Twinkie Town Q&A with Twins Assistant General Manager Rob Antony, 2010

On Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to speak to Rob Antony, who was in Fort Myers getting ready for spring training.  Thanks to Rob for his time, especially considering I told him I'd only take 20 or 30 minutes of his time and I ended up taking 40.  We originally were going to do this back in November but couldn't match up on a time, but I think you'll find your wait was worth it.  Click here for the Q&A I did with Rob in May of '08.  This is a long read, so go get a cup of coffee before you spend most of your Monday morning reading this at work.

Jesse:  A lot of teams were interested in J.J. Hardy.  What enabled the Twins to come out on top of that one, as opposed to any of the other number of teams who were interested?

Rob Antony:  I think that it was the right fit and match.  They needed a center fielder.  Mike Cameron was going to become a free agent and they weren't going to bring him back, and they were looking to A) I believe clear some payroll so they could address their pitching needs and B) they were looking for a center fielder so it was kind of the perfect match for us.

We didn't go into the off-season looking to trade Carlos Gomez, but we did go into the season looking for a solid, dependable shortstop.  And J.J. Hardy fit the bill there.  We had some payroll flexibility so we could take on added salary--he's going to end up making $5.1 [million] this year where I believe Carlos Gomez is going to make just over a million in Milwaukee.  So I think it was the right match where we could take on the salary and we had a young center fielder who had some experience who they could plug into their everyday lineup.

 

 



J:  Was Hardy a guy who had been on your radar for a while, or was this just a perfect situation?

RA:  No, he had been on our radar for a while.  We had made attempts earlier to try and get him and were unsuccessful.  Therefore they knew we had interest, and when they looked at the match-up they had interest in Gomez, so they called and said "Look, we know you're looking for a shortstop--if you still have interest in J.J. Hardy we'd like to talk to you about it.  You have a surplus of outfielders, and we're in need of an outfielder."  When we started talking they indicated they had interest in Gomez because he was a good fit for them in center field.

J:  Was Gomez their first option?  Or were they looking at a Delmon Young or a Denard Span?

RA:  They were initially, I think, looking for some starting pitching.  We indicated that we did not have pitching we wanted to trade.  Then they indicated that they also had interest in our outfielders, and preferably a center fielder, so that brings it down to Span and Gomez.  We didn't have any interest in trading Denard Span.

J:  Sure.  Was there ever the thought that, because of the tools, that Gomez was too much to give up?  Or was it strength-for-strength?

RA:  I think it was a matter of strength-for-strength.  We weren't excited about giving up Gomez and his potential and his tools, but at the same time you've got to give to get.  And we were satisfied that this was an equitable trade.  I'm sure from their perspective, they look at it, they've got a cheap, young center fielder that they have control over for the next four years.  And we look at is as we've got a solid, dependable shortstop who had an off-year last year offensively, but we believe can regain his form.  We've got him for the next couple years, and maybe beyond.

J:  What do you think the drop-off in Hardy's production was from last season?

RA:  That's really hard to tell.  You'd have to be a lot closer to the situation.  I've heard things about his swing getting long, and I know he can be tough on himself.  He expected more.  Sometimes those things can snowball on you when you struggle early on, after you had two really productive years you start putting pressure on yourself.  [The Brewers] were scuffling a little bit and you're doing that, you start looking at why you're scuffling and "We need J.J. Hardy to get going", and he was thinking the same thing.  I think sometimes you start trying too hard, and I think that was the case with him more than him not trying hard enough.  Sometimes you try too hard, and that can be just as counter-productive.

J:  Moving onto an Orlando--Orlando Cabrera.  Was there ever much viability in the rumor of him coming back to play second base?

RA:  I think it's tough when you put yourself in a situation where you have a veteran guy who's played shortstop his entire career, and now you're going to put him at second base or change a position.  We looked at him, we really liked Orlando and what he did for us last year.  But when we got Hardy, we started looking at it and saying "If we can get a big offensive upgrade, or a big defensive upgrade"--we like Nick Punto, but he has the ability to play second or third or be a utility guy--then we would adress it.  If not then we were going to go with what we had rather than bring in Cabrera and start moving him around.

