Ominous Signs For The Twins

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If Twins’ GM Terry Ryan’s recent moves and statements are any indication, the team is well on the way to another long lull similar to the one they experienced from 1994-2000 when they were not only considered a dead franchise, but they were almost contracted from MLB entirely.

Considering the context of his remarks at the SABR 42 convention, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more vitriol coming from the stat person crowd at Ryan’s open decision to stay the course with his beliefs of scouting and intuition rather than numbers.

I’m no stat guy and I don’t think any organization in any industry should be run on numbers alone. I have no use for people who’ve watched baseball for two years, can read a stat sheet and pompously and condescendingly declare that they know more than people who’ve been involved with the game for decades, but those that haven’t fully incorporated the use of statistics into the equation are missing out on factors that can be used to make more informed choices.

Under no circumstances do I believe in absolutes when building an organization.

The statement of alteration in their draft strategy would concern me.

Ryan said that Target Field has changed his team’s Draft philosophies. The Twins used to look at left-handed pitchers and hitters when they played at the Metrodome, but he said that the team’s new outdoor facility favors right-handed hitters and outfielders who can cover a lot of ground.

Drafting to the ballpark or the organizational belief system has its place within reason. I wouldn’t draft a player who had a history of drug or alcohol problems; trouble with the law; character issues unless I was convinced the incidents were isolated or had been handled and hadn’t occurred in recent history. I wouldn’t exclude a player if he didn’t prototypically “fit” into my big league ballpark. If there was a debate between two players of similar ability and one was a better fit for the big league park, then it’s a sensible to take him. Specifically looking for players that fit into a big league park is a doomed strategy.

In football or basketball, where a player is stepping out of the amateurs and into the highest level of professional competition, it’s an understandable method to draft based on need. Not so in baseball. For most players it will take several years for them to be ready for the big leagues; foreseeing the “need” argument for 3-5 years down the line is impossible.

The absolutist mentality came into prominence after Moneyball because the narrative suggested that Billy Beane had stumbled upon the perfect method of drafting. But there is no perfect method of drafting. It doesn’t exist.

There does have to be adaptation.

The question about Ryan becomes is he equipped to function in today’s game? Is he willing to do what’s necessary to turn the Twins around? They just signed Ryan Doumit to a contract extension—a questionable move. They should look to trade Justin Morneau. Will they?

They’re currently a disaster and have little talent to speak of in their system. He’s got a lot of work to do and is functioning under an “interim” tag.

It doesn’t sound as if the Twins have learned from their mistakes in building this monstrosity. They’re changing their way of doing things, but still following strategies that were en vogue 20 years ago. They’ve taken a different form.

There were some nice moments during the SABR convention and Ryan was gracious to appear and share his views, but I can’t help but picture many of the participants rolling their eyes and referring to Ryan as an old-school dinosaur who’s refusing to change with the times and knowing that the Twins are in trouble if he sticks to the template he outlined.

Ryan’s been a high-quality executive, a good baseball man and a decent person.

But maybe it’s time for someone else to oversee this reconstruction; someone with fresh eyes; someone open to doing things differently.

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The Twins Lost Their “Way”

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And General Manager Bill Smith was fired because of it.

You can read about the Smith gaffes everywhere—how he shunned the Twins reliance on trusted bullpen arms; spent terribly on Tsuyoshi Nishioka; traded a needed backup catcher and top prospect Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps.

The Twins retreated from the template that made them an admired organization who functioned under a system and a budget by spending money badly and executing poorly conceived, desperation trades.

A change had to be made.

Former GM Terry Ryan is taking over on an “interim” basis that some don’t believe is all that interim.

If he’s taking the job, he should just take the job and say he’s taking the job.

Don’t think that Ryan is going to walk back into the GM chair and fix the 99-loss Twins immediately. Already they’re said to be cutting the payroll from an un-Twins-like $113 million in 2011; he has to address the backup catcher situation and decide exactly how many games Joe Mauer will catch and how many will be spent DHing or playing first base; they’re losing Michael Cuddyer and possibly Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan; Justin Morneau‘s playing status is in limbo after repeated concussions and other injuries; Nishioka is a disaster; the starting rotation is mediocre at best and the bullpen is in shambles.

With the defending division champion Tigers; the high-priced White Sox; and the rising Royals and Indians in the AL Central, it’s going to be next-to-impossible for the Twins to contend in 2012.

It’s not as if Ryan oversaw a quick-fix the first time he took charge as GM in late 1994 replacing Andy MacPhail.

The Twins were mostly terrible from 1995 through 2000; only in 2001—Tom Kelly‘s final season as manager—did the team finish over .500 and this was after threats of contraction and haplessness surrounded the franchise.

From 2002 onward, the Twins have been a case study in frugal and gutsy free agent signings and trades; Ryan adhered to the designated limits on payroll and weeding out players who didn’t behave off the field and execute fundamentally on the field.

His top-level drafts were shaky, but he did find some late-round sleepers who were integrated into that “Twins way”. He served the organization’s best interests in drafting Mauer over Mark Prior in spite of the insistence of armchair experts that they should’ve taken Prior; he selected functional late-rounders in Kubel, Danny Valencia and Pat Neshek; his picks of Denard Span, Jesse Crain, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey yielded useful big leaguers who fit into roles; his trades for Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Nathan were strokes of genius.

Now he’s looking at a club not dissimilar to that which he took over in 1994. Rife with bloated mediocrity at the big league level, there are some young players with promise—Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson among them. Both make it less of an issue to let Cuddyer walk and to field offers for Span.

That’s what the Twins have to do.

Ryan’s first order of business will be to consider dealing Liriano and Span now or wait until the season is underway—the Twins must infuse the club with young, high-level and cheaper talent. That’s the way he built the club that dominated their division for most of the past decade.

It’s not something that can be done on an interim basis.

If he’s not in it for the long haul—loyalty to the organization or not—then he shouldn’t be entrusted with the all-important deals that can make or break a franchise.

He’s done it before.

Ryan has a lot of work to do and he needs to be all-in to do it properly.

Is he?

He and the Twins have to make that determination quickly and act boldly; and if he’s not, the Twins need to hire someone who is. Someone who knows and understands The Twins Way.

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