Print and Go Back Gammons [Print without images]

Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Twins' bottom line: Winning

By Peter Gammons
Special to

May 18

They lost their two best relievers, Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins, to free agency. To meet their budget they had to trade A.J. Pierzynski and Eric Milton. Then Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie and Joe Mauer all got hurt when the season started.

Terry Ryan
Twin mindset: Terry Ryan, left, and Ron Gardenhire want to see a World Series this season.

And midway through May, the Twins still had the second-best record in the American League.

No matter what obstacles they've faced in their first 37 games, the recreation of the Twins for a third-straight run at the playoffs is a testament to their ability to find talent. Part of that is due to scouting director Mike Radcliff and farm director Jim Rantz, some of the credit goes to evaluators like Larry Corrigan and Vern Followell.

But at the head of this organization which has used traditional means, a modest budget and common sense is Terry Ryan. "Sometimes you hear that Terry doesn't like to make trades, and that's ridiculous," says one AL executive. "He doesn't make trades for the sake of making trades. He's patient with players in whom he believes. But look how many players they get out of other organizations. I know one thing, when you're discussing deals where they get a prospect, they always ask for the right guys. It's uncanny. Terry is great."

And Ryan is old school.

"There's nothing revolutionary about what we do," says Ryan. "Our area scouts go from the amateur draft to minor league coverage and they know they'll be rewarded. We rely on them, and they have made a huge impact on our club."

A-ball outfielder Lew Ford for Hector Carrasco.

A-ball first baseman David Arias (who became David Ortiz) for Dave Hollins.

Joe Mays for Roberto Kelly.

Essentially, the Twins have to do without what other teams live off, namely significant free agents. Oh, they re-signed one major free agent, Shannon Stewart, whom Ryan had acquired from Toronto down the stretch for Bobby Kielty and watched make a run at MVP honors. Otherwise, their winter replenishing came from invitations to -- as opposed to signings of -- Seth Greisinger, Jose Offerman, Henry Blanco, Rick Helling and Joe Roa.

But as they lost Guardado and Hawkins and realized Mays would miss the season, Ryan used his budget trades to rebuild his pitching. He got Carlos Silva (5-1) from the Phillies for Milton; Joe Nathan and Aaron Fultz from the Giants for Pierzynski and Dustan Mohr, whom they'd signed as a released minor leaguer. Oh, by the way, Nathan is second behind Mariano Rivera in saves, with 14 through 37 games. "Joe has really accepted this job," says Ryan. "He throws strikes, he doesn't go deep into counts and he has good stuff. He's been great for us."

Ryan got Cristian Guzman, who is having his best season, and Milton when he had to move Chuck Knoblauch. He got Johan Santana from the Marlins for Jard Camp. He got Ford, Mays and Kyle Lohse as minor leaguers in deals. At Triple-A Rochester, Ryan has shortstop Jason Bartlett with a .916 OPS; Bartlett came for Brian Buchanan.

Aggressive White Sox
White Sox The Twins went into Chicago and won the first two games of their weekend series before being shut out by Mark Buehrle, which didn't sit well with White Sox GM Ken Williams. "I'm open for business," says Williams. "If things don't work, I'll be willing to make some major changes."

Last year, Williams went out and got Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar early in the trading season, and already he is trying to get another starting pitcher and see if he can work a deal where he trades a right-handed bat for a left-handed hitter.

"We're a little unbalanced," says Williams. However, one person he is not looking to replace is closer Billy Koch, heart attacks or no heart attacks. "I am very happy with Billy, and believe he will have a big season," says Williams. "He's getting used to what he has. He's not going to throw 98 or 99 (mph) anymore, but he's 94, he uses it, and he's starting to get confidence in his curveball, which he never needed before. He will be the least of our problems."

