Twins owner Jim Pohlad: 'We're not a knee-jerk organization'

Smith, Gardenhire will return; almost anything else is in play in trying to redirect a dismal season

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Owner Jim Pohlad, in his office overlooking Target Field, said injuries and subpar play from veterans and rookies crushed the 2011 Twins.

Photo: Kathy M. Helgeson , Special to the Star Tribune

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After one of the worst seasons in Twins history, club owner Jim Pohlad knows change is needed.

"I am really all about trying to get better," he said Monday.

But his idea of change doesn't appear to include changes at the top.

Pohlad, speaking from his Minneapolis business office -- with Target Field in clear view through the window --said the key men running the Twins will remain in place. That means manager Ron Gardenhire, who has led the team since 2002, and General Manager Bill Smith will be back for another season. If there are changes to his coaching staff, it's up to Gardenhire to make those decisions.

"We are not a knee-jerk organization," Pohald said.

In a lengthy interview with the Star Tribune on Monday, Pohlad discussed the season, Joe Mauer, injuries, payroll and attendance and how the Twins will go about improving on a season he called "sickening."

Here are highlights of the interview:

Entering the season the popularity of the Twins had never been higher. Now we're looking at the possibility of being the second team ever to lose 100 games with a nine-figure payroll ($115 million). How do you plan on holding people accountable for some of the things that have happened this season?

Well, I mean first of all, let's talk about what's happened. I mean, in my view, the two main things that have happened have been a ton of injuries -- the perfect storm of injuries -- and there have been players that we counted on that, when they've played, they've played not up to the levels that they played in 2010, for sure. So in my view that's the synopsis of the season.

When the team loses as many games as the Twins have this year, and the manager expresses concern about fundamentals and young players being prepared, don't you feel that you have to change something? Something has to be adjusted here?

I think, yes, we need to change, but we need to have the players healthy, and we need to have our core group of players playing to their capabilities, that's for sure. Now beyond that, how do you cope with the perfect storm of injuries and players not performing? You have to bring up players from the minor leagues, obviously. When they did come up, it did appear that fundamentally there were some issues. We have not gone into great detail at this point -- the season is not even over yet --about the underlying causes of those issues. But it certainly would appear that there are issues.

So you feel like there will be some things you need to address during the offseason?

Oh clearly ... we need to address how can we keep the players healthy. We need to address how can we encourage the players during the offseason to get to a point where they're going to play up to their capabilities. Then we need to address the issues that are maybe down in the farm system.

I think you've used the injury list 27 times this year and some of these injuries have been rather unique. But it sounds like you're concerned a little bit from the medical staff or the training staff, that things may need to be adjusted there?

A I'm not saying that the medical staff or the training staff has done anything wrong. I'm just saying let's look at the injuries and see how they can be prevented in the future.

All right, how do you feel about the job Ron Gardenhire has done this year? What do you think about how the coaching staff has performed?

I think they had very difficult conditions. It's got to be frustrating, on any given day you don't know who's going to be ready to play and who is not going to be ready to play. In order to try to adjust to that, it's been very demanding. We're very pleased with the job that Ron has done.

So you definitely are bringing him back next year. What about the coaching staff?

That's not my decision. That's Gardy's. ... We're going to sit down at the end of the season with Gardy and Billy [Smith, general manager] and everybody and they're all going to talk through all this. But it's not happening now because the season is not over.

How do you feel about the job Bill Smith has done as general manager?

He also has had a very tough situation, but we're going to sit with him and we're going to ask him what he can do to make the organization better next year.

Do you plan on bringing him back next year as GM, then?

Yes. ... He's been involved with this organization for a long time. Do we throw out the last, what's the number, 15 years and forget all that over one season? I mean it's been, really, an unusual season. ... Our organization isn't a knee-jerk- reaction organization.

Billy has been quoted as saying that he's more of an administrator than a talent evaluator. I'm curious to know why you think Billy is the right man to turn things around?

What's Billy's title?

Geneal manager.

