Souhan: Ryan's the right man to revive the franchise

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 6, 2012 - 7:58 AM

The Twins GM has shown he won't value loyalty and stability above winning, and he has the talent for a turnaround ... if he can find some starting pitchers.

Two theories have become popular among vocal Twins fans in the past few months.

The first is that the franchise is too loyal to its employees. The second is that the team has little chance to win anytime soon. Both are wrong.

Friday afternoon, Terry Ryan met with the Twin Cities media alongside owner Jim Pohlad and President Dave St. Peter. Ryan announced that he was accepting the general manager job on a long-term basis, removing the word "interim" from his title. He was also tasked with explaining the reorganization of the team's coaching staff.

Ryan returned to the GM job last November. He signed a handful of free agents who reshaped and improved the roster, most notably three major success stories: Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jared Burton.

He also has made changes at these positions: Special assistant to the general manager. Class AAA manager. Traveling secretary. Visiting clubhouse manager. Media relations director. Bullpen coach. Head athletic trainer. Third base coach. Infield coach. First base coach. Outfield coach. Hitting coach.

Ryan is about to hire his second manager for Class AAA Rochester in two years, after Gene Glynn joins the big-league staff. If the Twins fail to show progress in 2013, Ryan will fire manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big-league coaching staff.

Too loyal? Nobody who fires Rick Stelmaszek, the bullpen coach who decades ago became the most popular fixture in the organization, can be accused of thinking with his heart. If Ryan worked for any other team or had earned less respect over the years, he would be accused of trying to clean house to scapegoat lesser employees.

And anyone who believes that Ryan is either incapable of reviving the franchise, or faces an even tougher job than the one he undertook during his first tenure, has a head harder than Trevor Plouffe's hands.

In the late '90s, Ryan worked with a payroll that sometimes failed to reach the annual salary of current star Joe Mauer. Ryan based his job security on a group of young players, from Jacque Jones to Doug Mientkiewicz to Corey Koskie, who would never become All-Stars.

He survived the contraction scare. He worked in the Metrodome, which, combined with a minuscule payroll, repelled coveted free agents. If the internal oral history of the team is accurate, Ryan came close to getting fired by an owner who had begun listening to novices.

Compare that to what Ryan is working with today. A $100 million payroll. A beautiful new ballpark. A real cleanup hitter (Willingham is exactly the slugger the winning teams of the 2000s craved). A star player in his prime (Mauer). Two former AL MVPs in the lineup (Mauer and Justin Morneau). An owner desperate to win (Jim Pohlad) instead of one who was comfortable avoiding monetary losses during losing seasons (Carl Pohlad). A manager who has taken teams to the playoffs. Tradeable assets (Denard Span and perhaps Morneau).

There's more: The current Twins have more legitimate top prospects in their farm system than they did in the 1990s. They are more aggressive in the Latin American market, and more willing to pay the going rate for top draft picks. And their GM was not long ago considered the best in baseball.

In Ryan's first, partial, offseason of his second tenure, he made three high-quality, high-impact, bargain signings, in Willingham, Doumit and Burton. He has already re-upped Doumit, the perfect complement to Mauer at catcher. Now Ryan enters his first full offseason of his second tenure having put everyone in the organization on notice, while acknowledging he needs to fix the starting rotation to give the Twins a chance to contend.

If Ryan fails, it won't be because he's too deferential to longtime employees. It won't be because he lacks expertise, ownership support, aggressiveness or a plan.

If he fails, he will fail because amassing starting pitching is the toughest job in baseball.

In less than 11 months, Ryan has made sweeping changes to an organization that is set up to succeed. Now he just needs to find a few more arms. It's that simple, and that difficult.

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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