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Updated: February 22nd, 2012 4:13pm
Zulgad: Terry Ryan sets early tone that accountability will be key

Zulgad: Terry Ryan sets early tone that accountability will be key

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Considering the success the Minnesota Twins organization has had in keeping in-house matters quiet, it's likely we will never know the exact details of Bill Smith's removal as general manager last November and Terry Ryan's return to that role.

Truthfully, except for a few of us who are curious about such matters, it doesn't matter.

What is important is the approach Ryan plans to take in the job he held from 1994 to 2007 and has been back in on interim basis for the past four months.

Initial impressions from the early days of spring training are that Ryan arrived in Fort Myers dead serious about proving the Twins' 99-loss season in 2011 was an aberration and getting this club back to respectability as quickly as possible.

That doesn't mean the Twins are going to contend for the American League Central title in 2012. They have a payroll of around $100 million - huge compared to what Ryan was accustomed to dealing with during his first stint as GM - but his offseason additions aren't going to wow anybody.

The Twins' money is tied up in catcher Joe Mauer (eight years, $184 million) and first baseman/designated hitter Justin Morneau (six years, $80 million).

So what has Ryan done to spark confidence that things will be different with him in charge?

Perhaps the most important thing is he already has made it abundantly clear that accountability will be the top priority for any player who puts on a Twins uniform this season.

That simply wasn't the case last year and while that did not lead to 99 losses, it led to a shift in culture that left many of the hard workers in the clubhouse with a bitter taste in their mouth.

One of the biggest problems in 2011 seemed to be that nobody in the front office wanted to challenge players such as Joe Mauer. If Mauer felt he couldn't play, then most of the time he simply didn't.

And Mauer is just one example.

In fairness, manager Ron Gardenhire can only push so hard before he risks being tuned out by players. Rant, scream and holler a few times and it might work. Do it all the time and an athlete in 2012 will roll his eyes, tell you what he's going to do and complain about what a jerk you are to the guy sitting in the next locker.

This is why it helps to have a strong general manager in any sport.

It's one of the reasons why the Vikings were smart to finally hire Rick Spielman as their GM. No matter what you might think of Spielman as a talent evaluator, the fact is he can now be the heavy in many situations, playing the bad cop to coach Leslie Frazier's good cop.

A player doesn't like his contract situation, have it out with the general manager and then go get sympathy from the coach or manager. It works like a charm.

What Ryan is doing so far in Florida is proving that he's going to have zero trouble with being the bad guy when it comes to dealing with players.

In fact, after seeing the foundation that he and former manager Tom Kelly (and then Gardenhire) laid down ripped apart last season, one could surmise that Ryan is looking forward to kicking some you know what and taking names.

The first indication of this came last weekend when Ryan informed the media that from that day forth all injury reports would go through him.

Gardenhire was saddled with that job for the first two months of last season - when the report seemed to grow by the day - before it was passed off to athletic trainer Rick McWane. (McWane had nothing to gain by being the information man.)

It might be easier for reporters to go right to Gardenhire for updates, but Ryan's motives for changing things makes perfect sense from an organizational standpoint on a couple of levels.

Gardnhire had a few players upset with him early in the season when he did not provide information about injuries that proved to be 100 percent accurate.

Ryan has no incentive for his players to be mad at his manager over an issue like this. What Ryan can now do is control the information regarding injuries as he sees fit. If a player gets mad at him, do you think he's going to care?

This also provides Ryan with the opportunity to light a spark under someone who might be out longer than he should be.

During an appearance on the "Judd & Phunn" show Tuesday on 1500 ESPN, Ryan was asked about having 33 pitchers in camp and how difficult it would be to get a legitimate look at all of them.

Ryan turned it right back on those pitchers.

"I always advise these guys never to give us an opportunity to say, 'Listen, this guy's not listening, he's not getting the job done, he's not throwing the ball over the plate, we better start thinking about sending him across the street," to the minor league complex, Ryan explained. "Never give us a reason to want to send you across the street."

Ryan also talked about calling every player on the roster this offseason to either introduce or reintroduce himself.

"You don't have to get too deep with professional players on what's expected," he said when asked if the message included a lecture that 2011 would not be repeated.

"They have a pretty good idea, especially if they've been around some. But I wanted to just talk with them and let them know what we're thinking about for the future. ... I had a lengthy conversation with some and short conversation with others."

This question had been asked based on a theory that such a call was made to Mauer, who will be expected to live up to his $23 million salary for 2012 whether he is feeling 100 percent, 90 percent of 75 percent.

Instead, Ryan explained how he had called Trevor Plouffe to inform him that he would be moving from shortstop to the outfield. Ryan could have had Gardenhire do this, but, instead, took it upon himself to find out firsthand how the player would react to this bit of information.

Much like Ryan's decision with injury updates, it was a wise move.

If Gardenhire informed Plouffe of the impending shift and Plouffe was unhappy, his anger would have been directed at a guy who might need him. Ryan, on the other hand, had no issue with giving Plouffe the news and then moving on to the next call.

Ryan's only concern and focus was on trying to improve the franchise, and if that hurt somebody's feelings it was simply too bad.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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