MINNEAPOLIS — It’s been a busy offseason for Twins general manager Terry Ryan as he attempts to tweak Minnesota’s roster and help turn things around after three straight 90-plus loss seasons. I caught up with Ryan this week to talk about the moves that have already been made and also look ahead to the 2014 season.
FOX SPORTS NORTH: Is this the busiest offseason, in terms of acquisitions, that you’ve had in recent memory?
RYAN: "If you’re looking at the acquisition of major league free agents, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that statement. Our roster through the years, it’s always had a lot of movement. But it’s been mostly through promotions in the minor league side, stuff like that, trades. This year we’ve been more active in that free agent business, there’s no doubt about that."
FSN: Why have you been so much more active in free agency?
RYAN: "Necessity, and we’ve had some payroll flexibility. I would say those are the two most prevalent. Our rotation last year was struggling badly, and the year before we struggled. The year before that we struggled. We’ve got to start stepping up."
FSN: One of those free agents you signed is Mike Pelfrey, as you’re bringing him back for a two-year deal. What did you like about what you got from him last year, and why a two-year contract?
RYAN: "We like his presence on this ball club. Certainly, his arm strength is impressive. Coming off the surgery and getting through last year with 151 innings, that was something we all tried to accomplish and he got that done. Now we’re hoping that as he approaches the 2014 season, he doesn’t have to worry about a lot of those types of things. He’s healthy. He knows the market now. He knows the environment, the stadium, the people that work here. All the things that come from a change in organizations, now he’s been through that. I think we all agree his stuff’s plenty good now. It’s just a matter of more quality, more innings, more quality starts, more wins, things that are important as far as helping your club get to the next level. We think Mike has those assets. Now that he’s a year off that Tommy John, we’re certainly hoping he’s going to be better for it."
FSN: It looks like four of the five rotation spots are set, with Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, and free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Do you like the idea that that’ll breed some competition for the fifth and final rotation spot?
RYAN: "Yeah. We need numbers, and we need competition. As we have shown recently, you start out with a 12-man staff and before you know it you’re reaching down into the system. We have had to do that too much, so we’ve got to have people down there that are prepared and ready to help us. We’ll have a lot more competition in spring training certainly with the addition of those guys you just mentioned. That will allow for quite a bit of competition this spring down in Fort Myers."
FSN: You brought in veteran free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, and you’ve also got the youngster Josmil Pinto. How do you view the catching situation with a young guy in Pinto and a veteran in Suzuki?
RYAN: "Actually, I wouldn’t discard Eric Fryer, either, or Chris Herrmann. The situation here, it’s going to be competitive as well. There’s no doubt that adding Suzuki and his veteran leadership and knowledge of the league and him being around for quite a while now, he knows what he’s doing back there and knows what has to happen. With those other three guys, it gives us a chance once again for some competition and to see how that roster breaks down. But I kind of like the depth there that we have."
FSN: What else does Suzuki bring to this team?
RYAN: "His knowledge of the game and his baseball IQ — now that I know him; I don’t know him, but I’ve watched him and talked to people that have been around him — his makeup and his ability to take the post and his ability to lead a staff, I think everybody has the respect out of him back there of doing that. We’ve got a few pitchers on this team that have been around him, which is good. I can’t get enough good things to say from those guys about Suzuki, which is always a relaxing piece when you bring a new guy into the system."
FSN: What intrigued you about bringing Jason Kubel back into the mix?
RYAN: "He had a very good 2012 year. Not being there every day and seeing what happened, he certainly didn’t pack it up in 2013. He is relatively young. He knows what this is all about here. He’s played here long enough to realize what we expect. This is a minor league invite, which is a big reward. If you get a guy like that who’s got some history with the organization, the city, the market, the league, all that good stuff, I don’t see where there’s any downside to this."
FSN: How different of a player is he now compared to when he was here several years ago?
RYAN: "I’m hoping not too much. He’s certainly been around both leagues now, played in the National League for a while and then came over to Cleveland last year. People have off years. I don’t think it was his health, but he had an off year, and we’ll take it as such. I don’t see any reason why he can’t bounce back."
FSN: What about another former Twin, Jason Bartlett. He didn’t play in the majors in 2013. Is he a guy who can still contribute at the major league level?
RYAN: "We’ll have to find that out down in Fort Myers. I’m not sure how to describe what Jason’s going to look like because no one has seen him for the better part of a year and a half or so. The one thing that I think is apparent about Bartlett, he’s always been very athletic. He’s always been in good shape. He was a good player here for a number of years and then went elsewhere and also played well. There’s no downside to this acquisition either. He’ll certainly compete to make this team, and I suspect that he’s going to give a good run at this."
FSN: Addressing the starting rotation was your biggest goal this offseason. With that said, do you feel good about where this offense is?
RYAN: "Last year going into spring training, I thought we were going to be pretty good offensively and we struggled. We struck out too much. We need to pick it up on the offensive side of the game. I’m hoping another year of maturation for some of our younger hitters, guys like Parmelee and Plouffe and Florimon and Dozier, Hicks. There’s a number of guys there that have very limited major league time. I’m hoping that things start to click in for them. We need to have a couple guys rebound, in particular Josh Willingham. But having Mauer out there every day, I’m hoping that will help the cause of the lineup. We need better production out of our offensive side of the game. We had a very, very difficult year on offense last year."
FSN: I know we’ve talked a little bit in the past about Mauer moving to first base. Now that that’s all settled, do you feel pretty comfortable with what’s going to happen with him?
RYAN: "Yeah, I don’t see any reason that he can’t make this transition easily. He’s played over there. He’s certainly athletic. It’s taking some of the strain off his back and his legs and that everyday catching. It should keep him fresher as we go through the season. This shouldn’t be an issue. I’d think that he’d make this easily."
FSN: Are you done making moves this offseason, or are you still making calls?
RYAN: "We’re still looking at this thing. There’s a number of people out there on the free-agent board, for sure. Even though we’re closing in on mid-January, there’s still quite a few people out there. It’s just a matter of realistic chance of getting one of them or not. Some of these guys are going to be out there pretty far, but there might be somebody that might not be out there too far. We need to keep an eye on that for sure."
FSN: One publication said the Twins could be a surprise team in 2014. What do you make of that, and is that a reasonable expectation for this team?
RYAN: "That would be our expectation. We’ve got to get to the point here where we’re playing competitive baseball from the outset, right after we leave spring training. Obviously we struggled on both sides of the ball last year. We didn’t pitch enough, and we certainly didn’t hit enough. So we need to fix some of these things. I think we’ve done some of the work in the winter that will help that, but for the most part if we don’t have some of the people that have been around here for some years now step forward and start taking some of the bulk of that responsibility on, it’s time for some of these younger players that have been around long enough to take the next step. I’m hoping that happens. If it does, maybe some of those predictions — I never get too much into the winter predictions stuff — but if somebody thinks that, that’s very welcoming. But we’ve got to get it done here. You can’t keep hoping. We’ve got to start producing."