Terry Ryan as a General Manager is a bit of a sleeper when it comes to many baseball fans. While the fan that follows the game closely knows, and anyone that follows the Twins has gathered, he has been exceptional at that position for the Minnesota Twins. Yet it's Billy Beane, largely through the publication of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, that seems to get most of the attention due to his ability to be consistently successful with a modest player payroll (as a point of reference, the Twins had the smallest payroll of the eight playoff teams last year, $65 million, which ranked 21st among all 30 clubs. Oakland was 19th with $71 million. In 8 of the past 15 years, the Twins have had a smaller payroll than the Athletics).
Ask those that work in MLB—Ryan's peers—and they have a different view. Case in point, Terry Ryan was voted the 2006 MLB Executive of the Year, the second time he has been selected by those that work in the front office for the prestigious award in his career. "Sleeper"? Not if you ask his counterparts in MLB. As much glamor as Beane? Sure, but Ryan likes it that way. As he said in the NY Times shortly after winning the 2006 Executive of the Year award, ''I couldn't believe it,'' he said. ''As far as not getting attention, I've had way too many things thrown my way.''
Jerry Differding, a contributor for The Biz of Baseball, caught up with Ryan at Spring Training and conducted the following interview. Topics include the spike in player salaries during this winter's free agent market, keeping the Twins' bullpen intact, the Twins and their approach to arbitration eligible players, comments on key prospects in the Twins organization, how the Twins development system functions, whether Ryan has an old-school, or sabermetrically inclined GM style, his views on the moves the rest of the AL Central has made this past off-season, and much more. - Maury Brown
(To read the interview with Ryan, select Read More)
As for how this interview transpired...
Growing up on the Plains of North Dakota in Fargo, Jerry Differding was raised a baseball fan and specifically a Minnesota Twins fan. It did not matter if he was sharing it with family or friends; a majority of his memories revolve around the boys of summer from Minnesota. Whether it was his first family vacation to old Metropolitan Stadium in 1973 watching a young Bert Blyleven out-duel Gaylord Perry, being in attendance for Game 7 of the 1987 World Series Championship, or attending the last game of the 2006 season sitting in the Metrodome cheering for the Royals to beat the Tigers, family, friends and the Minnesota Twins have been a big part of his life. Now, another memory can be added to that list with the graciousness of the Twins organization and GM Terry Ryan.
Jerome Differding for The Biz of Baseball: What are your perceptions on how this season’s contracts (predominantly pitching) will play into the negotiations with Joe Nathan and Johan Santana?
Terry Ryan: The market jumped. We have never been in the free agent market much. We don’t really follow the market but follow what we think is right for our club. There is no doubt that it has some affect where these things go. Whenever we talk about contracts we do what we think is best for the club, consider where we are at market wise, and revenue wise. I don’t find it troublesome because this has happened before and it will happen again. It is just the preference of each organization and where they end up taking it themselves. We’re fortunate we have a couple of these guys under contract for the next couple of years. It’s a part and a piece of doing business in the winter. Depending on your organization and what your philosophy is, it gets a lot of attention in the winter. We always try to promote from within anyways.
BizBall: The league's best bullpen was kept intact this off-season even though there were numerous rumors regarding moving one or two for a starter. Was your reasoning behind keeping the unit together based on the idea you may potentially be throwing three young arms out there in the rotation, or were the rumors just rumors?
Ryan: Yes, those were just rumors. I did not have much interest and did not have much in the way of dialogue with our relievers. I thought we had some pretty good young pitchers here and I still believe that. Whether or not they are ready, we will decide that in the next few weeks. We went out and got a couple of guys to stem the transition from Radke to some of the young ones. I have never believed in moving people when they are good, we have some very good young bullpen people here who have been reliable, and certainly, Nathan anchors the bullpen. When you have something that has been effective, I think we can pick the right starters to get to that bullpen and if we can get 5 to 6 innings out of that starting rotation, we turn it over. One of the best things we’ve had here in the past five to six years, any success we have had is that the one constant we have had is a consistent bullpen so I am not going to mess with it much.
BizBall: Once again, the Twins were able to sign all of their arbitration eligible players prior to their hearings. This was the norm when Wayne Krivsky was with the organization. Why has the Twins organization been so successful when it comes to signing arbitration eligible players and in addition to that, being able to keep Twins players happy and in the Twin Cities?
