Twinkie Town Q&A With Rob Antony

On Tuesday morning I was fortunate enough to speak with a second front-office Twins executive in as many weeks.  I spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes with Assistant General Manager Rob Antony, and once again it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.  Hopefully you'll get as much out of it as I did.  Enjoy!

Jesse:  What's a typical day for you during the regular season?

Rob Antony:  During the regular season, come in, check some clips and seeing what's going on around the leagues.  I'm more interested not so much in game stories as injuries some teams might have, or maybe some names of players that gets out that might be on the block, that type of thing.  Check our minor league system, read game reports there, catch up on everything that's going on there.  Then for the most part I'm in and out of town; I'll go see all our minor league affiliates, and then I'll take about three trips with the big club during the course of the season.

Jesse:  So you're kind of all over the board.

RA:  Yeah.  I catch up on reports; writing and reading other reports.  Everyday, waivers come out and we talk about different players, read reports on players we might have interest in claiming, or that might get out-righted or whatnot. 

Jesse:  How early in the season do you see players from other teams being put up on trading blocks?

RA:  A lot of times you'll just see teams that, you can kind of read through some of the things when they talk about "we're young", "we're rebuilding", those types of things that indicate they might have some veterans that they'd be willing to move, maybe looking to move.  They might have some players that are making some money that they'd like to clear out because they know they're not gonna win this year or next.  And you start to look and see if some of those players might be able to help you.  Some things might be a fit, and you just kind of make note of them.  Then at some point down the line you might have conversations with those clubs, you might metion that you may have some interest:  "Hey, if you're looking to move so-and-so, we might have interest".

Jesse:  So you read through the trade blocks and you see a couple names that are of interest.  Are you free to run ideas past other organizations, or does that kind of thing only happen after an internal discussion?

RA:  We have our internal discussions first.  We'll talk with our General Manager, and Terry Ryan who calls in frequently, and we'll talk and throw some names at him because he might have more information.  And Mike Radcliff, our VP of Player Personnel and Vern Followell our Pro Scouting Coordinator, y'know we run a lot of these things through them.  We'll discuss them because everybody has different pieces of information.  One might have information about this player, or have seen this player first hand a lot more than some of us, and we kind of piece it all together then and determine what our interest should be.

Jesse:  So between the GM and the Assistant GM's, how are the responsibilities divided up?

RA:  In Bill's situation he handles a lot of the administrative-type stuff, a lot of the procedures.  He's the main link between our manager and our front office--where he always knows what the manager's thinking.  You never want to force players on a manager or on a team, and he has a pretty good idea of what the manager's looking for, and what we're looking for.

I do a lot of the contract stuff over the course of the off-season.  And then during the season we'll discuss, but Bill's the point person on all that stuff.  If we're going to approach a team, he's going to be the one to call the other GM and start talks.

Jesse:  During the off-season, how do the Twins go about determining their priorities, and determining which holes need to be addressed?

RA:  We have organization meetings right after the season in which we discuss all our minor league players, we discuss who should go where next year, we discuss the major league team and who we have interest in bringing back, or who we might kick off the roster or who we want to put on the roster or what holes we have.  Who might be fits via free agency, via trades; we discuss every other team, we go over who their prospects are, we go over who their major league players who might be available are and who might be fits, we spend about eight-to-ten hours a day going over all that stuff.  And by the end of that time we have a pretty good idea what direction we want to go and who we want to target.  Or, players who might be arbitration eligible that we might want to do something with--multi-year deals, all that stuff.

Jesse:  Is there a time frame on that?  Is most of that stuff wrapped up by the end of October?

RA:  Yes.  We usually try and do it the last week in October, which coincides to when we'll go down and watch our instructional leagues.  And when the instructional league is wrapping up, then we have our meetings and we go over all the stuff, so that when we come back--that's a week before the General Manager's meetings--and so when we go there we can start laying groundwork for some potential deals at the GM meetings, which a lot of times between then and a month later, the Winter Meetings, sometimes deals come to fruition or sometimes groundwork is set so that you might be able to get something done at the Winter Meetings.

Jesse:  The big trade with Tampa Bay, one of the big trades in the off-season, I think most fans were pretty excited.  Not just because the Twins were picking up an extremely talented young hitter in Delmon Young, but they were also excited that the Twins were being aggressive in moving to bring in offense.  Knowing that, is there any disappointment in Delmon Young's lack of power this season?

