The Terry Ryan era begins anew for the Minnesota Twins. The first time Ryan was named general manager, taking over the Twins in 1994, it took him eight years to turn around a team with 91 losses into one with a winning record in 2001.
From 2002 to 2007, the Twins won four division titles before he turned the reins over to Bill Smith.
Hopefully, he won't take as long to turn the 99-loss team of 2011 back into a AL Central division contender.
On the positive side, Ryan will have more resources at his disposal than he ever had before. The downside may be that the expectations are higher than ever, and after building the Twins a new stadium, there will be little patience to wait for a turnaround.
Ryan's first move has been to sign veteran shortstop Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal. This feels too much like the type of deals Ryan was forced to make under the constraint of a limited budget. At 37, Carroll only has 12 home runs in 10 professional seasons. Unfortunately he appears to fit the Twins mold for weak-hitting middle infielders that they seem to covet.
The Twins have needs in the infield, outfield, within the starting rotation and in the bullpen.
Here's to hoping that Ryan's bigger and bolder moves are still in the works, and he's waiting for the right time to pull them off.
It's very unlikely that Terry Ryan will be able to re-sign both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, making it a priority to find a power-hitting corner outfielder.
Ryan may not have too look to far. In 60 games of part-time play, Rene Tosoni hit five home runs. With 172 at bats, Tosoni's average of 34.4 at bats per home run compares favorably with Danny Valencia (37.6), Kubel (30.5) and Cuddyer (29.2).
July 7, 2010—that date is burned into my mind. It was a day, in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, when Justin Morneau suffered a concussion while attempting to break up a double play with a slide into second.
Since then, Morneau has not performed anywhere near the level he was when he was leading the Twins with a .345 average and 18 home runs.
After more than a year after suffering the concussion, Morneau was still experiencing symptoms. Until he can prove he is completely recovered, and able to play effectively in the field, the Twins should protect him as much as possible and limit his role to DH.
After trading away Jim Thome late last season, and the unlikelihood of re-signing Jason Kubel, Morneau could still provide the big bat the Twins will need in the heart of the order.
Bill Smith's signing of Joe Mauer to a $23 million a year contract for a catcher that has averaged only 114.8 games per season, might be considered mistake—a mistake that Terry Ryan can quickly fix by moving Mauer to first base. This would allow Mauer to play in more than 71 percent of the games.
There have been a lot of arguments that the Twins signed Mauer to the contract extension because of his catching ability. I would argue that they signed Mauer more because of his hitting ability, an ability that needs to be in the lineup as much as possible.
The true key to moving Mauer to first would be to find the power that he demonstrated in 2009, when he hit 28 home runs in earning the AL MVP.
Of course moving Mauer to first would mean Ryan will need to sign two catchers—one to replace Mauer, and one to replace Drew Butera, whose .178 batting average over two seasons is lower than his weight.
A couple of free agent options at catcher include Ryan Doumit from the Pirates and Kelly Shoppach with the Rays.
If Francisco Liriano could pitch consistently to the potential he occasionally has demonstrated, there wouldn't be any need for an ace in the rotation.
Since Liriano has not been able to replicate the success he had in his rookie season, when he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA before suffering the injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Twins should look to dump him and attempt to get something in return before he completely loses any value he has.
Of course, if he follows the pattern of having a winning record in even-numbered years, the Twins may want to keep him long enough to see if the pattern holds in 2012.
If Terry Ryan can find a taker in a trade for Francisco Liriano, then there will be a need to replace him.
Well, not really replace him, as we would want an upgrade.
One potential free agent pitcher Ryan should consider is Rich Harden. Over nine seasons Harden has a 59-38 record with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.
While that compares just slightly favorable to Liriano who has a career 47-42 record with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP, there could be a lot fewer roller coaster rides with Harden.
Joe Vavra has got to go.
It's been years since the Twins have had a power hitting lineup. Sure, the approach has been successful in winning the AL Central six times since 2002, but it has failed miserably once the Twins make the postseason.
In their championship season of 1987, the Twins had three players hit more than 30 home runs.
In the 10 seasons Ron Gardenhire has been the manager, a Twins player has hit more than 30 home runs only five times, with Justin Morneau doing it three times.
Minnesota needs to find a hitting coach that will help the Twins hitters get a few more home runs at Target Field. In 2011 the Twins had only 46 of the 126 homes hit at Target Field—36.5 percent. If they are to have a home field advantage, this percentage needs to increase to favor the Twins.
Catcher Joe Mauer, outfielder Jason Kubel, and first baseman Justin Morneau all missed significant time in 2011.
It's not the fact that every starter in the Twins lineup, with the exception of Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer spent time on the disabled list, it's how long it took for these injured players to make their return to the lineup.
It has to be more than bad luck. There has to be a problem in the systematic approach the Twins used in the treatment and recovery from injuries.
If the Twins are going to turn things around in 2012, they will need their big guns in the lineup—of course they need to find some big guns first.
Carl Pavano has been a workhorse for the Twins over the past two seasons. The problem is, he does not have the talent associated with a staff ace. In three years with the Twins, Pavano is 31-28 with a 4.11 ERA. Numbers good for a No. 3 starter in the rotation.
Some options Terry Ryan should investigate include C.J. Wilson from the Rangers or Mark Buehrle of the White Sox. While the former may come at a lower price tag, the latter has a proven track record as a staff ace.
In only two seasons as a starter, Wilson has a 31-15 record. Last season he led the league with 34 starts.
In 12 seasons, all with Chicago, Buehrle has a 161-119 record with a 3.83 ERA.
Last season, the White Sox paid Buehrle $14 million, while Wilson made half that with the Rangers.
Another one of Bill Smith's mistakes was to allow the Twins' two best middle relievers to leave via free agency.
Between Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain, the Twins lost their two relievers that averaged 138.5 appearances over the past two seasons. In 2010 they combined for a 3.11 ERA over 139.0 innings.
A good start to rebuilding the bullpen would be re-signing closer Joe Nathan, the Twins all-time saves leader with 260. It's not unusual for a pitcher to take a season to recover from Tommy John surgery, and after missing the entire 2010 season, Nathan was showing promise in the closer role late in the season.
By hopefully finding a couple of starters, Terry Ryan can also look to move Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he was successful in 2010.