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Why Terry Ryan had to go

Why Terry Ryan had to go
It’s long past the time for the Twins to examine and overhaul the baseball end of things, and it’s clear owner Jim Pohlad felt Terry Ryan — still popular in and out of the Twins organization — wasn’t the guy to do it.

The Twins might hire someone to succeed fired general manager Terry Ryan from outside, owner Jim Pohlad said Monday, or stay in-house. Whoever Pohlad chooses isn’t necessarily mandated to blow up the organization, though they could. But whoever it is can make any changes they want except with the manager, since Pohlad told Paul Molitor he’s coming back next year.

Understand now why the Twins banned television cameras from Monday’s “informal” roundtable with Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter? 

Pohlad, like Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, operates with no script and virtually no filter. He answers questions with brutal honesty and flippant humor; hence, his assessment to the Star Tribune of this season as “total system failure” — a terrific line that perfectly captured the mess we’ve been watching. But the last thing the Twins needed this week was another off-handed remark playing on an endless video loop on ESPN.

Like this one, about Ryan’s potential successor:

“When we had the all-staff meeting, you can see how loved Terry is by our organization,” Pohlad said. “If I had to pick one requirement for somebody going forward, it’s someone that’s lovable. The only way you can be loved is if you’re lovable. We want someone that can ultimately be loved. Technically they have to have the skills and strength and so forth, and have to have the willingness to look an organization and make hard decisions, or come up with ways for improvement.”

Seriously?

The Twins certainly don’t need another Dan Duquette, who alienated his employees, his players, other general managers and the media while bringing the Red Sox back from the dregs of the American League in the 1990s and early 2000s. But the next Twins GM or president of baseball operations — however they phrase it — better make Ryan seem cuddly, or he’s not doing the Twins or their fans any service. 

It’s long past the time for the Twins to examine and overhaul the baseball end of things. They need fresh, critical eyes, and it’s clear Pohlad felt Ryan — still popular in and out of the Twins organization for his integrity and character — wasn’t the guy to do it.

Sadly, he’s right.

This makes two general managers Pohlad has fired since his father Carl died in 2009, and Ryan might not be the only executive on his way out. Joining Pohlad and St. Peter for Monday’s meeting with reporters at Target Field was nephew Joe Pohlad, Bob’s son, who heads Go Media, the family broadcast arm. Insiders expect Joe to replace St. Peter whenever Jim decides he’s ready, and his presence Monday suggests a larger role may be imminent. 

Pohlad said he decided about a month ago, with the Twins challenging Atlanta for the worst record in baseball, to replace Ryan at the end of the season. He told Ryan shortly before the All-Star Break and asked him to stay on at least through the Aug. 1 trade deadline (it’s a day later than usual this year).

Ryan thought about it over the break and, according to Pohlad, told him Friday to just get it over with.

The team kept things quiet through the weekend, when the club inducted Torii Hunter and broadcaster John Gordon into the club’s Hall of Fame. Pohlad and St. Peter informed assistant general manager Rob Antony he was taking over during Sunday’s game, and then told Molitor after it, just before the team left for Detroit. 

“Maybe the light should have gone on earlier, but the light went on that we need to look at our organization, the way we do things,” Pohlad said. “I came to the conclusion that the best way to do that was a change in leadership.”

One thing Pohlad emphasized: Nothing is off the table. And nothing should be. The Twins organization lost its way a long time ago. The Twins Way — hiring interns and entry-level associates, then promoting them up the ladder — no longer works because baseball has changed, and the Twins failed to change with it.

Pick a trend, and the Twins swung late on it: Drafting tall, hard-throwing pitchers; betting big on players in Latin America; signing middle infielders out of the Dominican Republic, which develops tons of them (I talked to a longtime scout two weeks ago who boasted, “I can find ten shortstops in the D.R. for every one here in the U.S.”); stockpiling and developing far more pitchers than you need; accepting that bullpen arms cost more than they used to and adapting accordingly.

The Twins clubhouse lacks veterans with respected track records to mentor the prospects that so badly need guidance, because the Twins generally let useful players go at around age 32. Torii Hunter filled a huge void last year. The Twins’ failure last winter to acquire a veteran Latino to mentor the Sanos, the Rosarios, and the Santanas was a critical mistake the next G.M. needs to rectify.  