I'm not sure that's fair to a guy who's in his mid to upper-30's, to say "You're going to learn a different position, and now you'll have to try and turn the double play from the other side of second base".  Now runners are coming at you from your left side when normally you have them coming straight on when you're coming over from shortstop.  There's just a lot of things there.

He added a lot to our offense and was a very exciting player for us.  But I think we just thought that with what we had in-house, we may want to put our dollars elsewhere.  Unless we got that big offensive upgrade at second or third.

J:  And that big offensive upgrade at second has of course come in the other Orlando, Orlando Hudson.  What happened there?  Was he someone that just fell into your lap or was it a bit of a waiting game to see if his price would come down into the Twins' range?

RA:  A combination.  We had interest from the very beginning in him, but his price was way up there and we couldn't do that.  Therefore we turned our attention to some other things, and we also contemplated maybe just getting as much pitching as we possibly could.

You never have enough, number one, and number two, the depth.  We had issues last year when we had a couple of guys go down.  We had to go get a Kevin Mulvey and Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak and Armando Gabino, guys who were really--some of them--weren't ready to perform at the Major League level.  It wasn't their fault.  Out of necessity they had to come up, and they did the best they could, but we didn't want to get into a situation again where we didn't have options, where we didn't have players we were comfortable going to.  And so we were thinking about adding more pitching.

When we signed Carl Pavano he filled the role of that veteran guy, we wanted to have at least one veteran.  We thought about a couple of other pitchers who were out there, we contemplated that, but when Hudson's price came down and we started looking at our alternatives, we thought that that was the kind of upgrade we were looking for:  the guy where we didn't sacrifice defense to get offense.

And somebody that would fit perfectly into that two-hole.  In our lineup we didn't have the prototypical two-hole hitter, the guy that you want batting between Span and Mauer, and Hudson's exactly the fit we were looking for.  So when the dollars came to the point that we felt like we could afford him, number one, and number two, we thought we were getting value so we moved our focus to him, and we were able to get him.

J:  I can't tell you how happy I am to get him.  I'm ecstatic that he's on the team.

RA:  We're very excited.

J:  With short and second filled up, is Nick Punto sliding over to third base or is that still more-or-less Brendan Harris' job to lose?

RA:  I think that's going to be a decision Gardy is going to have to make, and I think the players are going to make it for him this spring.  You can go with Harris and have a little more offense at third base--I think he's fine at third, I think he's a solid defensive third baseman and he can swing the bat some--and I think Nick plays some great third base over there.  You can put him almost anywhere on the field and he'll play good defense for you.

He's had years--every other year it seems--where he hits .290, and then every other year he struggles and hits .230.  So we're hoping that this is the year again where he bounces back up and contributes a little more offensively.  But even if not, in the nine-hole he draws walks, he does a lot of things to help your team win.

So that's going to be Gardy's call.  Brendan Harris is going to have an opportunity to go in and win that job and so is Nick Punto.  If Nick doesn't win it, he's going to get a lot of at-bats and playing time moving around, giving Hardy a day off and Hudson day off, and playing some third.  He might be our backup center fielder to Denard Span.  So who knows--he's going to be in the lineup if he's not the starting third baseman, he'll be playing somewhere.

J:  Is there any chance of the Twins bringing in Brett Favre to play third base?  You never know if he's going to retire--he might still be looking to play...

RA:  (laughs)  We'll leave him to the Vikings and hope that, for everybody in Minnesota's sake, that he'll come back and play another year of football.

J:  Did you get a chance to watch the Championship game?

RA:  I did, I watched both of those games.

J:  Did it break your heart as much as it broke my heart?

RA:  It was disappointing.  I'm actually a very big New York Jets fan so my heart was broken when they were beaten.  But it wasn't unexpected, that one kind of turned out they way I thought it would, with Indianapolis winning.

J:  Yeah?

RA:  The Minnesota game--they had no business losing that game and they found a lot of ways to lose it, which was very disappointing.  I felt bad for Coach Childress, I felt bad for the fans and I know the players had to be disppointed because they outplayed [the Saints] in every way, shape and form and [the Vikings] just kept turning it over.