RA:  I think it's still too early to think about that.  Some of the things that Tampa was concerned about, his reputation that preceeded him--things have been way better than we could have imagined in that he's been a model citizen, a great teammate, all that stuff.

Jesse:  He has been, that's true.

RA:  But as far as the power goes, we expect him to hit for power.  I think that will come, I think he exhibited that last year.  Y'know, he's been a notorious slow starter, which, we need to find a way to change that number one.  Number two, it's early.  Whenever you have a player changing teams and stuff, sometimes they work really hard on fitting in, they have to adjust to new hitting coaches, a new manager, a new style, sometimes different hitting philosophies, and it takes a little bit of time to adjust.  But the best thing we can do with him, is to let him be himself and hope that he gets comfortable.  Now he's showing signs, he's been starting to turn on more balls and hit more balls hard up the middle, and pulling some balls to left field.

But the power will come.  A little surprised that he hasn't hit for power, yes; disappointed, probably no.

Jesse:  Not yet, he's still young--only 22.

RA:  Correct.

Jesse:  Something we touched on a couple minutes ago was arbitration--how do the Twins prep for that?  Is that something that's done internally, or is that outsourced to another company or specialist?

RA:  I'm the point person, I negotiate with the agents for the players to see where we can go.  At the same time, if we need to consult we have a firm that puts the case together should we have to go to arbitration.  But I kind of monitor and let them know how the negotiations are going, and let them know how much time they should actually spend trying to prepare for a potential hearing.  Sometimes you can get a pretty good feeling on whether you're going to settle, or if you're not.

Jesse:  One of the interesting things that happened his off-season was that Justin Morneau settled arbitration and then got his long-term contract.  Was the long-term contract on the horizon when you settled arbitration?

RA:  We had discussions with it, and to be honest with you they just wanted to get the possibility of arbitration out of the way and agree on something.  Then you continue discussing a long-term deal.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.  In this case I believe that we were in the same ballpark for what we were looking at for a multi-year deal.  And just to get it out of the way, before exchanging numbers, as well as some things that were on the horizon for some other clubs; we believed it was in our best interest to get something secured, and to continue to try and get the multi-year deal done as soon as possible.  Just because of some of the things that were floating around in the industry that really could have blown it up a little bit.

Jesse:  Can you get into any of those industry things?

RA:  Ah, not really.

Jesse:  Fair enough.  This off-season long-term deals were signed for Morneau and Cuddyer and Nathan.  How detailed are future years planned in regards to payroll?  Was there an analysis of what other financial committments were going on in 2010 or 2012?

RA:  Sure, I have a five-year payroll projection in front of me at all times.  And you want to make sure that you're not going to paint yourself into a corner with other players and leave yourself short on payroll by putting all your eggs in one basket.  That type of thing.

But we feel pretty comfortable with where we're at and where we're headed in the next three, four, five years.  And actually this year we were in a situation with Silva leaving, Hunter, Santana, that we were...we had more money than we had planned to have, to be honest with you.  We were hoping that we were gonna be able to get something done with one or two of those guys.  And if we would've, then we would've had a payroll upward of $80 million or something.  As it turned out, when we ended up doing a deal for prospects for Santana and not taking on any money, then it was a bit of a different situation.  We're probably a bit lower on payroll this year than we planned to be, and that was not by design, but it did give us the ability, because of that, when we signed Morneau, and Cuddyer, and Livan Hernandez, we were able to put in sizeable signing bonuses for those guys.  And pay it all out this year.

So we're gonna end up spending a lot of money this year, it just doesn't look like it when you analyze the salaries because we spread those out over the course of the contract--even though we paid all the money out this year.

Jesse:  That's kind of a nice unexpected gift, to have that additional flexibility.

RA:  Yeah, what we were trying to do, was we were trying to utilize that.  It's kind of a one-time thing, to actually have more money than you can spend, but we tried to use that to our advantage.  The way we looked at it, this wasn't a free agent market where we wanted to go out and spend a bunch of money on players that we didn't deem were worth what you'd have to spend on them.  And we would rather spend that money locking up the players that we have and so we tried to be aggressive in that way, and we tried to take advantage of it by locking guys up now when we could afford it, and we could give them a good chuck of money up front.

