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  • Thoughts on the Twins? One baseball agent's perspective on Minnesota's front office

    Josh Johnson will be one of the game's more sought after free agents.Baseball agent Matt Sosnick speaks strongly of loyalty, honesty and trust in his industry.

    His agency, Sosnick Cobbe Sports, was grown from scratch in the hills above the San Francisco Bay and relies on building relationships, sticking with clients regardless of on-field performance and adheres to principles such as automatically dropping players who engage in detrimental activity like domestic violence. He discusses his clients as friends rather than means to a paycheck. Character above all.

    It probably should come as no surprise then that he holds the Minnesota Twins operations in high regard for similar reasons. When asked his perception of the organization, Sosnick raved.


    “First of all, I love the Twins,” he admitted. “I obviously have had lots of players who have run through there the past few years. I have [Josh] Willingham and [Ryan] Doumit. I have a very close relationship with both [assistant GM] Rob Antony and [vice president of player development] Mike Radcliff and there’s no GM that I respect more than Terry Ryan.”

    That may seem like an odd response from a person whose livelihood is tied to how much a team is willing pay for one of his clients and, so far, the Twins have not been exactly a blank check. In fact, Willingham’s 2012 contract has been the richest free agent contract the team has distributed to date.

    What is interesting is that had Willingham’s home been further west, he may never have been a Twin to begin with. When fans wonder why their team didn’t sign a particular free agent, there are factors that go beyond just the dollars and cents. As a free agent after the 2011 season, Sosnick fielded an offer from a West Coast team that was superior to that of the Twins. But Willingham, who calls Alabama home, opted to sign with Minnesota because it was in closer proximity to his family and turned down more money in the process.

    Willingham’s reign as the team’s highest compensated free agent may come to an end this winter and one of Sosnick’s other clients could be the one to dethrone him. Among the Sosnick Cobbe client list are Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Randy Messenger -- three pitchers in who the Twins have had varying degrees of interest.

    Under different circumstances, Johnson could have been the headliner of the offseason. At just 30 years old, Johnson has battled both shoulder inflammation (2011) and elbow issues (2013) that have curbed his innings over the past three seasons. More importantly, it has curbed teams’ appetite for doling out a large contract..

    “He’s probably got the highest upside of any free agent pitcher,” says Sosnick, “but when you factor in the amount of games he started the last few years and the amount of different injuries he’s had you realize, in our case, our choice was to take a shot at a two or three-year deal or take a shot a one-year where we rebuild his value. There’s no question that we are going to go after a one-year and try to rebuild his value because he’s going to be treated as an injury liability -- even though I think he’s totally healthy right now -- but I understand that mindset.”

    While Johnson could profile as a top of the rotation arm, does a pitcher with his injury history make sense for the organization? Mike Radcliff does not seem to think so. According to the Pioneer Press’s Mike Berardino, Radcliff said that if Johnson’s asking price is $10 million or more, the club would likely pass. That said, the Twins severely lack an ace and Johnson could be that guy. As an agent, would Sosnick ever try to convince a team that Johnson, who is coming off a bad conventional season but demonstrated decent peripherals that may indicate a positive future, is the right fit for them?

    “I find that too presumptuous on my part. Am I really going to convince Mike Radcliff that his scouting analyses of a player are off because I tell him something -- given the fact that I’ve never scouted a player in my life and Mike’s done it professionally his whole life? I find the thought distasteful and if I put myself in the reverse situation I would be insulted. That’s not what I do.”

    Perhaps more conducive to the team’s long term vision is Sosnick’s other former Marlins pitcher, Nolasco.

    “[Nolasco’s] probably is the most sure thing in the marketplace and that comes without a qualifying offer. That’s a huge thing for a team to sign a guy who you can pencil in for 200 innings a year, never gets hurt and you don’t have to give up a draft pick for him.”

    Not having to surrender a draft pick means a lot to teams that, unlike the Twins, have unprotected first round picks which could make him more desirable. Sosnick says he and Nolasco are seeking a five-year deal, but currently are speaking with numerous teams about four years.

