Monday, April 16, 2007

Terry Ryan Returns to Mondale Hall

You can also read the following at Battle Your Tail Off, a Minnesota Twins fan site.

I met Terry Ryan last year when he agreed to speak to our Sports Law group at the U of M Law School. I wrote in my now defunct blog that Ryan was “engaging, honest, and funny.” I should have said “brutally honest.” In fact, when Aaron Gleeman linked to my blog entry, I got a lot of negative feedback at first. Many people assumed that Terry Ryan would never say the things he said about Nick Punto or the Kansas City Royals. Most people assumed I must’ve made it up, but a hoax it was not. Because he drew such an outstanding crowd—and because it was Terry Ryan, we invited him back this year. We got more of the same honesty and dry sense of humor, and it was another great success. So, for the second time, I got to meet my baseball hero.

Mr. Ryan arrived early again, and the president of our group and I (vice-president) got to chit-chat with him for about 15 minutes. When Terry Ryan speaks in front of a group, he pulls no punches. When he spoke with us, there was hardly any filter at all. It was pretty surreal, and at some point, I stopped and thought to myself, “I’m BSing with Terry Ryan. Wow.” We talked about Korey Feiner, a catcher at New Britain that I played against in college. We talked about how awesome the Rochester rotation is. I mentioned wanting to get down to Beloit to watch Chris Parmalee. He encouraged it, but prefaced that by saying Parmalee wasn’t even the best player on that team. He spoke pretty highly of Joe Benson as well. He also talked about his son who is currently a redshirt for the University of Minnesota, as well as his wife, who apparently went to the rival high school in Janesville, WI where they grew up. He was happy with how Silva has been pitching, and admits—and I agreed—that Silva threw some pitches against the D-Rays of a quality that he’s never seen before from Silva, including some very nice changeups. But he also refuses to read much into two starts. He’s also waiting for Kubel to starting driving the baseball in the gaps and over the fence. Until he sees that, I don’t think he’ll be fully satisfied with Kubel. He mentioned that Punto is already pressing, and you could tell that bugged Ryan. This entire conversation took place before his speaking engagement even began.

Ryan first went over the composition of the 2007 Twins. At the outset, he told our group that he wasn’t there to talk about anything law related, other than maybe arbitration. “I’m here to talk about baseball. I was a phy ed major, and I barely got through,” he said, and that comment was one of the many that received laughs in the hour-long presentation. First he talked about Ramon Ortiz. It was interesting to learn that the Twins and Ortiz’s agent had been in negotiation since November of 2006, and that when negotiations began, Ortiz was asking for three years, $20 million. When he stated Ortiz’s final deal, he did so with a little smirk, indicating he knew who won that negotiation. Ryan moved on to Ponson, mentioning his checkered past. “He punched a judge,” Ryan stated bluntly, again to strong laughter among law students. He mentioned that Ponson is in the best shape of his life at 245 pounds—down from 270. Ryan is concerned about Ponson off the field, but they are trying to surround him with quality people to keep him out of trouble.

After discussing the Twins, Ryan briefly discussed the rest of the AL Central. Cleveland obviously scares him, especially if they can get their bullpen figured out. But he said he hopes they keep losing. Detroit, he said, is the best on paper. But Ryan said that everyone forgets that the Twins beat them last year. He asked if there were any Kansas City fans, and quickly followed it up by saying, “If there is, don’t raise your hand.” He basically said that KC was getting it wrong. You have to build from the ground up, and that the Royals by giving Gil Meche $55 million were trying to build from the top down. He said that even though he was interested in signing him, Meche wasn’t going to take KC to the “promised land,” so KC would have been better off investing the money elsewhere. Ryan asked for White Sox fans. When a student in a Bears sweatshirt raised his hand, Ryan stated, “Well, at least I can see you’re a front runner. You wouldn’t have been wearing that shirt a few years ago.” Again, his sense of humor is dry and sarcastic and really funny, but I’m not sure it really comes through in the media.

He discussed being picked by most national publications to finish fourth in the AL Central. “Quite frankly, it pisses me off,” Ryan stated. You could tell it did.