It’s not enough for coaches to work with young players; successful clubs need veterans to take them aside, at the ballpark or elsewhere, and teach them how to handle failure and comport themselves as major leaguers. When Aaron Hicks joined the Yankees this spring, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez showed him the veteran’s way to prepare for a game – watching video, understanding how that day’s pitcher will try to get you out, coming up with a plan to combat it. Hunter tried to impart that lesson to Hicks here but it didn’t stick. 

It’s hard to remember the last time the Twins did something original or innovative. Other clubs hired mathematical experts with advanced degrees from the Ivy League; the Twins hired kids from the University of Minnesota. 

The Twins are known as a hitting organization that develops some pitching. A lot of clubs are like this, and it’s generally not that big a deal: You trade your hitting surplus to fill in around the holes in your pitching staff. Yet it was astounding to see the Twins, with the worst pitching in baseball, failing to choose a pitcher among their first four picks in last month’s amateur draft — the same draft where the Mets, with one of baseball’s strongest rotations, grabbed pitchers in the first and compensation rounds. That’s how contending teams operate.

And there’s one more thing, raised by a major-league executive recently, that hints at why Ryan can’t pull off the great trades he made in his first turn as G.M. So many of today’s general managers come from analytics backgrounds, not scouting and development backgrounds. According to the executive, a generation gap exists between the young guns and older G.M.s like Ryan and Sandy Alderson of the Mets that makes baseball conversation difficult. They speak different languages. One way around it: Hire an assistant G.M. versed enough in that world. It’s not clear the Twins have one. 

It pains me to write all this because Ryan is one of the best people I’ve ever dealt with in sports — available, accountable, never pointing fingers, always the first to accept blame for failures. Baseball is a notoriously catty industry. But in almost 30 years of covering major-league baseball in Boston, New York and here, I’ve never heard a single nasty, demeaning remark about Ryan. Not one.

From meeting with the media before every home game (a first on any team I’ve covered in any sport), to greeting every employee in the building by name, to treating everyone he encountered with basic human dignity, Ryan earned respect by giving it.

Cancer offered an excuse to retire and leave the long, painstaking, thankless job of reviving this organization to someone else. But Ryan badly wanted to lead this organization back to contention. Now that job falls to another, with an impossible standard to follow. 

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Comments (11)

Nothing is off the table?

Except for the manager. That's kind of a big something still on the table. And it's also a big tell that Pohlad maybe isn't ready to do a full Taylor here and blow up the country club once and for all.

Jim Pohlad

After reading this, I was briefly left wondering how a guy like Jim Pohlad was ever successful enough to end up owning a baseball team. Then I remembered that Pohlad simply inherited his father's money and baseball team.

The public is owed a better team

Terry Ryan had to go, but the Twins problems are much bigger than Terry. Start back in 2011 when the Twins signed Joe Mauer. Joe's $184.000.000 salary is sucking the life out of the Twins salary budget for a total of 10 years. One of the worst ever MLB contracts ever written. It tuned out Joe is injury prone and no better than any of the other players. For a guy with a 6'5" frame he has very little power. He has trouble hitting the ball out of the infield. Joe can't be counted on when there are runners on base. The number of players left on base this season is a huge number. They have had many 2 on and 2 outs situation that they have not been able to convert to runs. Because of the limited salary situation Buxton and Sano were brought up too soon. I think Jim Pohlad is correct they need a whole new way of operating. It seems this fact was way to slow to be realized. Either Pohlad will have to put more money into the team or wait out Mauer's contract before anything gets better. After putting so much public money into the Twins stadium, which only generates revenue 7 months of the year, the team owes the public a better team.

Mauer not the problem

Yes, Mauer is overpaid given his post-concussion production. (And Mauer's extension, though not in effect until 2011, was signed after his 2009 MVP season.)

But he's not the big problem the Twins have. The problem is that the Twins have done a horrible job with the rest of their budget.