J:  Jumping back to baseball, did you hear anything about Nick Punto Day on the Twins blogosphere?

RA:  I just heard they were talking about it.  I never heard any of the comments or anything else.  I followed Nick on a radio interview, and I heard the announcer telling him that next Monday or something was going to be Nick Punto Day or something, but I didn't pay much attention to it.

J:  I'll shoot you a link.  If you get a chance, go back and check it out.

RA:  Okay.

J:  With Brendan Harris, he was a guy who was still eligible for arbitration for another couple years.  What was the reasoning behind going ahead and locking him up for the next two years?

RA:  Sometimes those deals fall out of negotiations, where you can't agree on a one-year deal.  We like his offensive upside, and I think he has value in the market.  If there ever was a time where he didn't fit for us, I think that we wouldn't have any trouble moving him.  But to be honest with you I like his versatility, I like his offensive ability, and I think when you start--say Nick Punto is your third baseman now there's Jim Thome from the left side and Brendan Harris from the right side.  He came in against the Yankees and took some good at-bats and came up with some big hits.

J:  He did.

RA:  He's got offensive ability and I think that contract is structured as such that if he plays a lot, if he's our regular guy, then he'll get more next year.  And if he doesn't, he's still paid enough that he's satisfied and he's still very affordable for us, even if he's a backup guy or a utility guy.

J:  Keeping with the third base theme, how does Danny Valencia fit into the organization's future?  Will he get a real shot this spring, or is it a situation where he'd have to play himself in, later in the year?

RA:  Y'know, Danny's going to get a good opportunity this spring.  He's going to get a good look, and you know what?  If he's our best third base option, we're going to take the 25 best guys.  We'll make adjustments and maybe Harris and Punto are our utility guys, you never know.  There's a lot of things that can happen if Danny comes in and shows that he's ready to handle that third base job and he's the best guy.

It'd be great to have a young player you could mix in there this year with a bunch of veterans, and he'd be that much better next year.  So when Danny's ready to go, he can find a spot on this team.

J:  How does that have an effect on, maybe not Valencia specifically, but for a guy like Casilla who is out of options--does that force your hand in regards to roster decisions?

RA:  I'm not sure it forces our hand.  I think it puts a little pressure on him that he's going to have to perform well to make this team, otherwise we're going to have to figure something out.  If he comes in and he isn't ready to go and earn a spot on our club, then we'll have to make a decision on that.

J:  I know there was a lot of discussion around Perkins and Kouzmanoff in San Diego, was there ever the thought that we can toss in Casilla with Perkins to get Kouzmanoff or was that something the Twins weren't willing to do?

RA:  You know what, there were a lot of rumors and innuendo about that, and there was probably more written than there was conversation about those deals to be honest with you.  The Kouzmanoff thing...I mean, everybody wrote it, everybody thought it, because we were talking about upgrading offensively at second or third.  And I'm not sure that the guys we have get enough credit for their offensive upside and what they can do.

We were never really close to any kind of a deal for Kouzmanoff, so I think that one got a little blown out of proportion.

J:  Okay.  How did Joe Crede enjoy his time in Minnesota?  Apart from the problems with his back and issues with staying on the field, did he enjoy his time with the Twins?

RA:  I think he did enjoy it here, and I think he would have liked to come back.  I guess one of the things that was difficult with Joe was that he had the back issue and he had to have surgery again.  You just don't know how he's going to respond to that.  And you don't know right now.  Not until he gets back out onto the field and everything else.

But he had a lot of other naggning bumps and bruises and things that caused him to miss two, three, four, five days out of the lineup.  And that's really difficult because those are not DL decisions, those are issues that cause your manager to play short for four or five days, to play with a 24-man roster.  That can be difficult at times.

J:  Is that what's kept the Twins from bringing him back this off-season?

RA:  I don't know, I think it's a combination of a lot of things.  One of the things is that we like Brendan Harris, and our combinatin of Harris and Punto and we think Valencia's not that far away if he's not ready now.  So we felt like we had some in-house options and maybe we needed to put our money elsewhere.

