Powers: Baseball caught up to Twins general manager Terry Ryan

MINNEAPOLIS -- The four years Terry Ryan spent on hiatus, from 2008 through 2011, might as well have been 40 years. When he returned to the Minnesota Twins' general manager's job, he found a very different and strange world.He also discovered it ...

MINNEAPOLIS -- The four years Terry Ryan spent on hiatus, from 2008 through 2011, might as well have been 40 years. When he returned to the Minnesota Twins’ general manager’s job, he found a very different and strange world.
He also discovered it is true: You can’t go home again.
The Twins had moved into revenue-generating Target Field and their payroll had shot from $72 million to $115 million. The farm system was sagging with a composite record of below .500, the result of trading prospects and thin drafts. The organization’s family atmosphere had been fractured by the death of longtime owner Carl Pohlad. And on-field personnel was dispirited with the decisions made by Ryan’s replacement, Bill Smith.
Following 99 losses in 2011, Ryan’s announced reappointment was greeted the way the British are expected to react upon the reappearance of King Arthur, a mythical sixth-century king who, legend says, will return when his people need him most. But fairy tales are nothing but happy fiction. Ryan discovered that what he had helped build had been torn down. And there was nothing he could do about it.
This is the same fellow whose eye for value spotted Johan Santana during a Rule 5 draft, who acquired Shannon Stewart at the trade deadline, and who received Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano for catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was going to be replaced by Joe Mauer, anyway.
In his first stint as GM, Terry was a wizard at finding useful parts. Needed backups and versatile players would arrive at the stroke of a pen. Guys such as Jamey Carroll and Jared Burton would appear out of nowhere at just the right time. He traded journeyman Roberto Kelly for Joe Mays. And he dealt a spare outfielder in return for Jason Bartlett. These were all among the initially small trades that led to solid results.
Yet when Ryan returned for the 2012 season, his mojo was gone. Terry was at the top of his game when operating on a tight budget. Given his new financial situation, however, and considering the deteriorating state of the farm system, he began to spend. Even as the minor league affiliates were being restocked, Ryan tried to close performance gap by buying established players. It worked out poorly; he had no practice spending money.

His avowed priority was to improve the starting pitching, and he failed terribly there. Each year he’d bring in veterans. Some of these vets weren’t ridiculously overpaid - such as Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Jason Marquis; then he began to dish out stratospheric salaries to Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and the re-signed Phil Hughes. All that money for minimal results.
Worse, his trades have been way off. He didn’t have the old magic. All general managers make mistakes, yet some of the things Terry has done since returning have people scratching their heads. Imagine, trading his top two center fielders and having no suitable replacement.
Meanwhile, the Twins babied Miguel Sano through almost five minor league seasons. They refused to rush him or put pressure on him. They were careful with every injury. Then, when they finally thought he was ready mentally and physically to be a full-time major-leaguer, they handed him a new glove and told him he was a right fielder. Seriously? Sano might have been a good corner outfielder about 50 pounds ago, but now he’s one of half a dozen Twins who should be a DH.
Ryan may even be having his own Tsuyoshi Nishioka moment with Byung-Ho Park. The Twins need to quit scouting that quadrant of the world. The only fellow they got from Asia that showed talent was pitcher Chih-Wei Hu, and Ryan traded him for Kevin Jepsen.
It’s been one thing after another since Ryan’s return. That four-year absence was insurmountable. I just wish he could have ridden off into the sunset on his own terms because he’s done an awful lot for the franchise, but baseball doesn’t wait. Everyone reaches the point of diminished returns. Ryan’s came in 2007, when he left his post citing burnout.
I’m not going to say baseball passed him by. Rather, it caught up to him while he was away. His advantage had dissipated. The Twins Way had been swallowed by a sea of analytics-driven, high-dollar, win-right-now baseball.
I can’t imagine working in that environment ever felt like home to him.

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