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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. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Nice article Parker. I enjoyed the read. I would be happy if the Twins signed any of the three pitchers since they would all be an upgrade. I'd prefer Nolasco at $52M/4yrs, maybe a team option for 5. Maybe Ryan could agree to an incentive-laden one year contract for Johnson and turn it into something similar to what we did with Pavano.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Very good reporting.

      As an aside, I've got to say this explains the Ryan Doumit 2 year extension mystery.. Now I'm a Doumit guy for sure, he has a place in the majors some where, but I just couldn't understand what the Twins were going to do with him. So reading this article, I'm seeing a degree of "scratch my back" going on in this instance, money poorly spent. But nice work shedding light on a smaller agency.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I really hope the Twins change their tune on Johnson. I don't think $10 million is too much for him, I think it's low in fact unless there are medical concerns that weren't addressed with his recent surgery.

      On a one year deal, he really is the only player the Twins could reasonably get who has the potential to be A) evaluated for future front of the rotation candidacy, or B) flipped for a good haul come the trade deadline. If he returns to form there's no reason to think he can't get a similar return to what Garza and Greinke got the past two deadlines.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Obviously the Twins are well-respected in inner circles, but this makes me wonder what Sosnick would say about any other team if you asked him about them. I bet he has glowing reports about other teams as well, and those he doesn't care for he probably wouldn't trash down anyway.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Very cool to get that interview. I enjoyed it. I take some of it with a grain of salt, but that does not mean it is intentionally misleading. It just means you might choose to rub off some the peaks and valleys of the comments. Or, you might just take it at face value. I don't think this is just PR, or negotiations.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      If you've read anything Parker has written in the past, I cannot imagine you'd insult him by accusing him of writing a PR puff-piece.

      The Twins organization is almost universally well-respected. Sosnick happens to be a vociferous yet earnest (I believe) admirer. Hageman did a superlative job of detailing those aspects of Sosnick's relationship that inspire (and motivate) his glowing descriptions.

      And, if trusting relationships are old school, and it means the Twins are operating uniquely when it comes to loyalty and honesty, that's encouraging.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      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.
      Well, if one is concerned that the Twins are overly conservative with money, the fact that they've been outbid even on the players they got doesn't help.

      If these reports are to be believed, TR has basically never outbid anyone, anywhere. It worked in building a winner before, but it took awhile.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      And I hope I didn't come across as overly critical of Parker's work here -- this is an interesting read, and certainly the kind of content that makes Twins Daily special.

      I have no doubt that the Twins brass is respected -- they've basically been at the helm of the franchise for 20+ years. You don't get to that point without some success and some respect from your peers.

      I wonder where the Twins front office staff ranks, in terms of tenure with the same organization. If you count from his original hire date, TR is the longest tenured GM, and I would imagine a few of his staff would hold similar distinctions among their peers.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by birdwatcher View Post
      If you've read anything Parker has written in the past, I cannot imagine you'd insult him by accusing him of writing a PR puff-piece.

      The Twins organization is almost universally well-respected. Sosnick happens to be a vociferous yet earnest (I believe) admirer. Hageman did a superlative job of detailing those aspects of Sosnick's relationship that inspire (and motivate) his glowing descriptions.

      And, if trusting relationships are old school, and it means the Twins are operating uniquely when it comes to loyalty and honesty, that's encouraging.
      I think the idea is that the agent here is puffing up, not that Parker was. I have no doubts that the Twins organization is well respected and for good reason, but I'm not sure how much that really tells us. We all know the Twins are straight shooters and I'm sure that's appreciated, but it has little to do with what the organization does well or what it could improve upon.

      Afterall, it's hard to step on toes if you're not on the dance floor.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Reading through the comments, I also think we are at risk of overstating the Loyalty factor of this organization. Some of us will remember a big first baseman named Justin Morneau who played his whole career here, all-star, hugely popular, and wanted to retire in a Twins uniform. GM waived and traded him for a minor league outfielder as I recall.
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      While obviously an agent rarely going to to rip a organization you have to read between the lines a little. It's obvious this agent is someone who is looking out for what his client wants more than purely what suits the bottom line for their firm or putting their client in less than suitable places opurely to eek out every last dollar.

      The Twins have a good organization and I very much agree with their philosophy as a whole. However I feel they stick to that to strictly almost to a fault. You still need to take some calculated gambles from time to time. For all the crap Bill Smith got and most deservedly so, he atleast had the gumption to go out on a limb. The Young Garza swap for example. Gutsy move that needed to be made to address the lineup.