J:  What does the organization think of the strong winter Francisco Liriano had in the Dominican League?

RA:  Cautiously optimistic.  We were very pleased with what he did, we're pleased with the shape he came in.  At TwinsFest, we saw him a few weeks ago, he was in phenominal shape.  I know he worked hard, he pitched very, very well and all our reports say he looks like the '06 version of Francisco Liriano.  But we'll see once we get going, once we get rolling into spring training and the regular season and stuff.  He knows he's coming in to battle for a spot in the rotation against Perkins and against Brian Duensing.  Kevin Slowey's coming back from injury.

So there's some uncertainty there.  But if everybody's healthy, we have some options to work with, and Liriano certainly has a chance to jump into the middle of the whole deal.

J:  Not just with the rotation, but the bullpen as well--there's a lot of depth.  How does Pat Neshek fit into that?  Does he have to prove he's healthy and feeling good before he makes the trip north, is there the chance he starts out in Rochester to give him time to work into game shape?

RA:  When you've missed almost two full years I think there is a period where you need to prove that yeah, you feel healthy, but he's got to knock some rust off.  He hasn't faced Major League hitters for two years, so we'll see as the spring progresses.  As I say, we're going to take the best 25, and I'd guess we're going to be taking 12 pitchers--so there are seven spots in the bullpen, and there are going to be some battles.  There may be some pitchers who don't make the rotation who deserve to make the club and find themselves in the bullpen.  And that might bump somebody else around.

There's going to be some competition to make some of the spots, and it's not just rookies who are coming in and trying to compete and make the club.  There are going to be guys like Pat who come in and show where they're at to win a spot and go north with us.

J:  How does the signing of Jacque Jones and Jimerson...I can't remember his first name...

RA:  Charlton.

J:  Charlton Jimerson, that's the one.  These guys that aren't actually on the 40-man roster, but with a four-man bench is there any possibility of these guys playing themselves onto the roster as the backup outfielder?

RA:  I think Jacque more than Charlton.  Charlton's not going to be in our Big League camp, and I think he was signed as much as anything to have an option.  And he's a pure center fielder, we didn't have one of those in Rochester after we lost Jason Pridie on waivers.  So I think he, as much as anything, provides us with some depth.  If Span went down for a while and you need to go get a guy to play center field, and if Jimerson was having a good season he'd be in strong consideration.

And Jacque Jones will be in Big League camp, he wants to take another crack at this thing.  He played independent ball last year.  We know Jacque, he's comfortable here, and it was a situation where he's done a lot for our organization and we'd like to give him another opportunity to see what he's got.  He'll be in the battle and in the mix to be an extra outfielder.

J:  Is that a reflection on some of the guys you have coming through the system who aren't quite ready yet, or is this a situation where we know Jacque, we like Jacque and we want to give him this opportunity?

RA:  I think it's more about Jacque and giving him another opportunity.  We like the guys that we're going to have at triple-A.  And Jacque knows full well coming in that he's going to be in a dog fight to make our club, but if he doesn't he's also going to be in a battle to make the Rochester club and to get at-bats there because we like our outfielders there as well.  Like I say, Jacque can play around the outfield, he's a good guy, he's always played hard, runs every ball out, and he's the type of guy you don't mind having around your young kids.  You know he's going to have a good attitude, and he'll show up everyday ready to play.

If you have to drop down and guy a guy, you might be more likely to take a Jacque Jones if he's playing well rather than a young guy who you know isn't ready and you don't want him to come up and get burried in a situation or be nervous and not contribute at the Major League level, even if it is just for a week or ten days or something while somebody is down.

J:  Sure.  With Jim Thome, one of the best signings of the off-season, what made the Twins go after Thome?

RA:  We were looking for a right-handed bat off the bench who could play some first base, maybe play some outfield, maybe play some third base, and Jim Thome...I'm not sure can do any of those things.

J:  (laughs)

RA:  Thome's left-handed, but when you have the opportunity to go get a guy, he wanted to join us--as his agent said he's always loved the Twins playing against us, he likes the way we go about it, and we've always had a lot of respect for Jim Thome.  He's killed us a number of times, so...

