Twinkie Town Q&A with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony, 2012

With pitchers and catchers reporting this weekend, announcing the official end of my winter doldrums, I was able to have a long talk with Twins Assistant General Manager Rob Antony on Friday. We covered a lot of ground, and as a result this ended up being our longest chat in the years that we've been running this feature. This year we run the gamut from talking about the backup plans for Justin Morneau, to the rumors surrounding Denard Span at the trade deadline, to what the Twins see in their four biggest free agent signings.

I'll warn you, just like last year, it's a long read. So grab yourself a beverage, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Rob and the Twins for being the great people they've always been with us.

Jesse: I’d like to get your reaction to the veritable sink hole that was the 2011 season.

Rob Antony: Number one, going back and addressing the 2011 season, there’s no denying it’s tough when you lose some of your top players to injury. Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau – those guys were out a substantial amount of time. So was Kubel, he missed quite a bit of time. But we also had a little bit of a stretch where it looked like we were going to get into this thing, that was mainly due to our starting pitching, they were pitching very well.

J: Just before the All-Star break, is that what you’re referring to?

RA: Correct, correct. Then, all of a sudden, when Baker goes down and Liriano’s on the DL, and Blackburn was down, really the only starter who stayed healthy all year and did what he was supposed to was Carl Pavano. When you have that many injuries, or when you have so many guys under performing or not having the years you were hoping for, then it’s a recipe for a 99-loss season.

J: Have you ever experienced something like this in your time with the Twins? Such a season where so many things went wrong?

RA: No, it was a perfect storm, where so many things that could go wrong did go wrong. There were a couple of bright spots: Glen Perkins had a breakout year and did a nice job out of the bullpen, and Michael Cuddyer did everything he could and battled through some things. He provided some leadership and was our lone All Star. Other than that we didn’t have too many bright spots last year.

J: Speaking of Cuddyer, at what point did you have to start the process of moving on from the Michael Cuddyer era in Minnesota?

RA: I think it was probably…basically, it was when we got the impression that we were not going to be able to re-sign him. He was our number one priority all off-season. We talked with his agent, had some conversations, and before we made a move in another direction I believe we had exhausted about everything we could to get him signed for what we could afford, what we thought were the right numbers. For all things, once we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to be able to re-sign him, or Kubel for that matter, we moved on.

We were in talks with Josh Willingham’s agent. We thought that those three players were very comparable. Willingham wanted to come here, and was willing to do something, and the numbers were there that we believed were fair and equitable.

J: When you spoke to Cuddyer and Kubel, did you get the sense that coming back was something that they wanted to do?

RA: I think you’d have to ask both of those guys that, because most of our conversations were through the agent. I know that it’s been widely publicized that a lot of people think, especially the position players, that it’s tough to hit for power in Target Field. I know that was a little bit in Jason Kubel’s head, he talked about that with me. I’m not sure that was so much the case with Cuddyer. I think Michael was just looking at it from a lot of different perspectives.

Last year was a very frustrating year for a lot of our players as well, because coming off of the 2010 season I know we lost some relievers, and I know some things changed, but we came into spring training believing that we were contenders to win the division again. The season, the way it played out, was very disappointing for some of the players – or a lot of the players – so you would have to ask him.

I think he was disappointed. I always believed he wanted to come back. I always believed he wanted to be a Twin for his entire career. But, I think there were a lot of factors that played into his decision.

J: Is this Kubel or Cuddyer?

RA: That was Cuddyer.

J: Going back to Willingham, what was it that first put him on your radar, and at what point did you seriously believe that he was going to be your guy?

RA: Right-handed power and production, basically. He’s pretty much a pull hitter, and right-handed hitters who have hit for power at Target Field have pulled the ball. You get into left-center and center field, it can be tough to get it out of there. Sometimes it depends on the weather and a lot of other things, but Willingham has pull power. He hits for power, he drove in runs last year, he’s always been a guy with a good rate of production. He’s had his bouts where he’s had trouble staying healthy, but hopefully that’s behind him. That was a few years back. We believe that he’s the type of guy who can put up similar numbers to what we were looking at with Kubel and Cuddyer.

