Mackey: Will Twins compete in 2013? 'We have to be realistic,' GM says
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NASHVILLE -- An important question was posed to general manager Terry Ryan on Monday in the Minnesota Twins' team executive suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
Do the Twins, through one avenue or another, intend to build a roster this offseason that will re-emerge as a playoff contender in 2013?
Ryan, who spent the entire day meeting with representatives for free agent starting pitchers and talking on the phone with opposing GMs, paused for a second.
"We will try to have that happen," he said.
In his next breath, Ryan added the reality check.
"We have to be realistic on all fronts."
The reality check -- like taking a dart and hurling it at a balloon filled with the optimism of any Twins fans still hovering near the bandwagon.
"There are some (pitchers) more realistic than others," Ryan added. "I don't want to pretend that we're going to be able to go out and get every pitcher that's on the market. Some of them won't be realistic. ...
"When you sit here with agents who represent players, I think after a little bit you can kind of gauge both (parties') interest level. We've met with so many guys in the last day. That's what happens when you are where we're at. You've just got to keep digging around."
To translate -- it's becoming increasingly more likely, if not 99 percent certain, that if a quick turnaround takes place for the Twins in 2013, it won't happen with the team throwing buckets of money at top-line starters.
Ryan has had conversations or meetings with a representative of nearly every free agent starter this week, or this offseason, but it appears a line is being drawn somewhere up the totem pole -- somewhere below Anibal Sanchez, it seems.
According to sources close to both sides' thinking, nothing is brewing between the Twins and Sanchez, who reportedly scoffed at a four-year, $48 million offer from the Detroit Tigers. He will wait for something closer to $90 million over six years.
Zack Greinke will likely get a lot more, but not from the Twins. News surrounding Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren has been quiet so far, but they're expected to command large dollars as well, depending on Haren's health status.
Shaun Marcum, not a top-line starter, has garnered "a lot of interest," according to one source, "and continues to hear from clubs," but it's unclear how involved the Twins are.
It's possible salary demands could drop as the winter meetings pass, but with big money already handed out to free agents such as Jeremy Guthrie (three years, $25 million), Torii Hunter (two years, $26 million), B.J. Upton (five years, $75 million), Mike Napoli (three years, $39 million) and others, the financial bar has been set high.
The Twins entered Nashville with approximately $70 million tied up in guaranteed contracts for next season and four open rotation slots. And while it's unclear what the payroll ceiling is, it's likely the Twins can safely spend upwards of $20-25 million in average annual value this winter.
The main question is, with the Twins seemingly disinterested in throwing large sums of cash around for top-half-of-the-rotation pitching, and considering they already dealt their best trade asset, Denard Span, for a top prospect who likely won't contribute next year, what exactly is the goal for 2013?
"I think the goal here is to get better," Ryan said. "Where that takes you is... Things can change throughout the course of, not only the next two months or so, but also the next six months during the season and so forth. We're just trying to get better. We've got to get better, we've got to get people that will allow us to compete, give us hope for a nightly basis."
Probably not the response fans were hoping to hear.
But Ryan's comments about being "realistic" shouldn't come as a surprise. He's staying true to what he said just hours after the July 31 trade deadline.
"I'm not banking on free agency, to be honest," Ryan said four months ago. "If you keep banking on free agency, you'll end up chasing your tail. This is not going to be a free agency approach. This is going to be no shortcuts and doing the job the way it's supposed to be done. And that's usually that's with young, development, scouting and picking the right people."
The Twins will still bank on free agency, to some degree, because they need multiple starting pitchers. But according to league sources, the pitchers they've eyed more closely are in the John Lannan, Brett Myers, Brandon McCarthy category. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick added Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia and Vicente Padilla to that list Monday.
Those pitchers aren't going to move the needle attendance-wise, nor will they make the Twins instant contenders.
A quick simulation by the hamsters at 1500ESPN.com of a Diamond-Blanton-Myers-Lannan-Gibson/Hendriks rotation (and relievers) -- all performing at a modest level -- had the Twins allowing roughly 735 runs. That figure would shave nearly 100 runs off last seasons' total, which is fantastic, but it would still rank in the bottom third of Major League Baseball.
As Ryan said, things could change as the market continues to evolve.
But just as he foreshadowed on July 31, expectations should be tempered.