J:  It's nice to have him on the other side?

RA:  He's genuinely one of the great guys in this game.  He's an absolute gentleman, one of the good guys in this game.  And it's not like this guy is washed up, this guy had 23 home runs and I think 79 RBI last year.  So when Gardy can look down the bench, and you want a guy to pinch-hit late in the game or you're in a tie game or you're down a run and you need some offense and Jim Thome's sitting down at the end of the bench with a bat in his hand, you're in pretty good shape when you have him down there.

He also gives us some flexibility.  When you want to give Delmon Young a day off and you want to put Kubel out there in left and DH Thome, or give Cuddyer a day off...

J:  With a guy like Thome and his track record, does that put pressure on Delmon to play well?  With Gardy looking down the bench, like you said, and seeing Thome and wanting to give him the at-bats he deserves, is there pressure on Delmon to play well so he can stay in the lineup?

RA:  I think there's pressure on Delmon to play well because he wants to prove that he's a much better player than the numbers he's put up in the last couple years.  And he's in tremendous shape.

When we got Jim Thome, Gardy called Jim before he signed with us and said "Look, my outfield's set, my DH is Kubel.  But I'll find you at-bats.  Don't worry, we want you to come, we want you to sometimes DH, I'll move Kubel to play first base, we need Justin to have some days off and then you can jump in as the DH".  And Thome said "Heck, I can go over and play first if you want, too", so, y'know, we just thought that it was a good fit, and a good veteran guy to have on this team who still has a lot of offense to provide.  The best part is, we explained, Gardy explained his role coming in, so there's no surprise or disappointment or misconception of what his role is.  If he plays more, he plays more, and if he doesn't he'll be prepared to do what he can off the bench and occasionally DH and whatever else we do with him.

J:  With the old vet on the bench last year, Mike Redmond, how hard is it to cut ties with a guy that's meant so much to the team over the last four, five years?

RA:  It's tough.  But y'know, at some point, you need to provide an opportunity for some of your younger guys.  And Jose Morales and Drew Butera are ready to step in and try to be the backup guy.  And Wilson Ramos has huge upside.

J:  He does...

RA:  I mean, he could be a starter for some clubs in the big leagues right now, I believe.  So we have some depth there.  If you keep bringing guys back, those guys can go stale at triple-A and it's tough to not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

And Mike was great for us.  I think it just got to the point, you saw it a little bit last year, where when we gave Mauer a day off we were playing Morales catching.  That was difficult for Mike.  We just wanted him to be able to go out and maybe put himself in a position to help another team, or to go somewhere where he would get more at-bats, or more of an opportunity where he would be the backup who would play when you needed one, rather than carry three catchers or something.  I think it was an opportunity for him, but I know he was disappointed.  He wanted to play at Target Field and he enjoyed his time here, and we certainly appreciate everything he did for us.

J:  Moving into more of the payroll arena, were there any surprises as far as what happened in arbitration?  Did things kind of pan out as the organization expected?

RA:  I think some of the early signings, of some of the starting pitching, was higher than what we believed it would be.  We offered arbitration to Carl Pavano, he accepted, and after that there were some signings that went down that would affect his salary.  So there were some surprises there.  I think our agreement was probably a little more than we thought it would be, but you always understand that the market dictates that.  That's what the market dictated, and we were fine with it.  It wasn't a huge disparity from what we were looking at anyway on a one-year deal.

That was one that kind of flew under the radar a little bit because we offered arbitration, we got him signed, but we were very pleased when he accepted it because that filled our need for a veteran starter.

J:  I was going to ask that--did you expect him to accept the arbitration offer?

RA:  I think we thought it was 50/50, because he really liked it here.  I think his agents went out there, they had an opportunity for a couple weeks to a month to see what the market landscape was, to see if they could get a multi-year deal like they were looking at.  They were not able to, or teams weren't ready to commit to him for that, and so basically they said "You know what, we can't get that, then we ought to try and get him for a year at Minnesota, because Carl's happy there and comfortable".  That's what we did and that's what we worked out.