J: And he did crush one at Target Field last year, didn’t he?

RA: He did, he did.

J: There’s one that sticks out in my mind, I’m thinking second deck. He absolutely just destroyed the ball.

RA: He did. And he hit almost 30 home runs playing for Oakland, which is definitely a pitcher-friendly ballpark, too. So it’s not like he’s coming from a small ballpark or that we’re hoping the power will play at Target Field. He’s never really played for a team that was in a really hitter-friendly ballpark, so I don’t think we’re assuming or guessing or hoping that the numbers are going to change. We’re more or less just counting on him to do what he’s done in the past.

J: Willingham constitutes the biggest free agent signing in Minnesota Twins history, correct?

RA: Correct.

J: And as a power hitter, you talked about the power that plays at Target Field, what kind of research did you undertake to ensure that the power would play at Target Field consistently?

RA: It’s hard to do. You check a lot of ballpark factors. You look at a lot of different things, but there are so many different things that go into that. Some of it, left handed hitters…it’s hard to say it’s proven, or anything else, because we’ve had two years’ worth of data to go off of at Target Field. But with the right field wall, and the opening out beyond right field, when we built the ballpark one of our concerns was after seeing how Yankee Stadium played the first year was "Oh no, the ball’s just going to fly out to right." Actually it’s had the opposite effect, where the wind blows in more from right field and kind of swirls around a little bit.

So you talk to the Morneau’s and the Mauer’s, some of the other guys, the Kubel’s, and they talk about it: it’s hard to pull a ball out of there. You gotta really get a hold of it. Jim Thome didn’t seem to have a problem…

J: I was going to say! Unless you’re Jim Thome…

RA: (Laughs) Yeah. I don’t think he has much of a problem anywhere with the kind of power he generates. But he’s a bit of a different guy, and that’s why he’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day. Another left hander might not be able to do some of the things he can.

But a lot of it is just watching how it plays, watching how guys react. Sometimes it gets to a point where it gets so deep in a player’s head, it’s hard to change it. You can’t change your ballpark. So, sometimes, a player needs a change of scenery just to get it out of his head. I think sometimes that’s the case, and even Kubel would admit that he lives off of power and run production. When he’d go on the road he felt more comfortable. When he was at home he felt it was much more difficult to hit for power.

J: Speaking of changes of scenery – what led to the Delmon Young trade last summer?

RA: We got to the point where we looked at it, and we saw Delmon Young, we saw Cuddyer and Kubel were going to be free agents, and we knew we couldn’t afford all of them. We started to prioritize and realized we would like to try and bring Michael Cuddyer back, and we would like to try and bring Jason Kubel back. That meant that rather than keep Delmon Young for the rest of the season, and then try and do something with him after the season, it made more sense to try and move him at that point and see what we could get for him. Rather that get into a situation where we might not tender him.

You just get to a point where you have to decide where you might put your dollars, and we opted to go in a different direction. Even though we didn’t bring Kubel and Cuddyer back, the dollars that we did spend there we spent on Doumit and on Willingham.

J: A few of the dollars, I suppose, went to Matt Capps. How do you quantify the value between the potential performance of a guy like Matt Capps and the draft pick compensation that you could get in return?

RA: I think when we looked at Matt Capps individually, we said "We think he can be more like the 2010 version of Matt Capps than 2011." He had a year where you can’t explain some things. He gave up some home runs, and a lot of them were just bad pitches. He wasn’t locating as well as he had in the past. I don’t think his slider was as good as it was in the past, and I don’t think he had as much life on his fastball.

J: Did that have anything to do with…I can’t remember, was it his wrist or his elbow?

RA: Yeah, he had some issues, and he’s one who will never, ever, ever make an excuse. And if you ask him now he’ll say "I was fine, I just didn’t pitch well." Now we know differently and that there were issues surrounding that, but he wasn’t going to be the guy who landed on the DL and watched his team wither away. He was going to take the ball, not make any excuses, and just go out and give it his best effort and not worry so much about the numbers. He is a consummate team player and I’m not sure everyone understands that.

