Souhan: Ryan appears committed to leading Twins out of the mire

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 3:45 PM
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Twins General Manager Terry Ryan

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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Tuesday afternoon, Terry Ryan sat in the general manager's suite behind home plate at Target Field, watching his team take batting practice. The view was ideal. Ryan's mood was not.

More than nine months after becoming Twins interim general manager, he growled about his team's record and his inability to improve it.

That doesn't mean he is contemplating massive changes in the organization. While Ryan stopped short of confirming that he will agree to owner Jim Pohlad's request that he trim the "interim" tag from his title, he sounded determined to keep the job and turn the Twins into contenders.

Ryan was blunt about a variety of subjects. He ...

• Will not fire manager Ron Gardenhire.

• Won't force Gardenhire to make changes to his coaching staff.

• Considers Justin Morneau a "core" player whom he expects to thrive next season.

• Wants people to stop blaming Joe Mauer for the team's problems.

• Would consider re-signing pending free-agent pitchers Scott Baker and Carl Pavano.

• Doubts he will pursue any elite free-agent pitchers this winter, saying it will be a "thin" market and that he's averse to signing such pitchers to the long-term deals required to land them.

• Insists that he, not the previous general manager, the manager or ownership, should take the blame for this season.

"We have not played well," Ryan said. "And everything comes underneath my umbrella. So I'll go through the next month and we'll see exactly where we stand here, but sooner rather than later Mr. Pohlad has got to get a decision out of me. I know he can't go on forever with this setup."

I asked Ryan a handful of questions designed to gauge his willingness to keep the job. He did not provide a definitive answer. Then I asked: "Do you feel a responsibility to get this organization back on its feet?"

Ryan's response: "Absolutely. Totally. This is a team I believe in, and I'm at the helm. Our injuries have been less than those of most teams. The payroll is more than adequate. We've just got to get it right. I take responsibility for all of it. Even when it comes to injuries to the pitching staff during the season, you've got to be able to fix some of those things on the fly."

Ryan did not fire Tom Kelly when Kelly was in the midst of eight consecutive losing seasons. He doesn't plan to fire Gardenhire after two. "Gardy has a good track record," Ryan said. "We've had a couple of tough years. Am I opposed to firing people? No. I've fired people in my life. Quite a few, in different departments. You have to do that on occasion. You don't like to, but sometimes you have to.

"I've never fired a manager because I've never had to. That's as simple as I can put it. I have no interest in changing managers. I don't see where Ronnie is the problem here."

The most likely scapegoats in any baseball organization are the major league coaches. Ryan said he would never force Gardenhire to make a change. "It's not that I would force him or he would force me," Ryan said. "It would never come to that. If we need to make a change, in my opinion, I would recommend it to him. If he felt the need to make a change, he would bring that to me. Then we would discuss it.

"I don't think either one of us should independently make that call. I wouldn't want to force-feed a coach on a manager. That never works in a clubhouse."

Morneau has been the subject of trade rumors. Ryan spoke of him as a key part of next year's team.

"I look at this as a transition year for him, because last year he didn't get enough at-bats," Ryan said. "I'm pleased with his progress. There was a time this spring when we didn't think he was going to play any first base for us. We've come a long way from that point.

"I think his numbers are going to return. I think he's a core guy. He's a former MVP who's what, 31? He's one of the most important people in this organization, no doubt."

Does the eight-year, $184 million contract belonging to his other former MVP, Mauer, make his job more difficult? "No, it does not," he said. "We've got to quit blaming Joe Mauer for any ills we have. If you took his name off the line and just looked at the statistics, you'd say, geez, this guy is really good."

Ryan isn't happy with the production of his lineup but recognizes that the organization's foremost need is starting pitching. That's why he would consider re-signing Baker or Pavano.

"You have to be open to a lot of things when you're looking for starting pitching," he said. "You've going to have to take some risks and you're going to have to look at all markets, not just free agency, but trades and waivers and Rule 5s. But if you want to do it the correct way, that's going to provide stability over the long haul, you're going to have to draft and develop guys, too.

"Even when we had rotations that were darn good, we got them from about every avenue. We have to do the same thing moving forward here."

Ryan sounds as if he is determined to keep the job, even if he won't yet admit it.

"There's no question that you can turn around a franchise in a short amount of time with the right baseball decisions," he said. "I'd like to think that that would be our equation here. It can be done."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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