General manager, so he's in charge of managing the baseball operation. I mean those are his words, like you said. I don't remember reading that, but if those are his words that's really his job, to manage the baseball department. We don't look to Billy solely -- I don't know if any organization does, maybe they do at some place -- we don't look solely at him as the premier judge of talent. He has a whole bunch of people that he gets input from on the judgment of talent.

Your season-ticket base, I believe, is around 25,000. Are you bracing for that number to decrease next year?

No, I mean we've said all along that as Target Field matures -- you can look at every single other new ballpark and there is a period of honeymoon -- and sometimes after that honeymoon period, be that three, five years, whatever that number is, there is a leveling off. But we believe that we can keep the Target Field experience at the top and be a winning team. And those two elements, together, should guarantee that we'll have strong ticket sales. If it's in single-game tickets or season tickets, I mean in the end it's all counted as your attendance in total.

I did some rough addition, I'm a journalist not a mathematician here, but between [pending free agents] Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Matt Capps and the trades of Delmon Young and Jim Thome, you have about $40-$42 million coming off of your payroll after this season. How much flexibility will that give you as far as being able to improve this roster for next year?

Well if what you just said, if that's true, that gives us tons of flexibility. That money is not just going to go back into our pockets. We want to win. We care about winning and we're going to try to win. In a lot of cases payroll dollars tend to reflect that.

In recent years you guys have not been known to make the big-time, flashy, free-agent singing. I think Thome was an impact signing based on his résumé, but you haven't signed that top-notch, free-agent type of player. With so much money coming off the books, will you look to the free-agent market to sign a impact player this offseason?

Do you think we need just one player?

No, I do not. [general laughter]

No, we're going to have to look at that, but it's probably not just that. It all depends upon the health of the people going forward. But my guess is we're probably going to have to do more than one impact player. We're going to have to bring in more than one.

But you foresee going after that?

In my view, and I'm sure Bill [Smith] would echo this, they're going to have to look at the free-agent market or trades. Surely that can't be ruled out.

Will you be able to bring back Cuddyer and Kubel next year?

I don't know. We want to win. That's the goal. We're going to bring back or sign players that are going to help us win.

What is wrong with Joe Mauer?

Joe Mauer told me the day we signed his contract down in Florida that he would always give me his best. That's what he told me then and I believed him then and I believe it now. As far as what's wrong with him, he had a bad year health-wise, injury-wise, just like everybody else did.

Are you worried that Mauer has something wrong with him that hasn't been detected yet?

No, I'm not worried about that.

How much more have you expected out of him? You've invested a lot of money to lock him up and he, whether it's fair or not, is the face of this franchise.

I agree with that, and he is the face of the franchise and he's signed for the next seven years. He will be the face of the franchise going forward.

I know you're still scouting Japan, I know Terry Ryan was recently in Japan. Does Tsuyoshi Nishioka's disappointing season make you more cautious of signing players from that country? Or will you continue to look to Japanese players as a possible option?

We're going to look to any country that has players that we believe can help us win.

I think last season you put in a bid on Hasashi Iwakuma, who was a starting pitcher in Japan, and of course you weren't awarded the bid. I think he's a true free agent this offseason. Is that someone who could still be on your radar for this offseason?

I think probably everybody is on our radar.

I know the continuity in this organization has been one of the strengths, being able to hire and promote from within and keep certain things in place. But how can you just wash this whole season off because of injuries and not think, 'We may have to change some things here?'

I never said anything like that. ... I never said we don't have to change things. Please don't get that impression. ... We want to know how things are going to be better next year. Like you said, if there's no convincing argument or here's the plan and the plan isn't all convincing, then we're going to react. We're going to say, 'Go back and do it again or something.' I don't even know. I don't really anticipate that that's going to be the case.

Just for the sake of being clear for the readers, do you foresee where your payroll may land next year? There's been some whispers about it's going to have to come down from $115 million.

I mean it's going to come down naturally, because it exceeded where we wanted it. But it was an unusual year contract-wise. But it's not going to be slashed. It's going to be right up there. But I don't know exactly what it's going to be.

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