There are other guys who may say, "Y’know what, if I’m not 100%, I’m not going to play and watch my numbers go down. It’s going to affect me, it’s going to affect free agency," and all kinds of other things. He’s not one of those guys. We appreciate that, he’s great in the clubhouse, he’s an absolute team guy.

This was a situation where rather than going and getting another closer when Nathan signed with the Rangers, and when we looked at what other guys were out there, we believed that bringing Matt back was the right thing to do, just to help stabilize and let everybody else settle back into their roles. Let Perkins know he’s going to be a set-up guy, and go try and get some other guys to help out in the bullpen. We’ll know after this season if it was the right call or not.

It’s hard to quantify. I mean, if we let Matt Capps go and he signs with somebody else, we get a compensation pick between the first and second rounds, but there’s no guarantee on those players either. Everybody loves to have the draft picks, we’re no different. We’re thrilled to be getting extra picks for Kubel and Cuddyer, but we have to make them pan out. Some of them do, some of them don’t. That’s just the reality of it.

J: How do you straddle the line between guys who are going to tough it out and want to go play, and guys who are too hurt to play but will want to anyway, even to the detriment of themselves or the team?

RA: I think you really have to trust the player, and give him the benefit of a doubt where if he believes he can’t play and get out there and perform, or perform up to his ability, or would rather wait to come back to play at his peak performance, I think you have to trust and believe in that.

I’m not accusing players of sitting out on every little injury, or anything like that. All I’m saying is that some players would rather not go out than not be at their best, and other guys would rather just say "Give me the ball, I’ll go out there, I’ll get through it, I’ll give you what I got." Sometimes you recognize that, or sometimes you try and give guys a break even if they say they’re ready to go. We never want to put the player in a situation where he can hurt himself or the team, or damage his career.

J: How did the Joe Nathan era end? You read reports that once Texas offered him the contract, he was gone. Was there any feedback from Nathan or his agent as "This is Texas’ offer, would you like to counter?" Or was he just gone?

RA: He was just gone. There was none of that, because basically he got into a situation where a team wanted him that he believed had a chance to win a World Series, and he felt very comfortable going into that situation and wanted to take advantage of it. When you get to a point in your career like Joe’s at, we don’t begrudge him whatsoever for looking at it.

All players will say "Before I’m done I’d love to win a World Series," and just about everyone means it. When you get to a point in your career where, when you get into your mid 30s like Joe, and went through a serious injury…he battled back, gave us everything he had, he was a professional in every way, shape and form his entire time with us in Minnesota. We appreciate everything he gave us, and we do not begrudge him whatsoever.

Texas has an unbelievable organization.

J: They’re pretty good…

RA: They’ve put together a great team and he’s got a chance to win a World Series there. And that’s what he deemed was important to him. The dollars weren’t substantially different, it’s not like what we were looking at was much different than what he got, but we don’t have the same team that they have. They’ve been to the World Series two years in a row. Joe’s looking at that and thinking "I want to take a crack at this."

J: Signing Jason Marquis gives the Twins enough pitching depth to keep Liam Hendriks in Rochester to start the season. Are there two or three guys, besides Liam, who you expect to come up and really make an impact over the next two or three years?

RA: I think Scott Diamond is a guy who can pitch for us to the back end of the rotation. I think there are a few other guys who will be coming along, but that’s probably the one area where we don’t have great depth at the higher levels, starting pitching. It’s going to be an issue for us.

Duensing has done it up here for us, but the signing of Marquis might allow us to maybe slide Duensing and Swarzak to the bullpen and solidifies that some, while at the same time not losing anything out of your rotation. So rather than chase a lot of journeymen relievers, and relievers are so volatile from year to year…it’s tough, a guy can have a tremendous year one year and struggle the next year, or you think he’s on the downward side and then he bounces back the next year. Trying to predict the relievers is very difficult.

So by getting Marquis, we think we’re getting a guy who can give you some innings, he’s a competitor, and like I said he can help us slide Duensing into the bullpen. That doesn’t mean that a year from now Duensing might not be back in the rotation, he has the versatility and the ability to do both. We thought that signing Marquis was an opportunity to stabilize both the rotation and the bullpen.