We were comfortable with it because we weren't looking to go multi-year with anybody to be honest with you.  So this is a perfect scenario for us as well, to get a one-year deal with a veteran starter.

J:  Not wanting to go with more than a one-year deal, did that have a direct correlation with the change in the revenue sharing stream that comes in now that you have your own stadium?

RA:  No, I think it has more to do with not knowing how much our All-Star catcher's going to cost in the future.

J:  (laughs)

RA:  (laughs)  So it's hard to commit substantial dollars to other players, aside from what we've already committed to the Morneaus and the Cuddyers and the Nathans, and players down the road.  We're just trying to maintain as much flexibility as we can so we don't cut ourselves short on that one.

J:  With the Mauer negotiations, how are you able to keep everything so close to the vest?  Not a single word has slipped out, other than the rumor that came out about a week-and-a-half ago about Mauer signing this ten-year legacy contract.

RA:  Yeah, I have no idea where they came up with that.  But it's fairly easy to keep it quiet when Joe's not talking about it, his agent's not talking about it, we're not talking about it.  We're just trying to get something done.

J:  I want to commend you on that, I think it's absolutely fantastic.  You see other organizations, the Padres for instance, have a bit of a mess with Adrian Gonzalez on their hands.

RA:  Mm-hm.

J:  And I know his agent has said personally that they hope the Padres will hand it like the Twins are handling their situation with Mauer.  Is there a reason organizations don't operate with that policy from the start?

RA:  I can't speak for them, I don't know.  Sometimes an agent might feel compelled to leak something out, or get something out, somehow thinking that it'll get things moving or put pressure on the organization or something, I don't know.  Organizations will do that to try...I don't know.  I can't honestly answer that question.  We've always just tried to keep it quiet.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  In this case, Ron Shapiro and Joe have been great about it.  We deal with them, they deal with us.

J:  Is there any excitement about having Joe on the cover of MLB '10: The Show?  Is everyone in the front office going to run out and pick up a copy?

RA:  I think we're just more interested in trying to get Joe signed to an extension than playing MLB '10.  (laughs)

J:  With the additional payroll and how things have been done in the past, how does the extra money change the organization's approach to the off-season?

RA:  I'm not sure it changes at all.  What it's affording us the opportunity to do, and the ability to do, is to try and keep our own players, and then fill in some of the other gaps by having a little flexibility.  We've always worked within our means, our owner has always been a big proponent of spending 50% of our revenue on players.  Now the projected revenues are obviously going up in Target Field, and so we basically looked at it and said you know what--we've got about $90 to $93 [million] to work with, and we were at that.  When Orlando Hudson became available our owner basically said "Don't worry about the payroll, if you think we can get this guy and you think he would be a great addition, let's go".

J:  It's certainly been exciting to watch.  Not even so much about the payroll,  but like you said, having the team keep their stars and then, to bring in these guys that really set the team up for having as good of a roster as I can ever remember them having.  It's an exciting spring.

RA:  It is exciting.  One of the things we've always prided ourselves on is trying to get the right fit.  People who are not only good players, but good people.  Good teammates, and every report we got on Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome and knowing what we knew about Pavano, and also Clay Condrey who we picked up early in the off-season.

I mean, we talked to the people out in Philadelphia and they said this guy is a great guy.  He's a perfect sixth/seventh inning guy, y'know, they said we're not sure if you're getting him for the eighth inning that he's going to be a guy you're comfortable rolling out there.  He doesn't have overpowering stuff or anything like that.  But this guy will take the ball three, four, five days in a row if you need him to.  He's a team guy and he's going to give you everything he's got.  So we were pleased with that.  And everything we got backed up what we heard--he's not overpowering but he throws strikes and he'll challenge guys.  He's durable, he can pitch one inning at a time or three innings.

J:  It's good to have that versatility in one guy.

RA:  It is.  It's good to have that flexibility when your starter starts to struggle in the fourth inning.  Roll this guy in and he can get you into the fifth, sixth, seventh inning so you don't kill your bullpen.

J:  I want to go back and touch on that revenue-sharing thing.  Obviously that changes now you've moved into Target Field, or actually it changes after the season, how does the organization expect that to affect the money that's being put into the payroll?