After briefly mentioning the importance of health this season, he talked about the Liriano. He called his stuff “electric” and mentioned that he had no idea what he was getting when he acquired Liriano. Apparently Liriano and his injuries had been a headache for San Francisco, so they were willing to throw him in the deal. For Ryan, Nathan was the centerpiece, and Boof! was the number two guy. Liriano was a throw in. He used Liriano’s experience to segue into the David Ortiz fiasco. The bottom line, Ryan said, was that he didn’t think Ortiz would ever do much. However, he defends himself by saying the rest of the league could have had him for a few months before Boston signed him. “I’m not the most stupid guy,” Ryan said. In a related note specifically for the BYTO crowd, Ryan was discussing international players later. He mentioned that it’s hard to keep track of names from players from the Dominican Republic. “First they’re Ortiz, then they’re Arias, then they’re Rodriguez.” For those of you that don’t get it, Google David Arias.

Ryan then talked about contracts. He said the most important thing to know is when to walk away. At this point, he said that there haven’t been any players that he let walk that have gone somewhere else and had success. He loved Koskie, but the money and years weren’t right. He said that Sid often gives him a hard time about Koskie, but “Sid doesn’t have the facts straight, which isn’t unlike Sid.” More laughter.

Arbitration is an interesting subject for a burgeoning lawyer. Ryan is still salty about losing to Kyle Lohse, which I wrote about last year. He still states Lohse’s 2006 salary--.$3.95 million—through gritted teeth. He said arbitration is “the damndest thing—you say how horrible the player is, then at the end you shake hands and walk away.” The Twins had six arbitration eligible players this offseason, which was the most in the major leagues. Ryan mentioned that one of the biggest reasons that he and Michael Cuddyer settled prior to arbitration was because he didn’t want to take Cuddy through that process. As they sat in the room together, he took Cuddy’s agent out in the hall and struck a deal. Ryan gave three reasons for coming together with Cuddy: (1) Cuddy is one of the “nicest humans” he’s ever met; (2) he had a good year in 2006; and (3) he wants the Twins to have a long-term association with Cuddyer, considering the costs of the arbitration on Cuddy and the possible negative relationship that could result. In summing up arbitration, Ryan stated, “I pay lawyers $200 an hour to go through stats…what a racket!” I agree, and I also want to know where I can apply for that job.

After a brief discussion of early season scheduling and Jackie Robinson Day, Mr. Ryan took questions from our audience.

New Park Dimensions and Left-Handed Hitters: The new park is friendly to lefties, and the dimensions are similar to the Dome. They hoped for this, as now they will not have to change their drafting strategy. Contrary to popular opinion, he says the Dome is not a home run park. In the new stadium, they just wanted it to play fairly, not like Seattle (where it’s hard to hit a homer) and Houston (where it’s easy).

Other 2006 Free Agents on His Wish List: He first mentioned Dice-K, but when the Red Sox were bidding, they were out of it. He went through the rundown of available pitchers, mentioning that most ended up being too expensive. He did have many conversations with Tomo Ohka’s agent, stating that Ohka’s agent was “on speed dial.” However, Ryan felt that Ohka was “a little injury prone.”

If Cirillo is Out, Will We Get Another Bat: “No. I’ve spent all my money.”

Regarding International Scouting: They are huge in Venezuela, the biggest in Australia, and behind in the Dominican Republic. However, they are working to improve their standing in DR. Right now, he said there are a few guys in A-ball from DR he is pretty optimistic about.

Regarding Jason Bartlett: Ryan has no input on lineups—that’s all Gardy’s fault—I mean choice (my words, not Ryan’s). Gardy wanted to play Casilla because Alexi hadn’t really played much since March and needed some time. Ryan mentioned that no one protects players better than Gardy. The media scrutiny can be tough on players as well as the manager. Gardy has to be somewhat conscious of that. For example, the headline the other day “Bartlett Benched” wasn’t true—he just needed a breather. However, Ryan gave little credence to the notion that Bartlett’s knees are hurting. “He’s 27, not 37.” The media can be problematic, mentioning that the recent allegations about Santana are driving him “wacko.” Bloggers calling him and asking him for information can be a “pain in the ass.” He tries to accommodate everyone, and he has “enough trouble with Sid.”

Regarding Organizational Philosophy: The Twins don’t keep guys around who don’t follow the program. When they are young and in the minors, he has lots of leverage—he can cut them. He used a male law student’s longer haircut as an example. He said that if he saw that guy with hair like that, he’d tell him to get it cut. There is no chewing allowed, as well as no earrings. No baggie uniforms or colored shoes. He doesn’t know if all that is right—in fact he said it probably wasn’t—but it taught discipline. The Twins draft lots of new players each year, and he doesn’t want individualists.