J: Looking ahead to next year, Liriano is in his last year of team control, Pavano and Marquis are going to be free agents, Baker could be a free agent although he has an option for 2013. Have you started looking forward to next year and thinking "Right, what do we need to do to set ourselves up in a good position?" As you mentioned, there isn’t a lot of starting pitcher depth in the upper minors, particularly with Kyle Gibson possibly still being unavailable to start 2013.

RA: It’ll be difficult, [Gibson] might pitch at the tail end of this season, but it’d be hard to pencil him in and count on him for the 2013 rotation. The one thing is, with all those guys coming off, all that salary comes off the books as well. It leaves us some dollars to go get some guys. It doesn’t mean that’s the way we want to continue to operate, we are starting to build through the system with some starting pitching that I think will be able to help us in the next few years. Maybe not in 2013, but we will have some payroll flexibility to address some of those holes.

Scott Baker, if he goes out and does what he can do over a full season, there’s a chance we bring him back, pick that option up, and you plug holes that way as well as looking at guys who are similar to Marquis. Maybe Marquis becomes our Pavano. We got him to try and help out a couple of years ago and we ended up signing him back for a couple more years. There’s nothing to say that Pavano might not be back with us next year.

There are a lot of things that happen over the next year, between now and then, and we’ll address those things. But when you get draft picks and when you make deals you always try to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future so you can try to address some of those needs as well.

J: Assuming Joe Mauer is healthy, and I think we all hope he will be, is Chris Parmelee your first baseman if, for whatever reason, Justin Morneau can’t play as much first base as you’d like?

RA: He would be in competition with Steve Pearce and with Sean Burroughs. Parmelee had a great September; his September in Minnesota was better than his season was in New Britain. So you have to be a little bit careful there. He had a great month…

J: Small sample size?

RA: Right. Exactly. We hope that continues. He showed us the things we believed he could do when we drafted him in the first round out of high school a few years back. So I think he’d be in contention there.

Ideally we want Morneau healthy and playing first base, and Parmelee hopefully back in Rochester playing a full year in triple-A, get that under his belt and help to prepare him to be a mainstay in our lineup down the road. But, that’s ideally what we would like to happen.

J: Going back to Mauer, if he does need some time away from the catcher position, is Doumit the backup?

RA: I think Doumit is the backup, he’s more comfortable catching. He can play first if you need him to, he can play some right field. He will definitely get some DH at-bats. But hopefully Joe’s healthy, his goal is to catch 130 games this season. We’d be thrilled if he did that, and Doumit plugs in the other games or whatever. There’s a chance we could carry a third catcher so that when we want to DH Doumit we can, and have Mauer behind the plate, and not be in a position where you’d lose your designated hitter if Mauer has to come out.

That’s something Gardy will have to decide, if he wants to carry three catchers or not, but we’re hoping that a majority of the innings are caught by Mauer, backed up by Doumit.

J: Breaking camp, how much influence does Gardenhire have on which players go north? Traditionally the Twins carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers, but with all of the players who are out of options and with potentially bringing Butera along as a third catcher, is it possible the Twins go north with 14 position players and 11 pitchers this season?

RA: It’s a possibility. It’d have to be something where we sat down at the end of the spring and looked at it…and it’s going to depend, because we do have a few relievers in the bullpen, in Duensing and Swarzak, who can give you multiple innings. It’s harder to do if your bullpen consists of mainly one-inning guys, or guys who might stretch out to two innings.

It’ll depend on who’s in the bullpen, on the health of the rotation, and how comfortable you are if a guy looks a little bit out to you or if you’re not sure you can get a lot out of them. It’s spring training, so guys aren’t stretched out to where you want them to be, so it’s difficult to go with 11 pitchers, but it’s a possibility.

Terry and Gardy will sit down at the end of the spring and hash all of that out. You never force players on a manager, and you never run a manager into a situations where can’t manage the way he’d like to. We do everything in concert, together, discussing all those things, so I’m sure we’ll have a conversation or two before it’s all said and done how the final 25 will be comprised.

J: Assuming he’s healthy, how does Joel Zumaya fit into the bullpen hierarchy?

