FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins don’t so much rebuild as execute complete teardowns. Their eight straight losing seasons in the 1990s almost caused the franchise to be eliminated, and their streak of four straight 90-loss seasons that ended last season caused a patient franchise to fire a general manager and a manager for the first time since the ’80s.
Winning 83 games last year offered a respite from the losing. Twins GM Terry Ryan said respites are no longer the team’s goal.
“We have our sights set on the division,” he said Friday. “We’re not looking for moral victories.”
Ryan is a 62-year-old cancer survivor whose taste buds have not recovered since he finished treatments, who retired as Twins general manager nine years ago because of burnout, and is working on another one-year contract in his second stint running a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.
That might not sound like the profile of a long-term employee, but Ryan sounds as optimistic and content in his position as he ever has.
“I’m going on one-year deals as long as Dave St. Peter and the Pohlads and the people who make the decisions will have me,” he said. “I like where we’re at. I like where we’re heading. I like our future. There’s a chance we might be pretty good here for quite a few years.”
More than a year after finishing cancer treatments, Ryan, always an avid runner, says he can run “as far and fast as I want to. I’m probably in better shape than I’ve been in for a while.” He cheerfully mentions that he listens to Adele and will miss “The Good Wife” when the show wraps up this year.
When he left the position after the 2007 season, he recommended assistant GM Billy Smith as his replacement. Asked if he has a preferred successor now, Ryan again sounded like someone who doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.
He mentioned current assistant GM Rob Antony and Vice President Mike Radcliff as obvious candidates, and called farm director Brad Steil “an up-and-coming figure in our organization.” He also said the Twins would be wise to look outside the organization, as well.
But Ryan sounds much more like someone thinking about heading to a World Series than a rocking chair.
“I have gone year to year for the past three or four years since I’ve come back,” he said. “Things are going well. I like the path we’re on. Right now, we’ve got a mix of very young players that have high ceilings, guys that are middle of the road like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe, and veterans like Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. The major league personnel is in good shape. Our manager and our coaching staff really did a nice job last year, our scouting and developing is in good shape, so I’m going to continue on year to year as long as they’ll have me.”
Ryan was passive in free agency this winter. He not only ignored big-money free agents, he declined to sign a lefthanded reliever.
He said he prefers his in-house candidates, and restated his long-held belief that free agency creates more headlines than victories.
“Our payroll will be about $110 million, which is about $20 million more than the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates,” he said, mentioning two playoff teams. “We’ll be way over the Indians’ payroll. I always say if I make good baseball decisions, we’ll be fine. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter about the payroll.
“The team that plays six miles away from us [in Fort Myers] had a payroll of $180 million last year and finished last. That’s the great Red Sox, that we have a lot of fear in here. They’re pretty good again on paper, but [people] put so much emphasis on what your payroll figure is here on April 5. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the same when we get to Sept. 1.
“Hopefully, we’ll have added to the payroll, and we’ve got enough flexibility to do that.”