Twins 'need more than one Mark Buehrle; we need quite a few things'
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Minnesota Twins officials are set to arrive in Nashville on Sunday morning for Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings, and their main need remains the same as it did the day free agency opened one month ago -- starting pitching.
In an interview with 1500 ESPN's Talkin' Twins show on Monday, general manager Terry Ryan discussed his free agent budget, his involvement in the Miami Marlins' fire sale, Trevor Plouffe's status as the starting third baseman and other items.
Q: What percentage of your week is spent meeting with agents, players and other GMs and what percentage is spent doing other non-transaction-related duties?
A: It'd be about 60 percent minor league stuff, major league stuff, committees, rules, and 40 percent agents, players, affiliates, stuff like that.
Q: The Twins allowed 250 more runs than the 97-win Reds. That says a lot about the pitching disparity.
A: That's a pretty good example of why everybody talks about pitching. I know that we scored more runs than a few teams that were in the postseason, and that gives us some hope that we probably do have enough offense. I think we're certainly capable of scoring more. But we do have enough offense if we pitch well enough, and I'm specifically talking more about starting. I still believe we can piece together that bullpen... But we have a lot of work to do with the rotation.
Q: Do some of these large contracts being handed out early on -- Torii Hunter $26 million over two years, Jeremy Guthrie $25 million over three years -- surprise you?
A: Not really. It happens every year. There's no doubt that people that sign in early November, right after the (free agency) filing, are usually the contracts that are too good to turn down. Of course, Torii signed with the Angels about four or five years ago for that monster deal, and that's one of those where an owner stepped out and put up and Torii signed it. Not that it wasn't a good team, it was. But more often than not, every year that free agents file, the first week you'll see some of those bomber contracts signed, because they're too good to turn down.
Q: Do you believe you have the resources to fix the rotation before spring training?
A: I hope so. That's my job. I've got to find a way to fix the rotation. And it's not all because of money, certainly not a financial situation. I think we have enough payroll. We've got to make better decisions. We had about $30 million on our payroll last year that we really didn't get much use. So we've got o either get better decision making, have a little bit more luck, and find people that might fit us just a tick better than some of the things that happened last year. The Nishioka thing was one of those things that, for whatever reason, it didn't work. But we just can't keep talking about a guy like him. He didn't pitch for us. That was $3.5 million there that we didn't have much use with.
Q: How much payroll flexibility do you have? Is it a set number?
A: I've got flexibility, and most of the pursuit will be dollars spent on pitching. I don't see us going a whole lot after much other than pitching for sizable dollars. We'll end up certainly tweaking the position roster, but any dollars that we have, I don't see why we would do anything other than try to secure some pitching, and if that falls through then we'd have to have a second alternative here. But you have't read much about us chasing any position players.
Q: You guys have said you want to limit Kyle Gibson to 130 innings. Could he start in the bullpen? It seems that strategy worked well for the Atlanta Braves and Kris Medlen last year.
A: First off, I'm a little concerned about pitching him out of the bullpen, because he's never been a reliever. Medlen had been a reliever to some extent in his career. Gibson's never done that. I'm not sure that's the right decision to make for a guy that's never had to pitch out of the bullpen. Secondly, he did have the type of year that we were hoping to get out of him, and he ended up right around that 75-inning mark. We're going to certainly be able to up that throughout the course of the 2013 season. And whether it's 120, 130, 140, I think we're talking about somewhere in that neighborhood.
Q: Does Gibson have a chance to crack the 25-man roster?
A: He has a chance. I think it's up to him and what he does. Even though he came through the year healthy, and he had a limited amount of innings in the minor leagues through his life here, after the first couple starts in Arizona things start to settle down a little bit, and the dominance wasn't quite what we were hoping. But the main objective throughout the entire therapy session and rehab session was to get him through, and he has done that. So it'll be up to him how he performs in spring training.
Q: Twins pitching staffs have ranked at the bottom of the major leagues in strikeouts since Johan Santana left. You guys made an effort to draft strikeout pitchers this year. Will you carry that philosophy over into free agency and trades?
A: If you can find a power guy that throws it over, that's the ideal. Very rarely are you going to be able to go out and get one of those guys in a trade if they're somewhat affordable and youthful and they're ready at the major league level. But we've had the approach I think probably in the last half dozen years or so, we're looking for pitching in that draft. We've had some success through the years in getting pitching that threw a lot of strikes. We had a year there in the draft that didn't turn out well. We had a bunch of guys get hurt out of that particular draft. This year's draft I thought, after seeing those guys throw innings in the summer and then in the instructional league, I think not only do they have good arms and they're athletic and also throw the ball pretty hard, but they also can locate some, they can slow it down. Those are all the attributes that you're looking for for starters. Now, relievers are different story. You're just looking for a guy in that eighth and ninth that can blow. We took a host of those types of guys, and hopefully they work out.
Q: You have players that teams around baseball may want. Have trade talks been active for you?
A: If you look at the free agent board, I think that would tell you that probably the trade talks are much more frequent, just because the free agent class is thin, and consequently GMs will turn their attention toward trades if they don't think they're getting value for their dollar.
Q: Were you in on the Marlins fire sale?
A: Well, every GM in the business was down there in Palm Springs (for the GM meetings), and the Marlins made it apparent that they were certainly willing to listen about all those guys, and I was one of those guys. They informed me that they were available, and after you take a look at it and decide where you're at and what you want to do, what kind of return and so forth... It's not like we were blindsided. Every one of us knew they were in the market to move.
Q: Mark Buehrle would have looked nice in a Twins uniform, but the Blue Jays wound up taking on his entire salary and giving up top prospects...
A: A lot of those contracts are back-loaded, so it's a little different than meets the eye. Then you start talking about age, and there are other things. I have a lot of respect for Buehrle. He's been in this division for a long time. He's one of those guys that takes the ball for his 35 starts and so forth. But we're also at a predicament, we need more than one Mark Buehrle. We need quite a few things. So we're in a situation where one guy is not going to fix this issue. We've got to get many guys. That's exactly what we're trying to do. We've got dollars to work with, and not one guy is going to get us to the promised land. It would help, but we've got to do more.
Q: Is Trevor Plouffe your starting third baseman, or would you like to give him some competition?
A: We'd like to give him some competition, but if you're talking to me today, on paper, yes he is. But I'm also on record as saying we've got to create some competition, because I want to make sure he comes to spring training and he earns that position. We've got to get better productivity. And you're looking at the pre-wrist injury versus the post -- he's two different guys. So I'm taking for granted that the second half is a little skewed. But still, some of the errors and some of the erratic throws and so forth, those are the things, unforced errors, that we can't tolerate. We've got to get more production out of him on the defensive side.
Q: What made you decide on adding Terry Steinbach to the coaching staff?
A: I think we were looking for a catching presence, number one. Two, he's very familiar with this market, he's been in our spring camp for about 13 years, he's aware of what we're doing, what we believe in. I'm familiar with him, Gardy's very familiar with him, and it seemed to be a good fit. I've got a lot of respect for Terry.