      It can be reckless to give out large FA contracts but you have to augment the weak parts of your team from time to time. Even if that means over paying, you keep the years down. You dont want to put yourself in a position where you dont have the payroll available to keep the guys you want to resign.
    1. Twins Daily Admin's Avatar
      Twins Daily Admin -
      I thought it an interesting piece. This is verified by all the natural follow up questions that people are raising. It might be interesting to hear Sosnick's take on some of the:

      1) how doe money compar e to other factors. Do guys generall value that last half million dollars? Or million?
      2) which front offices have a less than stellar reputation regarding being honorable?
      3) how do you differentiate your clients from similar players? Nolasco from Arroyo or Johnson from Halladay, for instance?
      4) where do the Twins rank developmentally compared to other teams? How about financially? What teams are they similar too?
      5) how important is trust in a front office when you're trying to work out a deal? How about trust in an agent?
      6) how are offers presented/accepted? By now, do you know which handful of teams your client will likely end up on?

      if anyone has any of their own, throw them in the comments. We'll try yo do more of these.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      Reading through the comments, I also think we are at risk of overstating the Loyalty factor of this organization. Some of us will remember a big first baseman named Justin Morneau who played his whole career here, all-star, hugely popular, and wanted to retire in a Twins uniform. GM waived and traded him for a minor league outfielder as I recall.
      After they went to him and asked him what he wanted to do, stick around or be traded to a contender.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      After they went to him and asked him what he wanted to do, stick around or be traded to a contender.
      The big tell will be who Morneau signs with for '14. (No doubt it won't be for much) But I will bet you a soda it's not the Twins.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      The big tell will be who Morneau signs with for '14. (No doubt it won't be for much) But I will bet you a soda it's not the Twins.
      I hope they don't sign him. I love the guy and hope he turns it around next season but I don't think it's worth the Twins pursuing him.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by admin View Post
      6) how are offers presented/accepted? By now, do you know which handful of teams your client will likely end up on?
      In this vein, I think detailing the process would be fascinating. Is free agent bidding somewhat open among teams, or is it more "blind"? How often are teams offered a chance to top an offer? Do teams share/confirm info, or can they only really get it from the player/agent? (For example, how did TR know that Correia "left money on the table"? Did Correia or his agent tell him that, or did TR get that from another GM?)

      Just stepping through a "typical" signing would be really interesting. I suspect many fans think of the bidding as more "open" than it actually is, probably because it is rather open in other sports, with restricted/unrestricted free agents, matching offers, salary caps, etc. But I really don't know.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      In this vein, I think detailing the process would be fascinating. Is free agent bidding somewhat open among teams, or is it more "blind"? How often are teams offered a chance to top an offer? Do teams share/confirm info, or can they only really get it from the player/agent? (For example, how did TR know that Correia "left money on the table"? Did Correia or his agent tell him that, or did TR get that from another GM?)

      Just stepping through a "typical" signing would be really interesting. I suspect many fans think of the bidding as more "open" than it actually is, probably because it is rather open in other sports, with restricted/unrestricted free agents, matching offers, salary caps, etc. But I really don't know.
      If teams share information to keep costs down it is collusion. There is absolutely no other benefit to a team to otherwise share information.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      I hope they don't sign him. I love the guy and hope he turns it around next season but I don't think it's worth the Twins pursuing him.
      I agree. I love the guy too. The Morneau-Presley trade made sense in baseball terms but not so sure as a business decision (it falls on its face as a "honorable" or "right thing to do" or Twins Way decision). People still came to the park to cheer Mauer & Morneau. The losing has stained the good young players we do have. So we are now a Mauer injury away from having a lineup of names that no one cares about and can't win games. I guess they weighed this consideration this summer and rolled with it anyway.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I think the idea is that the agent here is puffing up, not that Parker was. I have no doubts that the Twins organization is well respected and for good reason, but I'm not sure how much that really tells us. We all know the Twins are straight shooters and I'm sure that's appreciated, but it has little to do with what the organization does well or what it could improve upon.
      Agreed. Puff piece can be construed to mean whitewashing or deliberately painting an overly rosy picture, but I don't think anyone was accusing Parker of that. It seemed to me that those comments were directed at Sosnick, and probably it was less an indictment of his honesty and more of a sense of resignation about the expectation for comments in such an interview to be limited to compliments and positives.

      That said, while I can see why Parker took umbrage at the puff piece comments, his resorting to amateur psychology to express his displeasure with one of those comments was out of character and left a sour taste after what was an interesting article.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      See, here's a different kind of agent.

      http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/rays/a...market/2152283

      Thanks everyone for the feedback. I realize everyone thinks they are playing an angle with the Twins stuff but I have my reservations about that. I also highly recommend you read Jerry Crasnick's book "Licenses To Deal" that was written about the SosnickCobbe group:

      http://www.amazon.com/License-Deal-S...icense+To+Deal
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