RA: We would love to have him be a seventh inning or an eighth inning guy for us, and he adds that element that we’ve been lacking: a guy who can come in and strike people out, a power pitcher. Somebody that the other team does not like to see running in from the bullpen. We haven’t had a lot of intimidating guys, or guys who can bring it up there like he can.

Obviously we’re going to have to be careful with him, especially early in the season. You probably won’t see him on back-to-back days much. Hopefully he gets through the first few months and then we start playing him by ear. We can let him dictate how he’s doing. And it would be nice to not have to use Glen Perkins every game.

Hopefully we can get on a run where we’re using our set-up guys to try and set Capps up for the save, and you’d like to have more than one option for your eighth inning, and hopefully Zumaya can be one of the guys to do that.

J: I’m not going to take credit for it, because I just can’t do it, but one of the discussions we had on the website prior to the signing of Zumaya was looking at some under-valued relief pitchers who could help the team. One of the topics was offering Zumaya a Major League contract in the hope that it would encourage him to come our way. Was the fact that he was offered a Major League contract a defining factor in his decision to come to Minnesota?

RA: I think that was definitely a separator and I’m not sure if anybody else did offer him that Major League roster spot. We looked at it as a calculated risk, as a pitcher who hasn’t stayed healthy since 2006. He’s had several issues, but when he’s healthy is one of the best set-up men in the game, in my opinion. But obviously with a guy who’s had as many arm issues as he’s had, there’s risk involved.

We thought it was worth the risk, and we had enough roster flexibility to offer him a spot. And we were willing to roll the dice on this because we have the belief that…well, he came in, our doctors examined him, he passed his physical exam, everything. There was enough confidence on our part that he can stay healthy, and that he is healthy right now, at least, so we were willing to do that.

J: When the season ends, one of the more popular things on our site is for our writers to put together a blue print, to kind of predict how the Twins are going to approach the off-season. We talked about Zumaya, we talked about Willingham, Doumit, Carroll. Can you actually confirm or deny the fact that you read my blog and stole my ideas?

RA: (Laughs) I don’t want to crush your ego…(Still laughing)

J: (Laughs) Do you guys read any of the Twins blogs?

RA: Jesse I got to be honest with you. When you lose 99 games, I don’t read any of that stuff, because there isn’t anything good or positive that is written or said or anything else. And you know what, we’re licking our wounds as much as anybody. All the fans are frustrated, disappointed. Everybody has their thoughts, opinions or suggestions, and we went through some of our own turnover and change in November. We’re just trying to do as many things correctly as we can to try and get the ship righted for our fans, for the organization and everybody else. There are a lot of ideas…

I did see one. I can’t even tell you who wrote it, but they had written "Here’s what I would do if I was the Twins’ General Manager", and unfortunately if we were to do that, we’d only have needed about $20 million dollars more to execute that plan. (Laughs)

So sometimes you can look at it and say "Well, why didn’t the Twins do that?" We would have loved to have done a lot of that, we would have loved to have gotten into the mix for a lot of guys who are big shots, but that’s just not the way it works. We have some constraints and some budgets to work through, and you know what, with what we’re given we ought to be able to put together a winning team. That’s the way we look at it.

We used to look at this and try to put it together with $40 or $50 or $60 million dollar payrolls. So, to be looking at a $100 million dollar payroll we’re not going to be making any excuses. If we don’t get it done it’s because we didn’t get the right guys, or guys didn’t perform. But it’s not due to a lack of support from our ownership.

J: And the fact that the Twins are still fielding the second largest payroll in team history this year, correct?

RA: Absolutely, yeah.

J: I just want to touch on a couple of the rumors that have been talked about the last few months, and then we’ll move onto questions from the readership.

Going back to last year. There were rumors of Denard Span going to Washington for Clippard or Storen. How deep did those talks go?

RA: All I would say is that, at the trade deadline, we had…there was interest in Denard, and Washington was definitely interested. We listened as we always do. Some of the names that were thrown around were mentioned in conversations, but I don’t think we were ever close to doing anything, to be honest with you.

J: One of the names that intrigued me when it came out, as always happens with fans, you heard that Martin Prado was on the block. Was there ever any interest on the Twins side of calling Atlanta to see what it would take?