Jesse:  Sure.  The Twins did take a couple of calculated risks in signing Adam Everett and Mike Lamb this off-season.  Everett's not really a guy you look to for offense, but with Lamb you sort of had the impression that the Twins were looking at him as a short term replacement--or at least for some offense from third base that we haven't had the last couple years.  Is there any indication as to what Lamb's holdup seems to be on the offensive side?

RA:  I think he's a guy that does not look comfortable.  He's looking over his shoulder, always wondering if he's gonna start being platooned.  He's a guy who, his entire career, every time he thought he'd be an every day guy, that'd change.  So he struggles, and he puts so much pressure on himself to prove to us that we did the right thing, and to justify the deal and everything else--that he made so many different comments, both to players and to staff, over the course of the first month that..."Damn, I'm in there again!"  I think it's one of those where he's finally starting to understand that, look, we're giving you this opportunity.  You're our third baseman.  Just go out there, don't think about things, your last game, your last at-bat.

In the last week he's finally started to swing the bat a little bit better, pull some balls; he hit into two double plays last night, he turned on 'em and hit 'em hard, but he just hit 'em right to second base.

Jesse:  He's been a little unfortunate, but he's come up big in a couple of games over the last week or so where he's picked up a couple RBI's to help the team come out ahead.

RA:  Exactly.  And I think that's kind of boosted him a little bit.  And now I wouldn't be surprised to see him start pull the ball, and loft the ball a little bit and hit some home runs.  He's a career .280 hitter, and realistically we're looking for 12-15 home runs and adequate defense.  We knew he's not a great defensive player, he's not as good as Nick Punto, but he can provide that power and RBI production that Nick can't.  There's a little bit of a trade off.

Jesse:  What other challenges are there, on an organization-to-player level, in talking contracts?

RA:  When we sit down and we figure out what we're looking to do with a player and attract guys, we have a pretty good idea what our choking point is; what  a good deal would be, what a fair deal would be, and what the extent is that we would go to.  Not necessarily tell fairly quickly, like in the Joe Nathan deal early on, I wasn't all that optimistic but became moreso as we got closer to the end of spring training.  And then we got a deal done at the end of the spring.  But a lot of times, you have an idea of if it's going to work.  And in his situation it was just one of those where we agreed that if we weren't able to do something by the end of the spring, we wouldn't talk anymore because he didn't want, his agent, did not want that distraction during the course of the year.  And we didn't really, either.

We tried that early last year, and Joe struggled some, and we didn't want to go through that again either.  So it was either gonna happen or it wasn't gonna happen, and a lot of times you get a feeling if the value you have placed on that player matches up with what the agent thinks fair value would be.  Sometimes you get in situations where you really believe that any deal you make is going to be a bad deal for the club.  Either the agent has to believe he clearly has to win it, or has a much higher opinion of the player than we do, and then you really understand that and you don't spend a lot of time on that.  It's "okay, let's get a one-year deal done" or whatever the case may be.  The chance of getting something long-term done doesn't look good at that point.

Jesse:  What was the turning point in the Nathan discussions where you were a bit more optimistic, where you said "Okay, hey, maybe we can get this deal done"?

RA:  Probably concessions on both sides.  Some things that had to do with flexibility on no-trade language, with flexibility in how we structured the contract, and we kind of came around a little bit in that really, the toughest part of that one, was that we were looking at it as he had a deal in place for '08 and we were looking at a three-year extension.  They were looking at what a four-year deal should look like.  He wanted a deal in place, restructured, and with both sides agreeing that $6 million for Joe Nathan was....

Jesse:  Below market value?

RA:  But our point was, why is it that every time a club makes a long-term deal and it works out in their favor, why should you restructure that, or change that?  And really what it amounted to was that we could be stubborn and hold to, and just say "fine" and lose a player after the year, or we could restructure it and do something that we were comfortable with over the course of four years, and keep one of the better closers in the game.

Jesse:  It worked out well.

RA:  So far, knock on wood, everything's been great.  He's done what we've hoped for.  When you have a young pitching staff, you really need somebody at the end of the game that, when they battle their tail off and put your team in a chance to win, you don't want to have an unproven guy, or somebody that they don't have a lot of confidence in coming in to try and close it.  And these guys have a ton of confidence in Joe Nathan--he comes in, that they believe it's over.

Jesse:  It's nice when you have leaders like Nathan.  There's more tied up into their value than their financial value.