Take Phil Hughes, for instance. Ryan signed him to a reasonable three-year deal starting in 2014 and Hughes rewarded him with the best season of his career. Instead of waiting to see if Hughes could back it up in 2015, he hastily extended him for three more years and nearly $40 million. (Ryan did the same thing on a smaller scale with Kurt Suzuki - resigning him for two years after half a season of far-above-career-average-play only to watch him crash back to earth.) Hughes returned to career norms in 2015 and has been ineffective and hurt this year.

Or the Byung-Ho Park decision. With a lineup already loaded with corner outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters, Ryan made a $25 million commitment to Park, which forced Miguel Sano to the outfield (when they refused to sell high on Trevor Plouffe at the end of last season).

And that's not to mention Ricky Nolasco or Mike Pelfrey or Tommy Milone or any of the other multi-million mediocrities Ryan was forced to bring in since the organization has been completely unable to develop starting pitching on its own.

The Twins Way doesn't work?

Somebody better go tell the St. Louis Cardinals, who've been doing this longer than the Twins have, before they stop being competitive. Heck, their manager is a former Cardinal catcher, and their scouting director is a former 21st round pitcher.

I suspect the bigger issue is that no amount of good administration can make up for bad policy dictated by the owner -- going after guys with gaudy power potential but poor defense, going after pitchers who rack up lots of strikeouts but whose idea of fooling the hitter is to try to throw the fastball an extra mile-an-hour faster.

That Pohlad is seriously considering replacing Dave St. Peter with a relative is part-and-parcel of this problem. The Twins won't get any better then mediocre while Pohlad continues chasing trends rather than building a fundamentally sound organization, and the crazy thing is, he *had* a fundamentally sound organization handed to him by his father.

I feel bad for the die-hard Twins fans out there -- you're all going to die a bit more over the next few decades.

Twins way

The Cardinals are nothing like the Twins. That is an organization that has kept up with changes in the game. They are light years ahead of the Twins.

http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/32471/how-the-cardinals-use-...

Hicks

The Yankees would be wise to find out what it is that wasn't sticking to Hicks last year and then try to make it not stick so much now.

Molitor

Committing to Molitor for 2017 shouldn't be a issue for an incoming GM. It's happened plenty of times before with managers under contract; in Boston, Duquette kept Butch Hobson for one season before bringing in Kevin Kennedy, for instance. An incoming GM usually has much bigger problems to deal with right away -- amateur scouting, the farm system, etc. -- or else the last GM would still have the job. It's a little trickier with Molitor as a Hall of Famer who in many ways dragged the Twins into the 21st Century. That has to be handled with some tact. And btw: There's no law that says Pohlad can't change his mind.

Molitor

I think Molitor may have dragged the Twins into the 20th Century, but it's pretty clear at this point that he is not operating anywhere near the 21st.

You are right, of course, about the GM having bigger issues and the Twins being able to change their minds. I see the insistence on keeping Molitor as evidence of a reluctance to change and refusal to grasp the depth of the problems. Will a new GM have free reign, or will there be meddling from the top?

Unforced errors

Molitor seems like a perfectly adequate manager, but there's no reason at all to publicly commit to him at this point given just how dreadful this season is going. Let the new GM decide his fate. This was just one of several verbal missteps by Pohlad, including the "lovable" comment and his media guide research that leads one to question whether the organization is really committed to (or capable of) doing things better.

A fish rots from the head down...

Dave St Peter needs to go: he is the primary architect of this mess; but, please, oh please not a third generation Pohlad to replace him. The worst MLB radio coverage I have ever encountered is our current Joe Pohlad led GO 96.3 effort. Every Twins broadcast should begin with:

"We apologize for interrupting our regular programming to bring you this baseball game. we'll return to our regular programming as fast as we can."

And I doubt this will make it past MINNPOST censors; but, here goes:

We share Legends Clubs seats and during the first season at Target Field I was early for a game and an announcement was made about the unveiling of a new painting of Target Field in a few minutes. I wandered over and first up was a young Twins marketing representative who did a great job of introducing the artist, explaining how the painting came to be and a nice thanks to the Target Field visitors who were watching. Impressive on all counts. He next said he would like to introduce his boss, Joe Pohlad, to speak on behalf of Twins ownership. Let's just say the quality of the oration dipped somewhat. I felt sorry for the first guy: ability had nothing to do with advancement in the Twins family world.