RA: There’s a lot of players that you read…we read some of the same trade rumors and everything else. It is becoming more prevalent where general managers will check in and say "Hey, look, I’m not trying to chase down rumors, but if you are interested in trading this player, we would have interest." There are a lot of names that pop up where we do a lot of that same thing. "Look, if youre looking to move this guy, he could be a fit over here. I don’t know what’s fact and what’s rumor, but if you are serious in trading a player we’d like to be kept in mind, we have some interest."

J: (Starts)

RA: I won’t address any players directly, of who those players are. But that happens a lot now, it happens more and more when you see stuff pop up on Twitter, or you see stuff floating through the internet and on different sites, where clubs will get in touch with each other and say "Hey, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but if you’re looking to move somebody or if this guy is available, we would have interest." There are a lot of players that this happens with, and we get some of the same things coming our way.

J: We’ll move onto the fan questions. I have one here from Megan. She says: "The organization has shown a lot of faith in Alexi Casilla. Jamey Carroll was brought in as a free agent. Nishioka has some money committed to him. Can any of these guys be pencilled in as a starter for 2012?"

RA: Well we’re hoping that two of the three are going to be a starter for us. (Laughs) You know last year was a disappointment. I have a hard time getting down on Nishioka when you have a guy who’s coming in, had a good spring training, showed that he could do a lot of the things we thought he could do, and then the first week of the season he breaks his leg.

J: Did that stunt his development?

RA: Absolutely. He’s trying to adjust to a new team, a new country, a new league and style of play, and on top of that everything else, and then he’s away for a couple of months trying to get healthy and trying to rehab an injury when he’s never hardly been injured in his life. So that was another new thing to him.

Now he comes back in the middle of the season when everybody else is in mid-season form and he’s starting over like he’s in spring training. He never really had a chance to get his feet on the ground, or to get going and show some of the things that I think he can do.

I’m not trying to say that what you saw last year, this guy’s an All Star, we’re not trying to hype anything, but I honestly believe that he deserves a mulligan for last year. We’re hoping that he’s going to come in this spring, be a little more comfortable because he’s going to know some of the people, the area, and he’s going to know what to expect. Last year everything was new to him. Hopefully he relaxes and plays the type of ball that we think he can.

And I think he’s going to battle Casilla for that second base job. We’ve gotten excited over Alexi Casilla about three or four different times since we’ve acquired him, and for whatever reason he’s either gotten hurt or he hasn’t performed, and he’s never been the guy we thought he could be. But he’s shown, even for three or four weeks last year, he got into a roll after an awful first six weeks, he got into a roll when we moved him back over to second base and he was playing really well, then he went a month where he was decent…

J: And then he got hurt.

RA: And then he got hurt again. Guys have to stay healthy, stay on the field if they’re ever going to prove that they’re a regular in the lineup.

J: That leads into my next question, from Evan: "Where is the line for a player you’ve committed yourself to, and what happens when they struggle?"

RA: Well, I think he’s directly referring to like a Nishioka. Basically, coming into the spring, Nishi’s got to make the team. We’re going to take the 25 best players, whether we’ve committed money to them or not. If he’s on the team and he’s not helping on the field or contributing to the win, then any player in that situation, no matter who you’re looking at, you have to make some changes and some adjustments. Sometimes you’re hamstrung a little bit, when a player is out of options and you believe he’s just going through a tough time. You’ve got to stay with him because you don’t want to expose him to outright waivers where somebody else claims him and they get him, and he gets on track and does exactly what you thought he would do, but you just lost patience with him.

So sometimes it’s patience that’s that fine line. Other times you just have to take the best players and if you get to a point where you’re saying "You know what, we’ve given this guy enough chances, if he can’t get it done then we have to try somebody else."

The reason we went out and got Jamey Carroll is because we plugged in a number of different guys at shortstop last year, and now we just want somebody who will pick the ball up, make the routine play – not prolong innings, not leave pitchers out there for an extra 20 pitches, and not put the team into a hole when you just scored two runs and then give two back because you didn’t turn a double play to end the inning or didn’t get that third out. You can’t give away outs. You can’t leave your pitcher and everybody else out there on that field longer than they should be.