Ryan: We have a little history of going through the process of arbitration. We have gone through it with a couple of players here. I guess there are a couple of ways to look at it: We think we are fair and we think the player understands the process. It is a process and it is a business decision.
The one thing about arbitration is that there is finality to it, which is a good thing. The other thing is that there is so much time and effort put into this thing on how to get to the numbers. The filing numbers are the important thing. The player’s side puts a lot of effort into where they file and certainly the ball club puts a lot of effort into where we file. Consequently, there ends up being some sort of cooperation as both sides feel like they have done a nice effort coming in with logical numbers.
This year we had six players go through the exchange and a deal was completed with each using a different approach. Some were done as multi-year (Nick Punto and Joe Mauer), some were one year, and some we talked about multi-year and didn’t get it done. I think the players have a trust in us and I have a trust in the players and the agents. We both have a job to do for each organization, us for the team and the agent for the player, and I understand their plight and I think the understand mine which is how we kind of get to the conclusion.
BizBall: Young pitching is regarded as a strength for the Twins organization. With the majority of the top prospects being pitchers, what is the organizational plan/goal to strengthen the offensive depth?
Ryan: We have offensive depth, but it is not at the AAA level. A lot of our better young hitters are down at A ball or AA maybe. If you look at a guy like [Denard] Span or a guy like [Alexi] Casilla, they are both players who are pretty good players that are on the verge of surfacing at the major leagues, even though Casilla has already been here. They just don’t have that back fence power that people equate into minor league prospects. I would tell you that Casilla and Span are pretty good players, they just don’t have a lot of power. We have some players down in A ball and a couple at AA with a couple of guys who will be surfacing at AAA this year. We have position players; they just are not talked about much. If you start equating them to the [Matt] Garzas and [Kevin] Sloweys of the world who are well thought of and have had a lot of ink written about them, you are not going to have the type of position players that are going to match up. Garza was the minor league pitcher of the year, but we feel pretty good about our offensive depth and think we have some prospects that are pretty good. If you read some of the bibles of the minor leagues, I am not sure we match up, but we are ok. There are probably some guys who will surface this year, but our pitching is definitely our strength.
BizBall: Staying within the minor leagues and the offense, this has to be seen as a big season for David Winfree, Denard Span, Matt Moses and Trevor Plouffe. When does an organization know that a top prospect has or has not developed into the player they hoped for?
Ryan: All four of those guys are young guys that we have moved up. Some statistics match up to there reputation and some don’t. I am not too bent on looking at raw statistics to decide their fate, you go see them play, watch how they react, see how they compete, what kind of health history they have had, their age versus the league they play in, the ballpark they play at, all those things. If you go and watch them play and continue to see some sort of movement and some sort of mental and physical advancement you don’t give up on them, you just continue to move them along. There is no better example than Cuddyer. He never had great statistics in the minor leagues. You just keep moving them along and if you have faith, and see that they are going to be a good teammate, work hard in pregame, work on situational hitting and on their base running you just keep them moving. Some of those guys you mentioned, not that it is a make or break season, but we would like to see a break out season at some point both statistically and mentally. Those are four guys that are capable of doing that, whether or not it is going to happen we will see. Those are four guys I kind of like and we will keep moving them up.
BizBall: Last years amateur draft for the Twins was the first in some time that more hitters than pitchers (33 vs. 18) were drafted. This summers draft is considered to be dominated by pitching prospects. In addition, it is thought that more high school prospects will be taken in the first round compared to college prep stars. Since this follows the Twins draft philosophy 3 of the last 4 years, how does the draft look in your opinion?
Ryan: We are picking 28 and it is easier scouting pitchers than it is hitters because you get a better look at pitchers since it is easier to look at a radar gun. We will take whoever is there. A couple of years ago we would have never anticipated taking Garza. Depending on the situation, we don’t care, we are going to take the best player whether we are thin at pitching or we are thin at hitting. Whoever falls to us at 28 or whomever we like, we will take the best player. I think that that is a good approach and philosophy as you will never second-guess yourself.
BizBall: Since the Twins are considered an organization that develops its players from within, do you feel more credit should be given to proper drafting/scouting or to the minor league development staff?