RA:  Absolutely.  The intangibles that a guy like Joe brings, and a guy like Michael Cuddyer, the leadership that he brings into the clubhouse and how hard he works everyday--sometimes the way they're paid, when you lay their stats out in front of you without knowing that player, "this is how much this guy should be paid", you don't get things because of their intangibles they bring to the club and to the overall play of the team.

Jesse:  With that statistical analysis, what kind of stats analysis to the Twins employ?  Is that something that's outsourced, or is that completely internal as well?

RA:  It's all internal, and we do not get into it nearly as much as other clubs.  We look at the on-base percentage, we look at the slugging, we look at all the different things, but we rely probably more on scouting than we do on statistics.  We'll look at scouting reports and we'll say "I know this guy only hit .220--we believe, or I believe, that this guy is going to bounce back, he still has bat speed, he's athletic, he still runs, he's a hard worker, all the makeup traits are good, he had a down year and he should be able to bounce back."  That type of thing.  And that's the guy that we're going to sign over the guy that has, y'know, the "Moneyball" guy who has a high on-base and takes a lot of walks.

Sometimes, if you go get one of those guys, and he's surrounded with eight guys who are more free swingers--we'd love for our guys to take better at-bats.  We're not so much concerned about how many times they walk, and this and that.  Yeah we pay attention to on-base percentage, and we want guys at the top of the order who have good on-base percentages and set the table for the middle of the order, but what we're most concerned about is players going up and taking swings at good pitches.  Don't get yourself out, and chase sliders away and balls in the dirt.  Swing at good pitches, and give yourself a chance to hit good pitches--moreso than looking at all the different numbers that so-and-so has or whatever.

Jesse:  The Minnesota offense has been very aggressive this year, and a lot of that has to do with guys who are 21 or 22-years old being a bit overmatched by major league pitching.  Is there any temptation to take a couple of those guys aside and help them find a way to be more selective at the plate?

RA:  Sure, we try and do that with Delmon.  We try and do that with Gomez in particular.  But they're both 22-years old, and the one thing you don't want to take away is their aggressiveness.  You want Gomez to think about what he's doing, and think about how they're pitching him, and understand that "you might not see a strike if you keep swinging at balls.  If you do that, it's not gonna work.  You need to make adjustments."  But at the same time, you want him to be aggressive and use an entire game.  Go up there, bunt, run, steal, but he can also swing the bat and drive the ball into the gaps, he's not a slap-and-run guy.  He's a big, strong kid who, right now, gets a little out of control.  From game-to-game he's...the other night against Boston he went up there, lays off some Papelbon pitches, draws a walk, steals second and puts himself in a position to be the winning run.  Other games, earlier against Oakland, he was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and went up trying to swing harder every time, and never made an adjustment.

That's what you get when you get young players like that, but he's our best option, he's our best alternative.  He's an exciting player who's gonna learn on the job just like Torii Hunter did, just like Jacque Jones did, a lot of players learn on-the-job with us.  The difference is right now he's surrounded by better players than those guys were, because back then we had a whole lineup full of guys learning on the job, and they had their lunch handed to them a lot.

But here we have some professional hitters.  We have Joe Mauer who takes good at-bats, Mike Lamb who works counts, Morneau and Cuddyer who have learned and are experienced guys now; so we can have a couple of those guys in the lineup and it doesn't kill you.

Jesse:  Going off of that, you've been quoted as saying that you look more at what a player can do, as opposed to what a player can't do.  From an organizational perspective, does this mean that the Twins are looking for players with defined skill sets, as opposed to players who maybe need to develop certain things?

RA:  A lot of times, the way we do it, if you go out and get free agents, they are who they are.  They've proven themselves, they're worth X amount of dollars, all that stuff, and you kind of believe you know what you're getting.

When you develop players like we do, and you work through getting young players and developing them in the minors, then bringing them into the big leagues, there's always a time, there's always a transition, where they're doing this or doing that and they're developing--they're not a finished product.  So I believe that when you go get a Carlos Gomez, and you put him out in center field, if you're going to dwell on the fact that he takes some bad at-bats and chases out of the zone and his on-base percentage isn't what you'd hope it to be--those are all things he should work on, but it's probably not something that you should focus on.  Rather look at what he can do for you, the way he uses his speed in the outfield, stealing bases, dropping down bunts and beating out infield hits.  If you appreciate players for what they can do, and continue to work with them to develop their game and work on some of their short comings, I believe you have a better chance of having a good player, or developing a good player.  Rather than--you can always sit and pick players apart, or people apart and find faults.  If that's what you want to dwell on then you're always going to be looking to replace them, and you'll never be satisfied with what you have.

