighting the areas they needed to improve on.
"We've got a decent lineup, we've got a decent bullpen," Ryan said. "It's going to take everything that we've got to turn this thing around quickly. We're going to have to hit better, field better, pitch better and close games better. You don't get into the spot that we are in by doing too many things right. We had a tough go [this season]."
While improvements can surely be made across the board, Ryan, along with the rest of the State of Minnesota, noted that the main focus for the Twins this offseason is going to be the acquisition of more than one starting pitchers.
"We've got to do some things to get some pitching in this organization," Ryan explained. "That is our main objective going into the winter months, fall months. I think a lot of our ills this year might be erased if we get some credible starting pitching that will give us a chance."
The Twins plan to get Scott Baker and Kyle Gibson, both returning from Tommy John surgery, back this season but nobody knows exactly what they will be able to contribute. In that sense, the Twins are still searching the market for any and all pitchers that might help the team in 2013. Ryan has no fears about whether the current situation in Minnesota can draw free agents in from other markets.
"This is a pretty good place to play," Ryan said. "I think if you talked to people around the game they'll say 'They've got everything going for them except their record.' They like the manager, they like the ballpark, they like the fan base, our team travels good because we're right in the middle [of the country], it's good place to live. There are a lot of good things about this [that are good]. We've just got to get this team with a better record. Free agents will come here. The people we signed last year had choices, they came here."
Twins will continue to test the the waters of the international market:
While their experiment with Tsuyoshi Nishioka failed miserably, Terry Ryan says that the Twins will not close the door on the international market. "We tried the international market. Just because it didn't go so well we are going to close that down…It didn't work out for anybody's like, but just because it didn't, you can't shut down the far East."
Ryan and Twins are noting and observing the "Strasberg" effect sweeping the league:
Admitting that there is no cookie cutter outline to the recovery from Tommy John surgery, Terry Ryan did explain that they have noted how the Washington Nationals handled Steven Strasburg's recovery by limiting his innings this year. Ryan explained his theory saying that with "a veteran like [Scott] Baker, you'd have a lot more freedom to be able to move forward. I'm not talking 200 innings but you'd have to watch him. A guy like [Kyle] Gibson is a little different because he never really had those types of innings load…I think it's more important that you gauge how many [pitches] they've had in a particular game. Are they up near a 120 pitches or are they at 80? And then maybe you can build on that."
Ryan used this year's performance from Scott Diamond as an example of that. Diamond had never experienced an innings load like he did this year but the Twins were more focused on monitoring his pitch count than they were about capping his innings pitched. Diamond never pitched more than 100 pitches in a single outing and towards the end of the season he actually began to pitch more effectively.
Fall/Winter Plans for Twins Players:
While Terry didn't go into specifics for each and every player, he did highlight some of the players that the team was planning to send to play in various Fall and Winter leagues. Below is a list with all the details we were given...
- Kyle Gibson - pitching about 80 innings in the Arizona Fall League
- Brian Dozier - Winter Leagues
- Drew Butera - Winter Leagues
- Pedro Hernandez (acquired in Liriano trade - partaking in Winter Leagues
- Aaron Hicks - Winter Leagues in Venezuela
- Jhon Garcia - Winter Leagues
- Anthony Slama - Winter Leagues in Mexico
- Casilla - Winter Leagues
*Note - Twins prospect Miguel Sano will be partaking in instructional leagues but will not likely get an opportunity to play in Winter Leagues.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Twins updates and breaking Twins news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjMansourKFAN