Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan has been diagnosed with cancer in his neck, and he will miss spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., the team announced Monday.
The 60-year-old Ryan is being treated at the Mayo Clinic, the team said in a statement in Ryan's name, after a lump was found in his neck during a routine physical exam. The lump was found to be cancerous, though "incremental tests indicate the cancer appears to be confined to my neck, and has not spread to other regions of my body," Ryan's statement said. "I've been assured this form of cancer is treatable and [I] remain optimistic about my return to good health in the near future."
Ryan will turn over leadership of the team to assistant general manager Rob Antony, director of player personnel Mike Radcliff, and manager Ron Gardenhire while he focuses on treatment and recovery from the condition, known as squamous cell carcinoma. The Twins open training camp next week, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers on Sunday.
According to the Mayo Clinic's web site, squamous cell carcinoma is usually not life-threatening, though it can be aggressive in some cases. The Mayo site calls it "a common form of skin cancer that develops in the thin, flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin."
Ryan has been with the Twins since 1986, and is in his second stint as general manager. He held the post from Sept. 1994 until the end of the 2007 season, then returned to the position on Nov. 7, 2011.
A two-time Executive of the Year, as named by The Sporting News in 2002 and 2006, Ryan was drafted by the Twins in the 35th round in 1972 and pitched in the organization for four seasons before suffering a career-ending injury. The Janesville, Wis., native and his wife Karilyn have two children.
Ryan's statement also thanked Twins team physician Dr. Vijay Eyunni, "as well as the doctors and medical staff at the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota Oncology. In addition, we are grateful for the many friends and colleagues who have sent their well-wishes and support throughout this challenging time," it read. "It's my intention to see you back at the ballpark as soon as possible."
Andrew Albers is free to sign with the Hanwha Eagles after he cleared release waivers Thursday, the Twins announced. Albers reached a tentative agreement with the Korean team last week, and the Twins agreed to allow the 28-year-old lefthander to depart.
Albers won his first two games with the Twins in August by pitching 17 1/3 scoreless innings, but he finished the season at 2-5 with a 4.05 ERA. He was named the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year after the season for his 11-5, 2.86 season with Class AAA Rochester. But with the addition of free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, Albers' chances of winning a spot in the rotation this year were greatly reduced, and the Twins agreed to allow him to pursue a more lucrative contract overseas.
Albers' departure leaves a spot open on the Twins' 40-man roster.
His sore elbow kept him from doing his normal workout for six weeks, so Miguel Sano put on a few extra pounds. "I weighed myself today and I was 250," the 20-year-old Dominican slugger said. "When spring training starts, I'll weigh like 245, I think."
But if his body has gotten bigger this offseason, so have his expectations. Sano may have only 67 games of experience above Class A, but made it clear Saturday in Target Field that he intends to play here this season -- and right away.
"I have a fairly [large] amount of expectation to make the team" this spring, said the minor leagues' top power-hitting prospect. Speaking through interpreter Rob Plummer, his agent, Sano said he plans to "make sure he takes advantage of this opportunity the Twins are giving him, to try to make the team. He has to make sure he does everything as a professional, and not just as a guy. He feels like if he does those things, he has a great chance to make the team."
His expectations are higher than that, actually. When it was pointed out that his home run totals have jumped from 20 in 2011 to 28 in 2012, and to 35 last year, Sano didn't need an interpreter to explain what's next.
"I hit 45 this year. More games," he said. "Maybe 55, you never know."
Such is the exuberance of a power hitter who just received a clean bill of health. Sano was examined by Twins' doctors on Saturday, the fourth such exam he's undergone since he began feeling pain in his elbow shortly after the season ended, and no structural damage was found. The pain has ceased after his six-week break from training, too, so it appears he will avoid surgery.
His next project: Developing a better grasp of the strike zone, in hopes of becoming a more patient hitter. Sano seemed excited about the possibility after Joe Mauer offered to work with him in Fort Myers, Fla., next month. Considering he posted a .382 on-base percentage in 2012, drew 65 walks last year and 80 the year before, he's already displayed plenty of patience.
But Sano is characteristically thinking big. How many walks this year? "Hundred and 20," he said. "Maybe 150."
Gibson is confident
Kyle Gibson had an errand to run once his TwinsFest duties ended Saturday: He was going house-hunting.
Confident about his chances of coming north in April? "Well, I'm looking for a place in Rochester, too," the 26-year-old former first-round pick admitted.
He's got a good reason for being as organized as possible as the season approaches: His wife Elizabeth is due to deliver the couple's first child on March 9.
"You can't just go out on a whim and find a place" at the last minute, he said. "I've got to make sure I put my family in the right situation."
He's like that for himself, too, especially if that situation is in Minneapolis. Gibson is one of at least a half-dozen pitchers battling for the fifth spot in the Twins' rotation this spring, but he figures his disappointing experience in 2013 -- Gibson went 2- with a 6.53 ERA -- will be an advantage once camp opens. "I feel like I've got a good idea what it takes to get guys out. ... I've got a sinker that can tie guys up. And amazingly, for seven of the 10 outings, my slider was terrible," Gibson said. "That was more me getting in my own way, and being too tense. Normally, I can throw a slider for a first-pitch strike, and I just couldn't do that. My slider will be better this year."
Andrew Albers will be in Minneapolis this weekend to take part in TwinsFest and accept the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award.
He also may be saying goodbye.
Albers has reached an agreement to pitch for the Hanwha Eagles next season, his agent said, pending an agreement on compensation for the Twins. Toronto-based agent Blake Corosky declined to confirm terms of Albers' deal, but SportsNet Canada reported that the soft-throwing lefthander could be paid approximately $1 million for one year.
The money makes the offer enticing -- "We're talking about a young man who until last year had never made more than $25,000 a season in his professional career," Corosky said -- as does the opportunity to speed up his career timetable. Albers' memorable major-league debut last August, in which he didn't allow a run in his first two starts, came when he was 27. Even if he stayed in the majors for the next five years, the North Battleford, Saskatchewan native would not reach free agency until after his 34th birthday. If Albers has a successful year in Korea, he could return to the United States as a free agent next winter and seek a larger contract.
"It's a good opportunity for Andrew. His case is a little unusual" because of his age and the circuitous route he took to the major leagues, Corosky said. Elbow surgery cost Albers the entire 2009 season, and he pitched in the independent Canadian-American Association in 2010.
Couple that with the Twins' suddenly crowded rotation, where free agent signees Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes are guaranteed spots, and heading overseas makes sense. "We've heard really good things about [Hanwha]. We've done as much investigation as we can," Corosky said. "The most important thing to us is that Andrew would be treated very well, and that's been the case with everyone we've talked to who has been there."
The Twins are talking to Hanwha, who originated the discussion last weekend, about compensation, but have yet to strike a deal.
Albers created a sensation by starting his career with 17 1/3 scoreless innings, but he didn't collect another victory and posted in 5.70 ERA in his eight subsequent starts. He is one of a half-dozen pitchers realistically competing for the fifth spot in the Twins' rotation. But negotiating his departure for South Korea would free a spot on the Twins' 40-man rotation, flexibility the team needs as it continues to pursue another free agent before spring training opens next month.
For the eighth consecutive season, the Twins will not need an arbitration hearing to settle on contracts for their eligible players. All three such players -- third baseman Trevor Plouffe, righthander Anthony Swarzak and lefthander Brian Duensing -- agreed to one-year contracts on Friday.
Plouffe agreed to a salary of $2.35 million, the team announced Friday, more than four times his 2013 pay of $520,000, after a season in which the 27-year-old former first-round pick batted .254 in 129 games, with 14 home runs and a .309 on-base percentage.
Duensing, in his second year of arbitration eligibility, will earn $2 million, a raise of $700,000 from his 2013 salary of $1.3 million. The former starter, who turns 31 next month, posted a 3.98 ERA in 61 innings last year, his first in which he worked exclusively out of the bullpen.
Swarzak's salary will be $935,000 in 2014, an 86 percent raise over the $502,500 he was paid in 2013. Swarzak, 28, had a 2.91 ERA in 96 innings last year and developed into a dependable long reliever, but openly longed for a return to the starting rotation. He'll get a chance to earn the job in spring training, and if he makes 10 starts this year, will earn an additional $25,000.
Players can file for arbitration after three seasons, in general, though the Twins have not needed a hearing before an arbitrator since 2006, when they lost a case to pitcher Kyle Lohse.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe has become the first of the three arbitration-eligible Twins to sign a contract for 2014, agreeing to a one-year salary of $2.35 million, the team announced Friday.
That's more than four times his 2013 salary of $520,000, after a season in which the 27-year-old former first-round pick batted .254 in 129 games, with 14 home runs and a .309 on-base percentage.
Plouffe's signature leaves relief pitchers Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak the only remaining players awaiting arbitration to determine their salaries for the coming season, though the Twins haven't actually needed a hearing before an arbitrator since 2006. In general, players can file for arbitration after three seasons in the major leagues.
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