At Rochester, the Twins also have several other legitimate prospects, like outfielder Mike Restovich, reliever Jesse Crain and, of course, first baseman Justin Morneau, he of the sweet swing and the 1.072 OPS. Those players are all part of their scouting and development, which brought them Hunter, Koskie, Mauer, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Brad Radke, Matthew LeCroy, Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero. "I was at a game recently and the Twins had three scouts there watching this one pitcher," says one AL official. "They have no one way of doing things. They take high school [players], they take college. They tend to be performance-oriented, not tools crazy, but they know who can play and who can't. They can make mistakes Adam Johnson, second overall pick in 2000; has been injured, waived, has cleared waivers, and now in the minors) and they can get bad breaks (Travis Lee was made a free agent on a technicality and they could not sign another first-rounder named Jason Varitek) and survive."

Ryan always says "we" and always credits his manager. When they were rebuilding and losing, he always went out of his way to point out that he hadn't done "a very good job" giving his manager something to work with. He has worked around contraction and an owner who doesn't care too much.

Being in the AL Central helps, but so does talent, and the Twins have it, from the BaggyDome right on down through the minor leagues. But through it all, Ryan believes that after winning the division the last two years that it's time to move on to the next level. Minnesota has a ton of talent, and he says "we are at the point where we're thinking about the World Series." So when July rolls around, one or two of those good young players will be made available to get the pitcher -- or whatever Ryan thinks they need -- that could give them a chance to get through two rounds of the playoffs.

"We're in a different position than we were a few years back," says Ryan. "We're in this thing to win and try to get to the World Series."

News and notes
  • Royals GM Allard Baird last week addressed the players and promised them that he would not discuss trading any of the regulars for the time being because "I still feel we can get into the race." Of course, then this weekend they were blitzed by Oakland's Big Three. But Baird insists he has not talked to other teams about Carlos Beltran, which doesn't mean he won't a month from now. The rumored three-way with Boston and Seattle didn't make sense because the Royals can't trade Beltran for a pitcher (Freddy Garcia) that can become a free agent. "If and when we do trade," says Baird, "it will have to be for players who will be with us for a while." Adding to the Beltran problem is the realization that Scott Boras is going to take Beltran to the free agent market. Even the Yankees know that they cannot do a trade and sign deal, even though Brian Cashman is right on top of the Beltran situation.

    That's not to say that Boston isn't interested in trading for and signing Garcia, with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe potential free agents. They also have talked to the Rockies about Jason Jennings, who needs to get away from Coors Lite.


  • But the Red Sox could not move Byung-Hyun Kim, as hard as they tried. The only quasi-offer was Dodgers OF Juan Encarnacion. Oakland and Cleveland gave flat rejections. So, while some in the organization just want Kim gone and feel he cannot pitch in Boston -- a feeling echoed by his agents -- Theo Epstein prefers to allow Kim to go to Pawtucket, work in two-inning stints and try to rediscover his lost velocity using his own program. That way, Kim might have better value, or even be able to help the Red Sox's bullpen. "The Diamondbacks are shopping Shea Hillenbrand everywhere," says one GM. "How about Kim for Hillenbrand. Or Kim for [Jose] Contreras?"

  • Two years ago when the Cubs were pursuing Dusty Baker, Jim Hendry got a managerial tip from Ron Guidry -- if Dusty doesn't work out, hire Lee Mazzilli. Guidry turned out to be a shrewd judge of managerial potential.

  • Colorado has had a number of pleasant developments, from Joe Kennedy to Matt Holliday. But what's most amazing is that they are playing with half their $60 million payroll on the DL in the persons of Larry Walker, Preston Wilson and Denny Neagle.

  • Casey Fossum came back from the DL this week to the Diamondbacks' rotation, and this year has allowed some adjustments in his delivery to create better angle for his fastball and premium curveball, adjustments he didn't make in Boston.