J: And Carroll has a penchant for getting on base. He has a history of getting on base, he’ll be perfect to slot in there right in front of Mauer.

RA: He should be the ideal number two hitter. I think he’s had three straight years of .370 on-base, or better, and he takes good, professional at-bats. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t put up big numbers, but I don’t think he got caught stealing last year. I think he was 10-for-10. So he’s a good base runner, a smart base runner, and even though he’s into his upper-30s, I think he’s 37, it’s not a situation where you’re looking at an "old" player. He’s in great shape. He might not have the same range as some other players, but like I say, sometimes the range and athleticism doesn’t always translate to making the play and getting the outs that you need.

J: One quick transition back to Nishioka, just to confirm how it works with international free agents. If he doesn’t make the team, can he go to Rochester, or do international free agents not have options?

RA: They have options. Some international free agents negotiate into their contract that they cannot be optioned out without their approval. He does not have anything in his contract like that. He could be sent to Rochester if he doesn’t make the club.

J: Okay. From Amy: "I live in Florida, and heard that the Twins are planning on sprucing up Hammond Stadium. Are you adding something similar to the Budweiser Deck at Target Field?"

RA: Right now, all the things that we’re talking about and discussing with the county are in the infancy stages. I don’t think anything is set in stone. There are a lot of plans, a lot of ideas being thrown about, and I think that a lot of it has to do with trying to make it fan-friendly, and trying to come up with some of the amenities that our fans will enjoy and appreciate. So some of those things: boardwalks, roof decks, some of the things like that have been discussed, and they are in conversation about all that as we speak.

J: We talked about injuries in our conversation today, and Cody asks: "What steps are the Twins taking to avoid the maelstrom of injuries and health debacles of last season?"

RA: I think that’s a two-part thing. I think some of it falls on the players and their responsibility to take care of themselves, and some of it falls on our training and medical staff that, maybe we need to do some preventative things. We need to identify potential situations where we maybe need to give a guy some time off.

Believe me, we have had more meetings with our training and medical staff this season than in the ten years prior to. And last year, these are the guys who were in place the year before, and the year before, and the year before that, so it’s not like all of a sudden they don’t know how to do their job. And last year, it was a perfect storm of everything that could do wrong, did go wrong. We believe we still have qualified people in position. They are doing some different things that will hopefully help the players stay on the field, and I think the players, after what happened last year, players are much more receptive to doing things that they may not have thought they needed to do before. We’re trying to make adjustments so all that never happens again.

J: One from my dad that I’ve had to re-word slightly. "How do you choose the free agents that you go after?"

RA: They have to be fits. Obviously we have positional needs. You do a background check, you do a lot of research, you talk to a lot of people about how a guy will fit into a clubhouse. If you’re talking about a player who might not be an everyday player, how does he handle that? How is he as a bench player, is he prepared? How does he prepare himself, is he a guy that will accept that role?

When you’re looking at starting pitchers, we’ve been criticised a lot for getting players that might "pitch to contact", we look at is as a matter of: do they throw strikes? Give your defense a chance to make some plays. And that was one of our downfalls last year was that our defense didn’t make plays, so when you have a pitching staff that pitches to contact and is willing to let the other team put it into play, you need to make the plays.

Every situation is different. We were looking for a shortstop. We looked at everyone from Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes, to Jamey Carroll, to other guys. You look at every guy differently, every guy has a different price tag. Some guys you can afford, some players you can’t afford, but you also have to have good fits. I think we were also looking for guys that might have some presence in the clubhouse. And I think Jamey Carroll and Willingham are going to bring that, Doumit’s going to bring that, he’s an intense guy, he’s a competitor. We were looking for some guys that were maybe going to help change the environment a little bit in that clubhouse as well. So there are a lot of things that go into it.

