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