October 17, 2006

LEN3's Terry Ryan Interview

The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal III, has a somewhat revealing interview with Terry Ryan in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's worth reading the entire thing, because Ryan was his usual honest and relatively forthcoming self, but there were a few specific highlights that are worth discussing further.

When asked about next season's payroll, Ryan indicated that it will likely rise because of the increased attendance this year. He said that this year's $63 million payroll "is probably going to go up a tad" and added that the team is "in decent shape" heading into the offseason. I suspect the Twins will have less money to work with in free agency than most fans seem to think, but an extra couple million would go a long way.

In response to a question about how the Twins can "get to the next level" after a disappointing and brief postseason, Ryan indicated that big changes aren't on the way. He stressed the team's "bright future" while opining that the fact the Twins "didn't hit well with runners in scoring position" during the playoffs isn't reason to "blow up the whole roster." I'm in complete agreement with Ryan there, because basing big decisions on what happened over the span of three games is beyond silly.

Ryan's reaction to being asked about the need for "depth in your starting rotation" was very interesting, because he immediately brought up Francisco Liriano despite Liriano not actually being mentioned in the question. Ryan seemed to indicate that he hopes to have Liriano in next year's rotation, saying the Twins "need to monitor what's going on" with him and adding that "he'll be a key ingredient to a starting rotation." On the other hand, "a starting rotation" may not mean 2007.

When asked whether there's "a concern that surgery will be needed" for Liriano, Ryan said: "There's a long way between making that decision and seeing whether or not he can go through the therapy and the process of rehabilitation." All of which seems to imply that the Twins are doing everything they can to avoid surgery and are still hoping rest will "fix" Liriano. As I've said all along, given the nature of his injury and how poorly his attempted comeback went this season, I'm not optimistic.

Despite that, Ryan said the team has no thoughts of moving Liriano to the bullpen, saying "there's no worries that he can pitch the innings." Similarly, he said Jason Kubel's ongoing knee problems have not changed the organization's opinion that he's the team's left fielder of the future. Ryan called Kubel "an everyday outfielder" and added that "with a hard-working winter ... and making sure he's in shape and is prepared, he ought to come in looking to win a job" in spring training.

A lot of fans seem to have written off Kubel based on what was a pretty awful season, but it's important to remember that this was his first year back from a career-threatening knee injury. Not to mention that it was his rookie season, which makes struggles expected to begin with. He showed plenty of promise when his knees weren't rendering him completely useless and I'm glad to see that the Twins still plan on Kubel being a big part of the future.

Finally, Ryan hinted that Nick Punto will enter next season as the starting third baseman, although he stopped short of saying it's a certainty. Ryan acknowledged that "he's not a prototypical third baseman," but said Punto "showed he was a good fit this year." I'm hopeful that the Twins feel comfortable going with Punto at third base if needed, but are open to upgrading the position. From reading into Ryan's response a bit, it seems possible that he views the situation the same way.

There were several key questions that went unanswered, like what Ryan plans to do with Carlos Silva and Rondell White, but the stuff he did respond to gives some insight into how the team is planning to approach an important offseason. For now, I'll stand by my earlier prediction that the biggest moves of the winter will be a reasonably significant trade involving Juan Rincon or Jesse Crain, a veteran free-agent signing to fill in the starting rotation, and one veteran bench bat to split designated-hitter duties.

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