One of the benefits of being a season ticket holder with the Minnesota Twins is the opportunity to participate in conference calls with current players, coaches, and front office personnel. Earlier this season, Scott Diamond and Trevor Plouffe discussed their breakout seasons with fans. It's fun to hear their answers to unique questions that might not pop up in a regular interview setting with reporters in the Twin Cities. There are also prizes handed out including memorabilia, bobbleheads of different players, and other experiences at Target Field.
On Thursday night, General Manager Terry Ryan and Manager Ron Gardenhire were fielding questions from season ticket holders. This was intriguing to me because I thought it might turn into a blood-bath with the hard-hitting questions asked by the fans. It certainly didn't start off as all flowers and roses for the leading men for the Twins but there were some easy questions along the way.
Below are some of the questions and thoughts from Ryan and Gardenhire. I tried to get as close to direct quotes as possible but some of this is general thoughts from the two men in charge of turning around a franchise in the dumps over the last two years.
-What can the Twins do to improve the starting pitching of the club?
Terry Ryan (TR): The biggest concern is with the starting rotation. There were some injuries this year to players like Pavano and Baker. It's time to go out and find pitching with trades, free agents, or in the international market. This can be a hard thing to do when the other clubs are searching for the same thing but no one is going to try harder than the Twins.
-What has been the most frustrating thing about this season?
Ron Gardenhire (RG): Some of the fundamentals haven't been there like getting bunts down and hitting the cutoff man. The Twins take pride in those things and it isn't showing up on the field. Coaches continue to work hard with the players in practice but the results haven't been showing up on the field.
TR: One of the most frustrating things has been getting guys on base with no outs in an inning and not seeing more runs cross the plate. This line-up should be scoring more on the offensive side of the ball. There needs to be more innings with crooked numbers.
-What are the differences in your second time as GM?
TR: We need to get back to the way things were when the team turned around at the end of the 1990's. The organization has things going in the right direction but there are plenty of things to do before the Twins will be playing meaningful games in September.
-Are you willing to give up Willingham or others for pitching?
TR: We are always willing to deal but it's tough to find the right deal. There aren't many untouchable players on our club. It's about getting value back from the other club so we are willing to deal if the deal is right.
-What is the plan for Ben Revere in 2013?
RG: One of the most important things is to find him at-bats. He has shown the ability to player anywhere in the outfield but he is very exciting and we love having him out there. He still has shortcomings in his game and the coaches will continue to work with him. It's all about putting together a solid outfield for next year and we feel comfortable with him out there.
-Why should we stay season ticket holders?
TR: It starts with the front office making better decisions about the way money is spent and trying to stay away from injuries. We understand the frustration of the fans but there is nothing better to do than coming out to watch a baseball game. The team is going to have good years and bad years and our goal is to put a good club on the field. Nothing is more frustrating then seeing fans leaving the game in the 5th inning.
-Besides starting pitching, what else needs to change?
TR: The team needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball. The outfield did fine this year but there was a lot of other players switching positions. Carroll was a constant for the club but the defense needs to get better. (Author's note: They address this in other questions but this sounds like a good sign for Florimon.)
-Why switch from Beloit to Cedar Rapids for the Low-A affiliate?
TR: It simply came down to better facilities for the players and better attendance from the local fans.
-What lies ahead for Chris Parmelee?
RG: We like him an awful lot. He needed to hit better so it was a good move to send him to the minor leagues earlier this year. He seemed to find his swing in the minor leagues and his mind-set changed while he was down there. On the defensive side of the ball, he needs to spend more time in the outfield. The goal is to find him as many at-bats as possible for next year.
-Any thoughts of moving Mauer to third base or to the two spot in the batting order?
RG: I agree that he is a perfect two-hole hitter but the old-school baseball mentality says to put your best hitter in the number three spot. Our line-up isn't as deep as other clubs like the Yankees and for them it might make sense to bat Mauer second. We want him batting with the chance to drive in runs. There have been talks about moving him to third but all of those decisions haven't been run past Mauer. His arm action would need some work at third but it looks like the perfect move. It's always up to the player for approval before we do anything and he loves to catch.
-What are your thoughts on Pedro Florimon and what will second base look like next year?
RG: He is great on the defensive side of the ball but there are areas of improvement on the offensive side of the ball. There is still a language barrier as Florimon tries to learn English. He can be really hard on himself when he makes a mistake but at this point he looks like the front-runner for the shortstop position next year.
TR: Florimon has surprising power and we are really happy with him. He was a pleasant edition especially as a waiver pick-up. As far as second base goes, it will likely be up to Jamey Carroll, Brian Dozier and Alexi Casilla to earn the spot.
-Morneau is entering his final contract year, has there been talk of an extension?
TR: When the season started, we were afraid of having him at first base. Justin has put a lot of those fears to rest. He has a lot more ceiling for the future and we think he can continue to get better. I am not going to get into contract discussions in a conference call.
-Will there be any coaching changes like getting rid of Jerry White?
RG: The coaching staff does great work with the players. Jerry White works hard with the outfielders and he has done that going back to Hunter, Span, and Revere. As a staff, we have put a lot of good years together even if the last couple years have been tough. They are my friends and these guys are out there getting it done. I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff.
- I was wondering how Scott Baker is doing?
TR: Baker is to the point where he is playing catch and he is on schedule to take part in spring training. The team will need to address the option year on his contract but he is one of the good guys that we've got.
-Can you speak about the team leadership in the clubhouse?
RG: Cuddyer moved on and now other players like Morneau and Mauer have been the on the field leaders. It has been a fun group of players and this group has really tried hard to win. They hang their heads when they lose but I have to go around and pick them back up again. I am happy with this group of players.
-Are the Twins too nice and do they give too much time for a player to perform at the big league level?
TR: We show patience with a player because we know their track record in the minor leagues. Sometimes a player like Parmelee or Dozier needs to get sent back down if it doesn't work out. Torii Hunter and Latroy Hawkins were examples of players we had to be patient with.
-Are we keeping Willingham for next year?
TR: As I said before, no one is untouchable on this roster. It's hard to find a player that can drive in this many runs and hit 40 home runs so we expect to see him in our line-up next year.
-What is the status of Kyle Gibson?
TR: He threw five innings in the instructional league today, as he gets ready to go to the Arizona Fall League. We are targeting around 80 innings for him to throw. He is throwing well and hard with good location of his pitches. He is getting close to the guy we had before the surgery.
-How long before Byron Buxton gets to the big leagues?
TR: For most players his age, it will take around four years for him to make it. He has a solid make-up and he is a good teammate. From talking to other coaches and Paul Molitor, he gets it as a player. There are a lot of positives surrounding him.
-What has been wrong with Brian Duensing?
RG: He has been bouncing around a lot from the bullpen to being a starter. That has been tough on him. His slider and change-up are better when he is coming out of the bullpen. In the rotation, he has trouble the second and third time he has to go through a line-up. We need to make a decision on what to do with him but the needs in the rotation have pushed him out of the bullpen in recent years.
-What will the payroll be for next season?
TR: There isn't going to be a firm number on the payroll. The Pohlad family gives us plenty of money to spend on this team. I need to make better decision on how to spend the dollars. We can't have a lot of money tied up in players at Triple-A like Nishioka and Blackburn. Better spending will lead to a better product on the field.