Offseason Handbook Greatest Hits: Part 3
THE 2015-16 OFFSEASON
TR's Swan Song
For four straight years, Twins general manager Terry Ryan was generous enough to grant us exclusive interviews for the Offseason Handbook, openly sharing his views and perspectives with our avid segment of the fan base.
It said a lot about the man: his accessibility, his transparency, and his appreciation for the hardcore types who still visited our site each morning and watched Twins games each night as the team floundered.
He didn't owe us anything. We weren't a major media organization. And coming from an analytical fan's mindset, we often asked questions that would – as he so lovably put it – "get at his goat." But without fail, TR stayed engaged through lengthy interviews spanning every hot topic among the base, and he answered every damn question.
When you hear people in the game refer to Terry Ryan as one of the greatest people they've ever met (and I've heard it often), that's the kind of thing they're talking about. The guy is gold.
Ultimately, this would be his last interview for the Handbook. Ryan was fired before the end of a disastrous 2016 season, in a painful but necessary pivot. As usual, his final conversation with Parker offered plenty of fun moments and still-relevant insights, so I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite nuggets:
On Eddie Guardado, fresh off his first year as bullpen coach (a position he held up until this week, when he was dismissed): "There’s no question that Eddie Guardado I think was a piece in that clubhouse as much as he was on the field. He’s just a good guy and he’s got a knack for keeping people loose. But he also has the knack of teaching. There’s a guy that never coached in his life, and he was certainly aware that, ‘Listen, you’re here more than just a presence. We want you to teach.’ "
On Miguel Sano's sky-high strikeout rate as a rookie in 2015: We’ve got to fix that. That just cannot happen. It’s way too often, 37 percent or so, I’m sure that’s probably, maybe even in the history of the game, that’s got to be up there. He’s a young kid, we’ll give him credit for that. And he’s got a fair idea of what he’s looking for. But that last month or so... just way too much of that."
(Three years later, Sano has a career strikeout rate of 36.2%)
On Byron Buxton's midseason promotion at age 21: "I readily admit that I rushed him the first crack because we got stuck a little bit with that center field spot. Then he hurt the thumb which was the worst thing that could have happened. That was my biggest concern. He gets hurt, that’s not good."
On the 2015 season of Aaron Hicks, who would be traded to New York shortly after the Handbook published: "He’s very athletic and he can go and get balls and he’s got a strong arm and all the things that are requisites to play that position. He showed some power. And now we need to see him take the next step. He finally got back to even, I would say. It was a tough, tough haul for him. He’s another one I pushed, and now he’s back to even it looks like."
(It took a couple more years, but Hicks definitely did take the next step.)
The Plouffe Trade That Never Was
Heading into the 2015-16 offseason, a Trevor Plouffe trade felt all but inevitable. Miguel Sano had emerged as a young stud hitter at the same position, and Plouffe seemed moderately value coming off a 22-homer campaign. Our blueprint suggested trading him to Washington for reliever Drew Storen.
In reality, Ryan couldn't find a taker for Plouffe, and signed Byung Ho Park to play DH, which led to the bewildering move of Sano to right field.
Quiet. Too Quiet.
There was probably nothing the front office could've done to steer clear of the Total System Failure that was about to ensue in 2016, but their passive approach during the preceding offseason didn't help. We laid out plenty of ideas and possibilities in the Handbook, but this ended up being one of the most inactive winters in memory.
Obviously the Park signing bombed, as did the Hicks-for-JR Murphy trade, which was really the only other move of note.
THE 2016-17 OFFSEASON
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Great Minds Think Alike?
"With Ryan being dismissed and new leadership being ushered in," we wrote when introducing the 2017 Offseason Handbook, "the Twins have a chance to reinvent themselves, and chart a new course for the future."
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took the reins shortly after season's end. They did indeed begin charting a new course, and well, suffice to say we found this direction agreeable.
In our Offseason Blueprint, we suggested this...
Sign free agent catcher Jason Castro for 3 years, $21 million.
With the cupboard mostly bare in the minors as far as starting catchers go, the Twins would be wise to lock up a somewhat long-term solution. Castro, at 29, would be a good fit on a reasonably priced three-year deal. He has been a mostly mediocre hitter but there’s enough quality elsewhere in the lineup to make up for his low average. What we really like is his ability to help out the pitching staff. Castro ranked among the top three MLB catchers in pitch framing this season.
... And this...
Trade second baseman Brian Dozier to Dodgers for starting pitcher Jose De Leon plus prospects.
This is the doozy. Giving up the team’s best player is a tough pill to swallow, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and the need for pitching is beyond desperate. After falling just short of the big show in 2016, the Dodgers are in position to make a bold move for two years of Dozier, who would instantly become their best power hitter. De Leon is a premier pitching prospect who ranked 25th in the game on the Baseball America Midseason Top 100 list, so the “plus” might not be a ton, but you should be able to add in a few younger minor-leaguers with high ceilings.
The Twins did the former, signing Castro for just a tad more than we projected (3 years, $24.5m), and came very close to doing the latter. Minnesota's lengthy trade talks with LA, which were known to feature De Leon as a central piece, dragged through much of the winter before eventually fizzling out. The "plus prospects" part never quite added up for Falvey and Levine, and in the end they made the right choice because De Leon's stock has plummeted since.