If you understand what you have, and compliment them with other players so that you have a team full of players who can do different things--you have the power guys in the middle, and the speed guys up top, you maybe have a couple of guys at the bottom of the order who are good defensive players that help your pitching staff out--I mean that's how you kind of piece these things together overall, and build a good team.

Jesse:  You're talking about balance, about long-term, and one of the exciting things about baseball is that you never know what's going to happen.  And Gomez, as young as he is, there's a development curve that's coming along, and so he still has the opportunity to learn certain things that he can bring to the table, in addition to the skills he already possesses.

RA:  Absolutely.  Exactly.

Jesse:  Okay, here's a question.  This is kind of funny.  Has anyone ever called you to see if Joe Mauer was available for trade?

RA:  (Pause)  No, not that I'm aware of.  (Laughs)

Jesse:  Fair enough.  From your view, what is the organization's greatest strength, and biggest weakness?

RA:  I would say stability, and the fact that we believe in the way we do it.  We believe in scouting, we believe in development, we don't try to take too many shortcuts, but yet we understand that there's no such thing as The Player We Won't Go Get.  There's the one-year guys.  We signed Livan Hernandez to a one-year deal because we needed a guy who we believed would give us innings, and he's been a couple games over .500 in his career, and he throws 220 innings.  We believed that was really important with young starters.  The one guy we've never gone out and gotten, we've never gone out and got the free agent worth five-years, $75 million.  That's something that, if we give that kind of money, it's usually somebody that we've developed, somebody that we know as well as you can possibly know.  We'd have to believe that he'd pan out like a Justin Morneau, when we gave him the 6-for-$80 [million].

Y'know, we explored Aaron Rowand as an alternative in center field.  We just--the Santana thing dragged out the course of the whole off-season, so although we had interest in that, we didn't know what we were going to get back.  So we couldn't go ahead and do something like that, because......

Jesse:  It would have closed a lot of doors with teams who could have been Santana's suitors.

RA:  Right.  We were looking at Gomez with the Mets, we were talking about Ellsbury with Boston, and we discussed Cabrera with the Yankees.  All these teams, we believe we were going to get a young center fielder back, so we needed to turn our attention to something else.

And so, just the stability.  Terry decides to step aside, and Bill takes over.  The continuity that we have:  Bill's been here since '86, I've been here since '87, Mike Radcliff since '87 I believe, so when we make transitions, it's not an overhaul.  It's not, we bring somebody in and he brings in all his own people.  There's a lot to be said for that, and a lot of that probably has to do with our ownership's patience with us, and y'know with Terry, when the team was struggling, he believed that he could do a good job and that he was doing the right things.  It was just going to take some time.  Our ownership's patience has helped lead to the stability and continuity that we've had in the front office, as well as the manager--we've had two managers since 1987.  Not many teams have been in that situation.

Jesse:  With all the stability in the front office that's bred the team's success, it's part of the Twins brand of knowing who you are, and knowing who you aren't--you've been with these people for the better part of 20 years.

RA:  Correct.

Jesse:  Knowing that, which one of the front-office could win in a hot dog-eating contest?

RA:  (Laughs)  Oh, man.  That's a loaded question.  I don't know...I've never seen many of us eat many of those to be honest with you.  We're around the ballpark all the time, and that's just something you stay away from.

Jesse:  (Laughs)  Fair enough, it's probably TC anyway.  Or Livan Hernandez.  We'll move onto the player-word association.  Carlos Gomez.

RA:  Speed.

Jesse:  Matt Tolbert.

RA:  He is...it's hard to say in one word.  He's like every kid who wanted to be a big-leaguer from the time they were about four.  Energy.

Jesse:  Nick Blackburn.

RA:  Poise.

Jesse:  Matt Guerrier.

RA:  Stability.

Jesse:  Juan Rincon.

RA:  Enigma.

Jesse:  (Laughs)  Jason Kubel.

RA:  Potential.

Jesse:  And one guy who I'm really excited about, Alexi Casilla.

RA:   Dynamic.  He can do a lot of different things.

Jesse:  Alright sir, thanks a lot.  I really appreciate your time!

RA:  Not a problem.

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