RA:  The one thing that's difficult is this year we're in a really good situation because we get revenue sharing, it's based on last year rather than this next year.  So after this season, we're going to lose...we probably won't get any revenue sharing money to be honest with you.  That's a lot of money that we used to get, so the revenue that the stadium generates and the extra money that we get is going to be offset somewhat.  But it's not like after this season our payroll is going to go up another $20 million or something, I think we're pushing the limits already where we're at right now.  We're going to have to see where it goes and what revenue is produced, maybe some unexpected revenue or whatever--we've based out budget, basically, on close to selling out every game.  So we're pushing the limits, and we'll know more after this season what we'll be able to do.

J:  Are there any thoughts as to how Target Field might play?  Is the wind going to blow out to right field, or...

RA:  You can do all the wind studies you want, like the Yankees did.  You don't know until it's built, and you start playing in there.  Some people think the wind's really going to carry to right because there's an opening out beyond the right field bleachers.  There's other people who think wind might actually blow in from there, and it might be kind of a horse shoe effect or boomerang effect where the wind actually blows out more to left than it does right.  There's a lot of people with a lot of theories, but I don't think we're really going to know until we get in there.  We just hope that it plays fair.

Our inital goal was to have something like Seattle, but we just didn't have enough room to be able to have the dimensions in the park that they did.  So it ended up being very similar to the Dome with the dimensions.  Four foot shorter down the left field line, two feet longer down the right field line and the gaps are similar, actually.  A little bit longer in left-center I believe, and center field's four feet closer, so it's very similar to the Metrodome.

J:  Have there been any free agents you've contacted over the winter than have said "No, I don't want to play in Target Field because it's going to be snowing in April"?

RA:  No.  To be honest with you we had great reception from free agents that we talked to because they all thought we were going to be a pretty good team, and they wanted to be in that situation and have a chance to win.  When you get a 39-year old Jim Thome and a 32-year old Orlando Hudson, they want to be on winning teams.  We were out-bid by some teams for some of the players that we got.  But they chose to come here because they like the situation, they like the players on our team and they thought we have a chance to win.

J:  So what are the expectations going forward for the club into 2010?

RA:  First off we'd like to win the Central Division.  Hopefully we win the division, and then we need to start winning some games in the playoffs.  We've gotten there five of the last eight years.  Now we'd like to do some damage in the playoffs, find a way to beat the Yankees, or anyone else we might come up against in the post-season.

We had the lead in all three games last year and it was disappointing that we didn't win any of those games.  We want to be competetive and take the next step--not just make the playoffs, but do some damage and get back into a situation where we have a legitimate chance to win the World Series.

J:  Looking forward, when do you expect some of the younger guys, like Ben Revere and Rob Delaney, to be able to contribute to the team?

RA:  I think we have a handful of guys--Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney, Anthony Slama--that are very close to being able to pitch in our bullpen.  I'm excited to see them in spring training to see if they can handle it and how close they are.

Ben Revere, you know what, he's not that far away.  He's been able to hit.  He just played in the Florida State League last year, I'm guessing he'll be starting in center field in double-A this year, and once you get to double-A you're a phonecall away.  If you're the best guy, and he's tearing it up there and we need a center fielder or something, if there's not a guy in triple-A that we think is ready to come up and help us, he might get the call.

Like I say, once you get to double-A you're not far off and anything's possible.  We really like what he can do offensively and defensively and with his speed, so Ben Revere's probably getting very close to being a big leaguer.

J:  Brilliant.  Right, just like last time I'll finish up by doing a little word play.  I'll toss out a name, give me back the first word that comes to mind.

RA:  Alright.

J:  Scott Baker.

RA:  Steady.  Would love to have him healthy from day one.

J:  Delmon Young.

RA:  Enigma.

J:  Jesse Crain.

RA:  Rebound.

J:  Jim Thome.

RA:  Gentleman.

J:  Jacque Jones.

RA:  Hustle.

J:  Excellent.  Cheers Rob, thanks for doing this.

RA:  No problem, you're welcome.
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