  • Visiting teams are complaining that the turf in St. Petersburg has turned into a brutal playing field. Events at Tropicana Field in the offseason smashed down the turf, but they didn't buy the machinery to restore it and it is a very tough field on which to play. Then there was the B.J. Upton fiasco. He was told he was going to the big leagues, then when he was headed to the airport the next morning to fly to Tampa, he got a call and was told that they had changed their minds and he should report to Durham.

  • The Jose Vidro signing, coupled with the potential signing of Orlando Cabrera, certainly makes the Expos a more enticing team for next year and changes the market. If the Cardinals sign Edgar Renteria, the leverage for Nomar Garciaparra changes dramatically.


  • A month from now, don't be surprised if the Cubs don't try to talk Omar Vizquel into accepting a deal to Chicago.

  • Early in the season, there was speculation that the Brewers and Pirates might make Ben Sheets and Kip Wells available. Doug Melvin quashed any Sheets talk, and Dave Littlefield is doing the same with Wells. "We have to have a product for our fans and start to win," says Littlefield. "We're not trading Wells." Incidentally, where were you when you first noticed Jack Wilson was in the top 10 in hitting? "He's always had a good swing," says Littlefield. "He's just now developing confidence that comes from experience."

  • The Padres would love to find an American League team to take Ryan Klesko and the last three years on his contract. Not that Klesko doesn't play hard, but between the park, his shoulder and the defense in a big park, his one homer has become an issue.

  • The Cubs expect to get Mike Remlinger back by the end of this week, Mark Prior the first week of June and Angel Guzman and Ryan Dempster by the All-Star break. That is a lot of pitching help.

  • Yes, Daniel Cabrera's line between Double-A Bowie and Baltimore really reads 35 1/3 innings, 13 hits, 38 strikeouts.

  • Don't be surprised if Tony Pena doesn't put Jeremy Affeldt in the closer's role and throw Zack Greinke into the rotation. As great as Affeldt's stuff might be, he might try mixing in a win or two.

  • Buck Showalter on the Tigers' Brandon Inge: "He must be one of the most valuable players in the game today. He's a catcher who can play center field and anywhere on the infield. I think he has the best release of any catcher in the American League."

  • As bad as Oakland's bullpen had been, it threw 13 shutout innings on the last trip to Detroit and Kansas City and Chad Bradford is coming around. The dilemma is that while there are a lot of people who want to make Rich Harden a closer, he has a 2.73 ERA in his five starts after his shaky 2004 debut.


  • The Angels have been in touch with Aaron Boone, as well as the Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, Red Sox and others. Boone, who may be ready to play by the end of July, would prefer to play in Arizona where he now resides, but with Chad Tracy in place that may not be a reality. So the Angels seem the early leader with Troy Glaus potentially gone for the season.

  • Kevin Towers saw 6-foot-9 Rice right-hander Jeff Niemann throw up to 98 with a 90-mph slider, and Niemann, Florida State shortstop Steven Drew and Long Beach State right-hander Jered Weaver are San Diego's alternatives with the first pick in next month's draft.

  • The Red Sox expect Nomar back in the first 10 days of June, but are considering the overtures of Ricky Gutierrez's agent to sign him as a short-term alternative to Cesar Crespo, and a long-term answer as a utility infielder.

  • Mike Piazza likely will now play first base a far greater percentage of Mets games, as he's become more comfortable at the position.

  • The Giants will wait and see the impact of a healthy Ray Durham, what happens with Robb Nen's attempted comeback and whether or not in future weeks rookie outfielders Tony Torcato (.696 OPS) and Todd Linden (.762 OPS) from Fresno impact the big league club before they begin shopping some of their veterans. Three AL teams have already inquired about Durham, but he gets $6 million next season plus a $2 million buyout for 2006.

  • Mariners utilityman deluxe Dave Hansen recently sat in with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and some of McCready's friends and approved the billing provided by Scott Speizio ("baseball's second-best guitarist after Bernie Williams"). Oh yes, and Pulley singer Scott Radinsky, who recently released the band's 12th CD, is working as a minor league pitching consultant with the Indians.