    During his interview for the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook, Ryan flinched at the thought of signing 30-year-old pitchers, stating that those over that age have a tendency to break down. With Nolasco seeking up to five years, his contract length may cause the team to balk. Still, as Sosnick hinted to Berardino, the Twins have expressed interest in the right-hander. And as Sosnick said there could be the possibility of using a club option in the contract to bridge the gap and protect the team in the event of an injury.

    The last notable free agent pitcher in the Sosnick Cobbe stable is Randy Messenger, who is coming off a strong stint in Japan.

    “Outside of [Masahiro Tanaka] who needs to get posted, Messenger’s a free agent in the States this year and he led the Japanese league last year in strikeouts, innings pitched and games started. He has really strong peripherals and ERA the last two years in Japan and was a totally dominant guy this year. He’s not a Tanaka but he’s the next best thing.”

    The Twins flirted with Messenger a bit last offseason but Messenger ultimately returned to Japan and had another strong season which could be emphasized since that Japanese league switched to a new baseball which increased the offensive production. Did Messenger notice the difference?

    “He did say that he felt like pitching to an ERA in the 2.00’s this year was more challenging than the two years before that. He felt like ERA-wise, it affected the ERA by a quarter of a point. So a 2.90 was about the equivalent of 2.65 in the past.”

    Messenger could turn into a Colby Lewis who refined his style in Japan before returning to the Texas Rangers and putting up impressive numbers. Maybe more importantly to a team not looking spend as much on one starting pitcher, Messenger should not command as much as Nolasco in dollars or years.

    When it comes to discussing contracts with the Twins, the front office avoids lengthy contracts with free agent pitchers. Still, Sosnick respects them all the same.

    “The Twins are run by the three guys I know -- Terry [Ryan], Rob [Antony] and Mike Radcliff -- and all three of them would be great GMs anywhere right now. They are great evaluators of talent, nice people, easy to do business with and honest. You won’t find three more honest guys then those three guys. The Twins are not as easy to do business with financially as the Yankees or Dodgers, they don’t have the same deep pockets, but we keep sending our guys to the Twins because they are honest, honorable people. The front office represents baseball as well as anybody does.”

    Sosnick’s relationship with the Twins organization goes beyond just his major league clients. In 2009, the Walnut Creek-based agency was representing who some scouts considered to be the best player to come from Europe in 16-year-old Max Kepler. There was plenty of interest in the toolsy, six-foot-four outfielder who was just a few months removed from growing his first facial hair.

    “When Max Kepler was out there,” Sosnick reminisced, “we had an offer that was higher than what the Twins’ final offer was and we had him go to the Twins because we really believed in their player development and a lot of that had to do with our relationship with Mike at the time.”

    Kepler has advanced slowly in the minor league system. At 20 years old he finished his first season at low-A (albeit injury-abbreviated) and has performed well in the Arizona Fall League despite unattractive numbers. As Baseball America’s John Manuel noted a few weeks ago the Twins expect to see the large statured Kepler add some power to his repertoire through additional conditioning this offseason resulting in more over-the-fence distance in 2014. In just a few seasons, Kepler could be patrolling a corner outfield spot in a Twins uniform and, reflecting back, Sosnick is happy with their decision to sign with Minnesota.

    “Kepler went to Minnesota because we like their player development,” he said, “we felt like they would do the best job of assimilating a 16-year-old from Germany. We made the right choice. He went to high school during the day and played in the afternoon and the Twins bent over backwards to make him as comfortable as possible. And it just reinforced the decision that we made.”

    Sosnick’s opinion of the Twins’ organization may or may not be shared throughout his industry. Then again, Sosnick’s approach does not seems shared by the rest of his industry. He and his agency remain committed to doing the best for the clients and place them in ideal situations -- like Willingham’s desire to remain closer to his family or considering Kepler’s comfort level -- rather than the ones that garner the most dollars.
    This article was originally published in blog: Thoughts on the Twins? One baseball agent's perspective on Minnesota's front office started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 43 Comments
    1. beyondclarity's Avatar
      beyondclarity -
      Good article Parker. It would be interesting to read a similar article with Scott Boras since he seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum in his industry.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      I predict three pat responses:

      1) See, I told you so! The Twins front office and organization as a whole is great and well respected.

