On Tuesday night, the Minnesota Twins conducted a fan forum phone call for season ticket holders and on-deck circle members. The call was to give fans a chance to ask General Manager Bill Smith and team President Dave St. Peter questions. I initially figured that Smith and St. Peter would limit themselves to politely answering the questions with pat answers. I was pleasantly surprised. They didn't tip their hands too much (I wouldn't expect them to), but they were remarkably candid. They seemed to understand fans' frustrations, admitted to some mistakes, and agreed that some changes are necessary.
When I took the call, I hadn't planned to take any notes or keep track of what was said. Like I said, I kind of expected it to be dumb. But thinking about it now, I want to jot down some of the more interesting topics that I can remember and my reactions to them. I'm pretty sure I'm remembering these points correctly; I apologize if I'm not. Joe Christensen from the STrib has a nice recap over two posts.
Injuries and conditioning: Smith said that most of the injuries this season were "impact injuries" and that the only muscular injury was Alexi Casilla's hamstring. He also said that injuries like Nishioka's broken leg and Morneau's and Span's concussions were results of collisions, and they can't be anticipated and there's no conditioning that can prevent those.
I'm a tad confused about his answer here. If Casilla's hammy was the only muscle injury, why did Perkins, Thome, Young, and Nishioka go down with oblique strains and Repko and Thome go down with quad strains? I have no clue whether the nature of the oblique and quad strains could have been prevented or reduced by different or better conditioning. Maybe they couldn't have been, and that's what Smith meant. But I'm skeptical.
Nishioka: Smith said that this was a lost season for Nishi and that he needs a mulligan. He pointed out that Nishioka had a lot on his plate very early in the season with the culture shock and the broken leg, and that he's been given an offseason training program to exercise. However, Smith went on to say that he's not guaranteed to have a starting spot in 2012 and that he'll have to earn it out of spring training.
That's all I ask for -- don't assume anything. I still have some small sliver of faith in Nishioka -- his numbers in Japan don't lie, and the scouts obviously did not see this version of him. However, I appreciate that Smith is having second thoughts about it and he's willing to admit that Nishi isn't necessarily the answer. Later in the conversation, as he listed the highest priorities for the team, a good shortstop was on that list.
Bringing in the outfield fences: St. Peter did kind of give a hedging pat answer here, giving a lot of "we're talking about it" kinds of responses, but he basically said that despite what Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer may want, there are no plans to alter the outfield fences.
St. Peter also added (I can't remember if this was specifically in regard to this topic or another -- in fact, I can't really remember if it was St. Peter or Smith who said this; let's just go with it) that the current team with all the left-handed hitters, was built for the Metrodome, but now in Target Field, they have to build the team to be more of a doubles-and-speed-type team.
Ben Revere's arm: Smith said that Revere and the coaches are working very hard on improving his arm, doing things such as pitchers' long toss, but, ultimately, there's not much they can do. Smith thinks that Revere suffered some kind of shoulder injury in high school football. Smith went on to say that plenty of good baseball players, like Johnny Damon, have terrible arms.
It kind of struck me that Smith didn't go on more to talk about Revere's range and how it more than makes up for his arm. Frankly, I don't think Ben's weak arm is a super-huge deal. There are thing the Twins can do to mitigate the damage: put him in left, play the cut off men out more, keep working on taking proper routes, etc.
Cuddyer jersey: A fan asked Smith if it was safe to buy a Cuddyer jersey, and Smith replied that, no matter what team he winds up with, it's always safe to buy a Cuddyer jersey. Smith called Cuddy a great representative and in all his years in baseball, Cuddyer is his favorite player to be around. Cuddy has earned this opportunity for free agency, and Smith's hopeful he can sign him.
When I met Smith at the State Fair in 2010, he pretty much said the same thing, word for word (well, not the free agency part), to me (it was kind of unprovoked too, because I was talking about Jim Thome at the time), and I could tell he meant it. He actually kind of gushed. Which still makes me ask why he didn't take care of this last season? Who knows; maybe he tried and Cuddyer said not now.
Starting pitching: Smith admitted straight up that the Twins need to focus on acquiring starting pitching because they may want to move a starter or two to the bullpen.
I suspect the "starter or two" may include Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey, and/or Nick Blackburn.
Jim Thome: A fan asked whether the Twins will try to bring Jim Thome back. Smith said that the Twins loved having Thome around. If Jim wants to play, he'll definitely find a team, but the Twins have so many other priorities this offseason. Jim is either a designated hitter or a pinch hitter, and if he gets on base, he needs a pinch runner. With a bench of only three or four guys, Thome would be a luxury the Twins can't afford.
My head can't disagree. My heart weeps.
Who, of the guys who are gone, do you miss? Surprisingly, Smith answered this question without hesitation: JJ Hardy. He went on to say that Hardy had a great season with the Orioles, but much of his success can be attributed to the AL East parks, Camden, Fenway, the Trop, and Rogers Centre, that he plays in. Smith also mentioned that they miss Guerrier and Crain, but definitely they miss JJ.
Hmm. That's almost kind of on the brink of admitting that trading Hardy was a mistake. I'm not sure I buy the ball parks thing. Hardy may also be benefiting from a training staff that knows how to fix his wrist. A strong wrist equals a strong swing.
Fundamental errors: Smith admitted that the lower levels of the organization need to be less tolerant of mental and fundamental lapses. He suggested that guys should be taken out of a game or sit the next game if they do things such as miss the cut off man, make baserunning mistakes, etc. He said that all that is part of the learning process.
Yes! I firmly believe that the minor league players and coaches need to work harder on fundamentals and foster a culture of winning so that the guys are fully ready for the big leagues.
My biggest takeaways: The message I kept sensing was that the Twins' front office firmly believes that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will be back at 100% in 2012. Smith didn't seem like he wanted to address any other options regarding moving either of them to other positions.
Smith also admitted that a backup catcher with good offense is a priority. Good.
I noticed that he didn't talk about Kubel much at all, although no one asked.
I'm glad the Twins did this. Smith and St. Peter put themselves in the line of fire of some obviously frustrated fans, and they didn't back down or hedge much at all. They know fans are mad, and they have a ways to go to ease those wounds. Good for them for facing it head on.
Also, the fans who asked questions were great. Of course they were all screened before being let on the line, but all the callers asked smart questions without being disrespectful. They asked tough questions that generated good discussions.
There were more questions and answers than what I have here; I just hit the highlights. I enjoyed listening; it was well worth my time.