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.
If I had a nickel for every time Twins GM Bill Smith has given his standard response, "We'll let you know," to one of our questions, I'd be rich. It wouldn't be Joe Mauer money, but I'd be rolling in coins.
The point is, Smith usually plays things close to the vest. He measures his words about the team's offseason plans because he doesn't want to compromise the organization's leverage, or he doesn't want players to read something about their job security that they wouldn't hear first from the team, etc.
But Smith also knows his audience. On Tuesday night, he and team president Dave St. Peter held a conference call with the team's season ticket holders. Coming off a 63-99 season, this group didn't want to hear a bunch of excuses and generalities about the offseason plans. The fourth-year GM was refreshingly candid.
On a tight deadline, I tried giving readers the highlights with this story last night. I'll be hosting a live chat today at noon, so stop by with your comments and questions about the Twins offseason. But first, here are some important leftovers from a rare version of Bill Smith Unplugged:
From his introduction:
"We turned the page the day after the season. We’ve started looking ahead. We’ve got big meetings going on in Fort Myers next week. We’re going through our organization player-by-player. We’ll start to look at free agents, we’ll start to look at trade possibilities, we’ll start to look at who is going to be healthy, and try to get this ship righted."
Regarding Danny Valencia:
"Valencia took a step backwards from last year. Call it a sophomore slump or whatever; he did take a little bit of a step backwards, but he was healthy and durable and played everyday over there. We’ve gotta give him a little more help from the shortstop position so that his range doesn’t get overly exposed over there."
Regarding the team's health. (The Twins used the DL 27 times.) Smith again said that most of the injuries were collision injuries, but added:
"We are working with that. I had about a three-hour meeting with our trainers last Friday. I’ve got another meeting scheduled with our internal medicine doctors [today]. We’re going to meet with our orthopedic doctors after our organizational meetings in about two weeks. We’ll be talking to our minor-league trainers. We are reviewing and going through all of our medical practices to see if there is something we can do better, and we are committed to that.
"We’ve got a lot of good programs in place, and we’ve got a lot of good people in place. This year was kind of the perfect storm of injuries, and we need to make sure that we don’t have this happen again."
Regarding Tsuyoshi Nishioka:
"We need to give him a mulligan on this year. The injury in the first week of the season was devastating to him with all the changes and adjustments he had to go through in his first season over here."
Later, a caller told Smith and St. Peter point-blank that putting Nishioka on the big league roster was a mistake.
"I appreciate your comments on Nishioka," Smith said. "It was certainly a disappointing year, and we expect better things from him next year. We expect him to come back in 100 percent condition. And hopefully we can avoid something like that broken leg in the first week and give this guy a chance. He’s not going to be given anything, but he’s going to have the opportunity to compete for all the at-bats and innings he can get.”
A caller talked about Joe Mauer's potential as a first baseman.
"That’s kind of a Plan B," Smith said. "We have to have a Plan B, but Morneau has turned himself into a very, very good first baseman. It doesn’t do us any good if he can’t play, and you’re right, he’s missed a lot of time the last two years because of concussions, and he had a back injury the year before, so it’s something we’re trying to evaluate, if he would be better off in a DH spot. And if that’s the case, Mauer could go play first base.
"We’ve gotta find ways to keep their bats in our lineup more often. And ideally, Joe’s a catcher, and Justin’s at first base -- that’s perfect. But if it doesn’t work, then we’ve gotta have that Plan B that keeps them in the lineup."
Regarding Chris Parmelee:
"We’re hoping Justin Morneau’s going to be our first baseman next year, that we’re going to get him back and playing on a regular basis. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to be looking for a first baseman, and if Chris Parmelee comes to spring training and can perform at the same level that he performed up here in the big leagues -- he hit .350 for the month -- he’s going to have a chance to make our club and play a lot."
Regarding Joe Nathan:
"We have a club option, that we’re going to have to make a decision on by end of the World Series. If we pick it up, then Joe is here for 2012, if we don’t pick it up, then Joe will be free agent. And even if we don’t pick up the option, we have interest in keeping Joe. He’s been a tremendous get for us when we got him from the Giants in that trade."
On potentially re-signing Jim Thome:
"Jim was a great contributor here for two years, and we were lucky to see him get that 600th home run. I would never say never, but I think at this point, we need some players that are a little more versatile. Jim’s 41 years old now. If he wants to play, he’ll have a job somewhere because he’s still a threat and he’s a great leader, but when you only have four guys on the bench, it ties up that manager tremendously. Jim’s either the DH or just a pinch-hitter; you’re going to have to pinch run for him if he gets a hit."
Last but not least, here are Smith's thoughts on correcting the fundamental lapses:
"It’s not that we’re not teaching it. It’s that somehow we’re not having the success that we’ve had over time. So what we have to be is less tolerant of those mistakes. We talked about in the minor leagues, if somebody throws to the wrong base, you might have to take him out of the game after that inning. When a guy doesn’t run out a ball, or when a guy doesn’t do something. In the old days, you’d take a guy out of the game. And that’s part of the learning process. I think we all share your thought that our defense was substandard this year."
Update: By popular demand from today's live chat, here's what Smith had to say about improving Ben Revere's arm:
"We’ve been working on that for years. He does a lot of the pitcher’s long-toss drills. ... I believe he had a football injury, a shoulder injury back in high school, and he just doesn’t throw well. And no matter what we do, I don’t believe we have any hope that he’s going to be an average thrower.
"We want him to get rid of the ball quickly. We want him to hit the cutoff man. All those little things can help a player be successful and contribute to a team’s success. You look at Juan Pierre in Chicago -- he’s played a long time and he doesn’t throw much better than Revere. Johnny Damon has had a tremendous career. He doesn’t throw that much better than Revere."
What a beautiful night to salute one of baseball's greatest power hitters and all-time gentlemen.
Harmon Killebrew died nine days ago of esophageal cancer at age 74. The entire Twins team attended his funeral last Friday in Peoria, Ariz., and he was laid to rest Monday in a private service in Payette, Idaho.
Tonight, the Twins are giving Killebrew their own send-off at Target Field with free admission for fans.
The field looks immaculate. The sky is crystal clear. There's a water tower atop a building overlooking center field that has been painted off-white, with navy blue pinstripes and a big No. 3.
Hank Aaron is expected to be here. Scheduled speakers include Rod Carew, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Kaat, Paul Molitor, Justin Morneau, Bud Selig and Killebrew's wife, Nita.
Fox Sports Net will be televising. Here's a Twitter feed of all the tweets featuring the word Killebrew.
Touch 'em all, John Gordon. One last time.
Gordon, 70, who has been the radio voice of the Twins since 1987, said this will be his final season as a radio broadcaster, as the Naples Daily News first reported. Gordon made the announcement Tuesday morning while speaking to a men's fellowship group at Community Congregational Church in North Naples.
“It’s time,” Gordon told the Naples Daily News. “I’ve had a wonderful career, but it’s time for me to move on to another phase of my life.”
Gordon already had planned to cut back his broadcasting schedule for this season. He'll do 90 games, with Ted Robinson and Bob Kurtz coming back to do 25 games apiece and Kris Atteberry doing about 45 games in a play-by-play and analyst role. Dan Gladden and Jack Morris will both return in their previous roles.
At the time those broadcast changes were announced in December, Gordon said he had no health concerns. This will be his 25th season broadcasting games for the Twins and he's hoping to see the same thing going out as he did coming in: a World Series title.
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