It’s been a long time coming. The boulder has been rolling down the hill for nearly an eternity now, but it turns out that we underestimated just how big the hill is. It’s more of a mountain. It just kept on tumbling without stopping, onward and onward, down the infinite slope. Terry Ryan kept right along, driving the Twins into the ground.
No more. The Twins announced yesterday that they’ve relieved Ryan of his duties and promoted assistant GM Rob Antony to serve in the position on an interim basis. According to multiple reports, this move had been in the making for at least a month. This is where the story takes a rather predictably odd and Twins-like turn.
4.) TR was told one month ago he wasn't coming back. Pohlad + DSP felt horrible, so they allowed TR to craft his own exit. He chose firing.— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) July 18, 2016
The Pohlads and Dave St. Peter met with Antony and Molitor separately yesterday. St. Peter says Antony did not know before yesterday.— Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) July 18, 2016
Indeed, Ryan had known of this inevitability for a month and decided to have himself fired just two weeks before the trade deadline. His replacement didn’t know that he would be personally overseeing the team, and its deadline moves, until yesterday. He will now be tasked with handling one of the most important days of the year, a day which can have massive repercussions for the future of the franchise.
The Twins regime has been largely static under Ryan, and aside from a fluke 83-win season in 2015, the team has been awful since 2011. Some had thought that they would build off last year’s unexpected viability, but Minnesota entered Monday with a 33-58 record.
It would be easy to leave a laundry list of ill-advised maneuvers here by Ryan and co., but this Baseball Prospectus column from 2013 by Elliot Mann and a recent one at the same address by Aaron Gleeman from this May do that job just fine. Under Ryan, the Twins have utterly failed to add impact talent from the outside, failed to develop good pitching, and failed to produce position players better than Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe. This may yet change, as the Miguel Sano-Byron Buxton-Max Kepler group is on the rise, but the track record is ugly.
There was a period of success with the Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau-Johan Santana-Torii Hunter bunch. But since then, the Twins have relied on insular policies and bad talent evaluation to do business.
It’s trading away Santana, Carlos Gomez, J.J. Hardy, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Ben Revere for almost nothing in return. It’s building starting rotations focused on soft contact and lackluster stuff. It’s extending Phil Hughes and Kurt Suzuki for small samples of good work that don’t fall in line with middling prior performance.
All of this doesn’t seem to have discouraged the Twins from staying the course.
6.) Twins are open to bringing TR back in some capacity. They laud his scouting acumen. Twins also offered Bill Smith + Gardy jobs again too— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) July 18, 2016
For the uninitiated, Bill Smith is the man who served as GM following Ryan’s departure in 2007, and whom Ryan had to take over for in 2012. "Gardy" is Ron Gardenhire, who managed the Twins for almost all of Ryan’s tenure. Ownership referred to Antony as a candidate to eventually take the GM job full-time and said they believe that the Twins can contend in 2017.
That may not be accurate. The Twins face immense competition in-division from the Indians, Royals and Tigers, and possibly the White Sox if they add supplementary pieces. The Twins are still developing their theoretical contending nucleus. It’s clear that the current Dozier-Plouffe-Eduardo Nunez (!?!) core isn’t working, and while Kepler and Sano are playing fairly well at the big league level, many of the younger pieces are still very far away. Furthermore, the pitching leaves much to be desired.
The Twins won’t compete next year. They probably won’t compete the year after, either. To do so in the near future will require a substantial shift in organizational philosophy. The doctrine of Ryan directly counteracts a productive and winning strategy in modern baseball. Twins ownership might have taken notice. Maybe.
I asked Jim Pohlad if he has studied other team's organizational structures. He said he's looked at every team's media guides. Not kidding.— chipscoggins (@chipscoggins) July 18, 2016
It’s progress, or something.
Re: housecleaning, Pohland said new GM has no "mandate to blow up the baseball operations because we don’t see that that needs to happen."— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) July 18, 2016
A new GM would have to deal with the same front office staff that’s been in place for a long time. Oh, and they wouldn’t have a chance to hire their own manager. So, the new GM will be constrained by not being able to make substantial changes to the staff or the on-field managerial strategy.
It’s almost like the Twins are destined to promote from within and perpetuate the cycle of poor decision-making. Sure, there will be outside applicants. The Twins even discussed the possibility of hiring a search firm. But, let’s be honest: This job is Antony’s to lose.
The candor used by the Twins on Monday should be concerning for fans of the team. There is so much talent waiting in the wings, and so much potential. Now more than ever, the franchise needs a guiding hand to see the talent through to the finish. With the right supplemental moves and some good player development, the Twins could eventually be a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, that’s been the story for years now, and it hasn’t come to pass. Firing Terry Ryan is a necessary first step. It’s a step that will be utterly meaningless if he’s replaced with more of the same broken methodology and backward clinging to the past. The clock is now ticking for Minnesota.