Sometimes you sign a Joel Zumaya who’s got a checkered history with his health, and other times you run away from a guy because "Geez, this guy just can’t stay healthy." But you weigh the risk and reward, and go deep into it. We break it down, we do a lot of statistical analysis, that’s a piece of the puzzle. You break down your scouting reports on the players. So there are a lot of factors that go into every decision that we make, and we get calls from agents everyday as we go through the course of the off-season. They have guys they think would be a good fit. We were an attractive club to a lot of teams because they saw there was an opportunity in the bullpen.

When you lose 99 games there are a lot of players just looking for an opportunity to get into the big leagues, they might be in an organization where they haven’t. We signed a lot of six-year free agents to try and create some depth, so that if we have to go get somebody, we don’t have to go get a 22-year old Liam Hendriks who’s not ready. It was a great experience for him, but he wasn’t ready to pitch in the big leagues when we brought him up. He did a great job. Joe Benson wasn’t ready to play in the big leagues. Chris Parmelee wasn’t, but he still had an unbelievable month so you wouldn’t know it by the way he played.

We’re hoping to be in a situation now where we’ve created some depth, so that we can go get some players who’ve maybe been there before, or who’ve been around a bit longer and will be able to handle it. Hopefully in the short term, not for a month or two, but when guys go on the DL this year like they always do, hopefully they’re more of the two or three-week variety rather than the two or three-month variety.

J: Talking about the minor league free agents: guys like Chris Colabello, Independent League Player of the Year, Jason Bulger who’s had success in the Majors in the past, even Darin Mastrioanni, who steals bases like a mad man and is always on base. Are any of those guys looked at as dark horse candidates to maybe make the roster, or are these guys brought in to supplement the roster as necessary down the road?

RA: Colabello, by the way, who was just signed – he’s not coming to big league camp. He was just signed as a minor league free agent.

J: Right, right, my mistake.

RA: It’s okay. Guys like Bulger and Burton and Casey Fien and Dumatrait, these are guys who have had some success. I think they’ll come in and compete with the Waldrops and Manships and guys like that out of the bullpen. Even guys who don’t make the team out of spring training will have a chance to help us out in the course of the season.

Position wise, Sean Burroughs – I can see him being a contributor for us. Off the bench, third base, first base. He’s a professional hitter who takes good at-bats. I think J.R. Towles will come in and compete with Butera for that third catcher spot, if we carry three. He and Rene Rivera. So I think we’re going to have some good competition. Steve Pearce has some versatility. In the outfield you’ve got Wilkin Ramirez and Matt Carson, whether they make it, I’m not sure there’s going to be a spot for them, but they’re going to come in and compete and be given an opportunity. But if there’s not, that’s not to say that they can’t go to Rochester, put up numbers and do well, when we need to go get a guy, we’ll grab the guy who’s playing the best and who can help us at that time.

J: We’re down to our final question, and I have to ask something in advance. Did you ever see the Will Ferrell impression of Haray Caray?

RA: (Laughs) I’m not sure I have, I’m sorry.

J: (Laughs) Well that completely blows the question, but I’m doing it anyway. Years ago when Will Ferrell was on SNL, he’d do this impression of Haray Caray that was absolutely ridiculous. He’d host a talk show and ask the most ridiculous questions. So, this question is from Chris. "If the moon were made of spare ribs, would you eat it?"

RA: (Very long pause, laughs) Well…what kind of sauce does it have on it?

J: It has barbeque sauce.

RA: What kind are they? Are they from Kansas City? Or…

J: (Laughs) I have no idea! You’re stumping me! All I know is, you have an opportunity to go back for seconds, and you can wash it down with an ice cold Budweiser. That’s all I know.

RA: (Laughs) That would probably be lower on my list than if it were made of pizza, or tacos.

J: That was a bit of a crazy question.

RA: (Laughs) It was a little bit off the wall.

J: The next time you go to YouTube, you have to check it out – any Will Ferrell impression of Haray Caray, it’s fantastic.

RA: (Laughs) I’m sorry, I killed that one for ya.

J: (Laughs) That’s alright! Rob, seriously, thank you very much. We love being able to do this with you every year, and it’s a favourite for our readers. Thanks for your time, it’s much appreciated, and good luck this year!

RA: I appreciate it, Jesse. Take care!

Past Q&As with Rob Antony:
Pre-2011

Pre-2010
Mid-2008

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