Why Do the Vikings and T-Wolves Suck?: The Vikings have had lots of turnover. However, Minneapolis/St. Paul is a Vikings town. Ryan doesn’t know Kevin McHale, but he said the T-Wolves have the “best player in sports” in Kevin Garnett. Ryan said that KG reminds him of Puckett in how hard they play and how they play the same every day, no matter the circumstances of the game. He mentioned that he’s really happy to see lots of good things going on at the U of M with Tubby and Brewster.

Is Johan Going to Get a Long Term Deal?: “He’s signed through this year and next.” Apparently there are limits to Mr. Ryan’s openness. Re: Hunter—“We’ll see what happens. He’s under contract right now.”

Alexander Smit: He’s a “slow mover” and a “lefty with multiple gears.” When will we see him? “As soon as he dominates some leagues.” “He looks about 12.” TR mentioned he has a good head on his shoulders and lots of patience. His Dutch parents raised him right.

Process for Determining Compensation Amounts: I wrote about this quite a bit for last year’s visit. He uses a two through eight system for attributing ability to money. Certain amounts of money are equated to each number. Ford is a four, Punto is a five, Cuddy is a six, Hunter is a seven, and Johan is an eight. Jokingly, he said, “It’s a science.” Generally speaking, an eight is a $10 million or more player, and he won’t go beyond his scale. Ryan is more concerned with the length of a contract than the dollars of a contract. “There are no bad one year deals.” Long term deals can handcuff franchises, and he never wants to do that. He said you never sign a pitcher for more than four years, though “you might get an argument from a lefty,” insinuating Santana. He mentioned that he might make exceptions. He hasn’t done too many bad contracts, with the exception of Joe Mays.

Too Many Good Young Arms?: They are not in the market for free agent pitchers, ever. You can never have too many, and he would rarely trade a good young pitcher. I agree 100% in this regard, and drafting and developing young pitching has been the number one reason the Twins have remained competitive.

Dealing with Agents and other GMs: There are some GMs and agents that he can’t stand, but you can’t let personalities get in the way of getting deals done. He also hates it when “scumbag” agents steal clients, especially when those agents have stuck with their client all through the minors until the player actually earns a big payday. He advises players to stay with the guy who’s been there for them, not the guy who is offering “shortcuts.” Mr. Ryan believes in “loyalty, if nothing else.” Most people who follow the Twins would agree, and sometimes some may say that Ryan can be loyal to a fault. My guess is Ryan doesn’t see it that way.

Evaluating Defense: Ryan doesn’t believe in statistical analysis for fielding. He uses what his eyes and his scouts’ eyes can see, using a two through eight scale. He mentioned that a guy like Tyner looks like he’s a good outfielder and that the stats might say he is; however, he’s not good in center field, and he can’t throw very well. I didn’t tell him that the stats as well as the scouts show that Tyner “takes routes through Roseville,” as some might say. With regard to statistics, Mr. Ryan said, “You can make stats dance.” A Sabermetrician, Terry Ryan is not.

Mr. Ryan really seems to enjoy being in an academic environment, and he genuinely seemed honored to be there. However, there is no doubt that we who attended were the lucky ones. I’ll leave you with the best quote of the day, and one that I feel that really sums up what having a conversation with Terry Ryan feels like: “I throw millions of dollars around like they are quarters. And that’s hard for me because I like quarters.” This quote is Terry Ryan in a nutshell. He’s sarcastic and funny, honest and engaging. I’d work for him for free, though I doubt my wife would go for that.


MJ said...

I read something today saying that if the Twins are out of contention by July 31, they might move Hunter and Santana because this is when their value would be the highest. I don't necessarily agree with this but it is something to think about.

I'm so jealous of you, not once but twice you've gotten the opportunity to talk to Terry Ryan. Has to be a pretty amazing experience. You will have to tell me more about it sometime.

rez_7 said...

Outstanding! Thanks for the insight!

AdamBez said...

Very informative, thank you for sharing this. That ending quote is perfect.

John said...

Fantastic enry Barry. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it.

Boof said...

That's awesome Barry!

I wonder about his comments about Santana. I wonder what's brewing.

Talk to ya soon bud.

Sean said...

Great post!

By the by, if he's paying lawyers only $200/hr, that's a (relative) bargain! It's hard to get a decent attorney to do anything for under $300 these days.

annie savoy said...

You're a redhead?

It's only fair, I guess. You had never pictured me as a gal; I had never pictured you as a redhead. :-)