      2) All this story does is confirm my opinions that the Twins are still mired back in the dark ages, completely out of touch with the reality of modern baseball.

      3) It's nice to hear praise coming from an unlikely source, but I am still frustrated with the rebuild and won't be happy until we field a winner.

      Variations please.

      P.S I enjoyed the article, thanks for writing it.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      That was a really fascinating read, much different than the usual. Thanks. (And still hoping they spring for JJ.)
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      The article fits with what we know about the Twins. Loyalty above all else. When they sign someone they totally stand behind them and give them every opportunity to succeed. They don't easily give up on players or coaches as they believe in the people they have. It is an admirable trait but when so few play that way it makes it harder compete and harder to change with the times. Nice article and nice to know doing the right thing can pay off once in awhile.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Joe A, to your points:

      1.) It is a bad thing? I don't think there was ever any question about this fact.

      2.) I don't know how loyalty and being honorable and such is "old school." If that's not current, it says more about society and that's not good.

      3.) I get the frustration, but be happy about other stuff! I'ts just baseball... :-)


      Parker, great article, and thank you to Matt for taking his time too.

      I like all three of these pitchers. I'm leery of Johnson, but I'm less leery because he finally did have a surgery. Nolasco was always supposed to take that next big step. He was good last year, for sure. Not sure the 5 years, $80M price tag would be worth it, but I'd go 4/55 or something. And, I had Messenger in my blueprint. I'd like to see a 2 year with an option on him as the offer.

      I also didn't think about Kepler until reading this. We can bash those things like loyalty and honor and thinking about a person's PERSONAL development (even beyond baseball), but that name and recognition that Mr. Radcliff and others have garnered got them the likes of Kepler and Sano too.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Why would a player's agency ever publicly trash a team or it's front office? This is a PR puff-piece. That being, it doesn't mean the Twins (or it's people) aren't first-rate--the article means that this guy (Sosnick) understands the value of "sweet words" (which is a prerequisite for an agent).
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Agreed that it's probably mostly a puff piece. He has multiple clients here now and he represents multiple free agent pitchers this offseason. I know it's always fun to talk to these "inside baseball" types, but I would have been shocked if he had said anything other than this.

      Did you ask him about specifics in the Willingham and Kepler deals? Not teams obviously, but dollar amounts? That would be valuable information. Exactly how much more were the other offers? In the case of Willingham, was it more per year, for fewer years, or did it involve options, incentives, etc.?

      I am sure that players sometime sign with teams that don't offer the highest total contract value or highest AAV, but I would be shocked if the true money difference ever exceeded ~10% max. Just like bang-bang calls at first, it can go either way but you still have to run and make it close. I suspect the Twins often don't even make an offer to free agents, or when they're forced to, they make a lowball one (remember when Torii Hunter first hit free agency?).
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Why would a player's agency ever publicly trash a team or it's front office? This is a PR puff-piece.
      As far as I can tell, you have an inherent mistrust for people when they open their mouth (see your comment from the Terry Ryan interview: "I think the interview is just PR to mollify the choir so they stop singing off-key").

      Do people who are being interviewed on the record speaking towards things that would benefit themselves or their interests? Absolutely. Sosnick may have been saying things to keep things smooth for future negotiations just like Ryan was not going to bash Gardenhire or Molitor. That said, I do believe Sosnick's comments reflect things I have heard from people across the industry: The Twins are a respected organization in baseball. It may not be viewed the same from a fan's perspective when you consider the on-field product as of late but insiders seem to agree that the Twins are a good organization across-the-board.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Did you ask him about specifics in the Willingham and Kepler deals? Not teams obviously, but dollar amounts? That would be valuable information. Exactly how much more were the other offers? In the case of Willingham, was it more per year, for fewer years, or did it involve options, incentives, etc.?
      Why is that valuable information?

      In the case of Willingham, it was same years, more dollars.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Also, my working theory is that TR and the Twins don't like to work with "outsiders" -- this means players, coaches, and staff from other organizations, but also agents in general. By making few offers, and only targeting low-salary low-interest players, they pretty much minimize the role of the agent (no competitive bidding, lower dollar differences, player preferences more important, etc). Bill Smith seemed to work out of that comfort zone internationally at least (Sano and Kepler were both his), and TR has to deal with agents less now due to draft and international spending caps, but I suspect it still holds true in the domestic (and Cuban and Asian) free agent markets. Would love to see if they could work out of that comfort zone finally to make the team better faster than drafting/developing alone.