Ryan: It is a combination. I don’t think any club would tell you it was one department or the other; it has to be in unison. All groups are in it together and one good thing we have going here is the scouting department has respect for the minor leagues, the minor league department has respect for scouting and the major league respects them both. Consequently, we are all on the same page, which has allowed us to have some success with all of us contributing. I don’t separate it at all; it has to be an effort and it is a good thing to have a field coordinator who is on the same page as the scouting director who are on the same page as the minor league director so that there is no jealousy when a player ultimately does succeed. The prime example is Garza. We drafted him well, developed him well, and the major league team has handled him well and consequently, it makes us look like we know what we are doing sometimes.
BizBall: How much interaction do you have with your scouts during the season, around the draft, and regarding trades?
Ryan: I make our scouts and minor league people accountable for what they are assigned. I will make a trade on a scout or minor league manager’s recommendations. I have quite a bit of interaction with our minor league people throughout the course of the year. As soon as the scouts are done with their amateur coverage in June, I have a lot more interaction with them when they start their minor league coverage. I don’t talk to our scouts who are out watching the high schools and the colleges that is Mike Radcliffe’s job. The professional scouts that are out watching the spring training games, I speak with them often.
BizBall: What is your role during the amateur draft?
Ryan: I don’t get involved in the draft as much as you think I do, I just sit there and listen. Those guys are out in the field busting their rear ends trying to see as many players and games as they can. They convene for the draft around June 1st. I go into the room and listen and if they ever want to ask my advice I will give it, but very rarely do I have an opportunity to contribute to that process. I just wait for them to tell me whom we are going to take, which is a pretty good thing for a general manager. We have had a lot of stability and continuity with our scouting department with Mike Radcliffe and the people working there. There are not too many surprises, they know what we need to do, they take their guys, and hopefully they pan out. As you know, not many of them do pan out.
BizBall: Some would consider your GM philosophy a sabermetric style. Would you agree with that?
Ryan: No, I am a little bit of a combination of a lot of things. I will look at raw statistics, sabermetrics, scouting reports, history, injury, league information, and even individual advice from someone who may not even work for us. Makeup and character is a big part of our organization, maybe more than some others. I am not one thing and the Twins organization is not one thing. We take a lot of things into serious consideration when it comes to acquisition, but character is up there pretty high.
BizBall: With the work Dayton Moore has done with the Kansas City Royals and Mark Shapiro’s revamping of Cleveland’s bullpen, in your opinion, is the AL Central the most talented division top to bottom?
Ryan: On paper, people would say that, but I am not big on what things look like on paper. There is a lot of activity in the winter and a lot of articles written about movement and who signed whom. I know this division is going to be difficult. The Royals probably made as many moves as anyone in our division and I know that the Indians are also quite talented. Their bullpen has been an area that they have tried to make sure they cleared up. I know the Tigers and White Sox are both good and we are the defending AL Central Champions and we feel we are good. So, it is going to be a tough division and an interesting season.
BizBall: What does the future hold for Terry Ryan? Would a position in the Commissioner’s Office be of interest?
Ryan: No, I am a baseball guy and have more interest in watching games, seeing what is happening in the minor leagues, and seeing what is happening in the scouting department. I like watching the players, being involved in a team, and things of that nature. I cannot imagine not working for a club, rooting for a club and all those things that go with competition. The best part of my day is watching a baseball game; there is no surprise to that. No one is ever going to equate anything with me but evaluation. I don’t see myself doing anything else but working with the Twins and watching games. That’s a pretty good life and is not all that bad, especially when you win. The last couple of years have been quite enjoyable for us around here. I like our players, I like our manager, I like our coaching staff, and I like our front office and business side. The Twins are where I am at and feel most comfortable and I don’t see that changing much.
Interview conducted by Jerry Differding on Saturday, March 10, 2007 at Hammond Stadium
Interview edited by Maury Brown
Differding and The Biz of Baseball thanks the Twins organization, specifically Administrative Assistant to Mr. Ryan, Jack Goin and Mr. Terry Ryan for their time and making this interview available.
For a profile on Jerry Differding, his contact information, and profiles on all that contribute to The Biz of Baseball, see our Authors Profile page.