From the Free Agent Starters section:
Bartolo Colon (43): Something tells us that if the ageless wonder plays another year it won’t be with a 100-loss team.
Little did we know...
In a feature article he wrote for the 2017 Offseason Handbook entitled "Past & Present: We’ve Been Here Before," John laid out some interesting parallels between the organizational rebuild we were watching unfold, and one that took place some 30 years earlier. In 1985 the Twins had hired 32-year-old Andy MacPhail (the original "Boy Genius") to basically run their baseball operations. And shortly after he came aboard, the Twins would hire a 36-year-old manager by the name of Tom Kelly.
Leaders in the front office and dugout both ranking among the game's youngest in their respective positions? That sounds familiar.
Bonnes recounted the decision:
MacPhail’s mind was made up. He had seen the energy the team played with during Kelly’s short tenure, and he had received personal pleas from players begging him to make Kelly their full-time manager. But Pohlad was worried about having two 30-somethings running his $45 million investment. There needed to be some balance.
That balance was Ralph Houk, a 68-year-old retiree who managed the pennant- winning Yankees teams in the early ‘60s. He was hired as “Vice President of Personnel” but really he was a consultant upon whom MacPhail and Kelly could lean. MacPhail says that Houk helped them avoid some rookie mistakes in his first couple of years, but primarily he was around to soothe the Pohlads’ concerns.
Reading this passage about Houk was interesting for me, because recently I've had this thought bouncing around in my head: Is that dynamic what's missing with this front office? While I love the infusion of fresh blood and hungry young minds, would the inexperience of Falvey and Levine be better balanced with a seasoned executive – say, if Terry Ryan stayed on in the same advisory role Doug Melvin did in Milwaukee when David Stearns took over?
That question is only magnified with Rocco Baldelli stepping in as the game's youngest manager, lacking any practical experience.
THE 2017-18 OFFSEASON
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Predicting the Unpredictable
As I've paged through past editions of the Handbook to put together this retrospective series, I've noticed something pleasantly surprising (maybe you've noticed too): our contract projections for players signed by the Twins were amazingly accurate. Castro, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Torii Hunter, Josh Willingham... we estimated the correct length on all of them and were usually within a few million in total value.
This goes to show that forecasting free agent contracts based on precedent and trendlines is very possible. Or, at least, it was until the 2017-18 offseason. Last year's depressed market was unlike anything we've seen in the lifespan of our Handbook product, and as a result many of our free agent predictions missed the mark. Badly.
Here's all you need to know: we estimated Lance Lynn would land a six-year, $150 contract.
Speaking of Lynn, who would eventually sign a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins in mid-March, here was our appraisal:
After missing 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, Lynn came back strong in 2017, starting every fifth day and getting better as the season progressed. His velocity trended upward throughout the summer and in the second half he mostly looked like a rotation-fronter. Lynn has a 3.38 career ERA and has been extremely reliable in St. Louis. He’s also two years younger than Arrieta.
Estimated Contract: 6 years, $150 million
Seemed reasonable at the time? Anyway we all know how that one turned out.
As we put together last year's Handbook, Yu Darvish was clearly an attractive target. He was one of the top free agent starters available for a team in need of a frontliner. His premier strikeout stuff was seemingly the tonic this contact-plagued rotation needed. And the Twins actually had budget, not to mention an "in" via Thad Levine.
In the Offseason Blueprint, we posed this suggestion: Trade Ervin Santana to Cincy for prospect Robert Stephenson, and put his cleared salary toward a blockbuster.
3) Sign SP Yu Darvish for 5 years, $135 million.
The sum result here is that you are swapping out two years of the 35-year-old Santana in exchange for five years of the 31-year-old Darvish, a superior pitcher with elite stuff that shined on the big stage in October. Then it’s up to someone like Stephenson or Berrios to emerge as that legit No. 2, and others to step as well. It’s a potentially very good rotation.
In a year of butchered estimates, this one wasn't actually too far off, as Darvish eventually signed with the Cubs for six years and $122 million. By all accounts, the Twins did seriously pursue the righty, offering five years and $100M+, but they came up short and it's just as well.
Hitting the Bullseye
In the Free Agent Relievers section, Fernando Rodney was one of the lower names listed, but he did get his picture plastered on a page in another of Brock's classic foreshadowing design choices.
"Want closing experience?" we asked. "Rodney offers plenty, ranking among the active leaders in saves. But his iffy control makes him a less-than-ideal bet."
The Twins did procure that closing experience, adding Rodney on a one-year, $4.5 million deal, and he managed to rein in the control a bit; his 3.9 BB/9 rate with Minnesota was his lowest since a career season in 2014. The results were there for Rodney, who pitched very well for the Twins before an August trade to Oakland. The A's just exercised his 2019 option.
(The story of this Twins offseason has yet to be written, but you'll be ready to expertly follow along with the 2019 Offseason Handbook. Order your copy of this donation-based product now!)
- nclahammer, Tom Froemming and caninatl04 like this