      I wonder if the Twins have worked more with some agents rather than others? I know a lot of agency info is out there, it would be cool to see a breakdown of it.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      A fan's perspective is always so much different than those that aren't emotionally attached to the team. We tend to tear down our greats, because we see their areas of weakness instead of appreciating their excellence (see: Joe Mauer). We also can be blindly optimistic at the beginning of a season, because we see the "potential" for this club to turn it around this year (this tends to be fading considerably fter three straight 90+ loss seasons). We as fan's take it personal, we look through a different set of lenses than someone that can actually be unbiased and take the emotion out of a situation or the team.

      Great piece, Parker.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Why is that valuable information?

      In the case of Willingham, it was same years, more dollars.
      It's valuable because "leaving money on the table" can mean lots of different things -- AAV vs total dollars, for one difference. Option years for another. Thanks for clarifying in regards to Willingham. Don't know if you know the exact numbers (boy, you guys are quite the "insiders" now! ) but I'd bet it fits my theory (less than 10% difference) in which case, moving back to his home time zone from the coast makes sense.

      TR was once quoted that Correia also "left money on the table" -- has it ever been confirmed what that meant? Was he really offered more than $10 million guaranteed?

      Why is it that the Twins two biggest outside free agent signings ever (Willingham and Correia) apparently both "left money on the table" to come here (despite being in a class of "budget" FAs to begin with)? Has TR ever been the high bidder for anyone?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      It's valuable because "leaving money on the table" can mean lots of different things -- AAV vs total dollars, for one difference.
      For multiple reasons, you are not going to get either side to state on the record dollar amounts in those circumstances.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      For multiple reasons, you are not going to get either side to state on the record dollar amounts in those circumstances.
      And for multiple reasons, we should be skeptical of such claims.

      Especially when one team makes the claim about their biggest signings each of the past two offseasons....
    1. MichiganTwins's Avatar
      MichiganTwins -
      Do you think puting Kepler in the AFL had anything to do with these 3 pitchers?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Do you think puting Kepler in the AFL had anything to do with these 3 pitchers?
      No, injuries and lack of playing time during the regular season is why Kepler is playing the fall league. Plus the Twins need to make a decision on placing him on the 40-man.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I enjoyed this article, and while there's a "puff piece" aspect to it, there's probably some genuine respect there too. When you make statements like "There's no GM I respect more than Terry Ryan" you are going above and beyond in lavishing your praise. If the respect wasn't genuine, he would say "I respect Terry Ryan", especially since he basically says he has more respect for Ryan than all of his counterparts.

      I'd echo what someone else said, but if Boras wrote the same piece, I really am curious what he'd say...
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      if the twins sign any player, I don't understand why we are so concerned about who else bid what. The twins got the guy they wanted. WWhether it was dollars or how much the intangibles played into it, who cares?as was stated in the story, each player's reasoning is different. For some it might be just money and years.for others, trust and other intangibles, maybe geography is what matters.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Nice work Parker, you got yourself and this site linked:

      Twins Notes: Willingham, Johan, Rotation, Sano: MLB Rumors - MLBTradeRumors.com

      Your work is recognized admirably world wide!
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      I enjoyed this article, and while there's a "puff piece" aspect to it, there's probably some genuine respect there too. When you make statements like "There's no GM I respect more than Terry Ryan" you are going above and beyond in lavishing your praise. If the respect wasn't genuine, he would say "I respect Terry Ryan", especially since he basically says he has more respect for Ryan than all of his counterparts.

      I'd echo what someone else said, but if Boras wrote the same piece, I really am curious what he'd say...
      Agreed. No agent is going to trash any team if they are trying to get them to sign clients, but this one seemed pretty sincere. Every indication is that the Twins front office is pretty well respected. I may not agree with everything Ryan and company do but I still recognize them as honest and amicable business individuals.
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