Twinkie Town Q&A with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony, 2013

Hannah Foslien

This year's edition of our conversation talks about last winter and this coming season, but there is also a good deal of focus on the future.

We're a few weeks later than usual on our annual catch-up with Twins Assistant General Manager Rob Antony, but as ever he was a good sport and gave me a good 30 minutes of his time. I'm sure he was pleased that I sat next to a clock this time because I'm notorious for taking significantly longer. I'd have no problem filling two hours, to be honest.

We cover a good deal of things in just 30 minutes, though. We talk about the Span and Revere trades, Hicks getting the center field job, the free agent market over the winter, and you'll definitely get a sense of what the organization's priorities were as they tried to build for 2013. All that and more awaits! Thanks to Rob and thanks to the Twins for their time.

Jesse: A couple of big picture things. What did the front office see as the bigger challenges facing them over this past winter?

Rob Antony: I think the lack of starting pitching depth in our organization and the lack of high-end potential starting pitching was our biggest concern, and that's what led to, first - trading Denard Span for Alex Meyer, who we believe has a chance to be a front line starting pitcher with great upside, and then after we made that trade the center field market, there was so much demand throughout the league, and some of the free agents that were available the price tag was higher than clubs wanted to spend, and we started to get a lot of calls on Ben Revere.

We basically just said: "You know what? It's not something we want to do, it's not something we intended to do, but the offers..." Basically we were demanding pitching in return and when we had the chance to get Vance Worley, who can help us now and down the road, and Trevor May who we don't think is all that far away, we pulled the trigger on that one.

And so between May and Meyer and Worley we were able to acquire three starting pitchers that would help us as we try to rebuild the depth and strength of our starting pitching in the big picture and down the road.

Jesse: You touched on a whole bunch of things that I want to get to at some point in this conversation. Quick sidebar: with Trevor May, if he does well could he be a guy who gets a September callup?

RA: It's possible. He's on the 40-man roster, and he pitched at Double-A last year.

Jesse: Right.

"But if he pitches well, there is absolutely a possibility that he could potentially get his feet wet this year." - On Trevor May


RA: He didn't have a tremendous year last year, and I think if he'd had a year like he did in 2011 he probably would not have been available for us to acquire. But if he gets off to a good start and pitches well at Double-A, I could see him landing at Triple-A at some point this year. A lot of it's just going to depend on how our club is doing and what our situation is as we get down into the later end of the season. But if he pitches well, there is absolutely a possibility that he could potentially get his feet wet this year.

Jesse: You talked about it not necessarily being the plan to trade both of your center fielders, but with that in mind how did your blueprint for the off-season change? I'm sure you guys had a plan after the World Series, and after the other 29 teams take their crack at things you have to adjust on your own. How did your blueprint change from say the beginning of November through the first week or two of January?

RA: I'm not sure it changed a whole lot, because our number one priority was to address our pitching. We thought that our bullpen did a pretty good job last year, and we were pleased with what we were looking at. We wanted to add some depth to [the bullpen], and we did that when we claimed Roenicke off waivers and we did that when we Rule 5'd Ryan Pressly. And we were looking at the Swarzaks and Casey Fiens, and Burton and Perkins and Duensing, and those guys coming back this year and we felt pretty good about our bullpen there.

We knew that we needed to get some starting pitching for 2013. Y'know, we let Liriano go. We had some conversation with him. We had some conversation with Baker, who ended up signing with the Cubs. But we were looking for some veteran guys. Thus we signed Kevin Correia and Pelfrey to add a couple veterans, to add some innings to the rotation to try and bridge the gap.

In Pelfrey's situation, it's an opportunity for him. Like Baker he had Tommy John last year so he's looking to rebound. It was a relatively modest base salary with some incentives. With Correia we signed him to a two-year deal because he has been very durable. We were basically just looking for that guy who could give us 170-180 innings and give us a chance to win. He's been able to do that throughout a majority of his career.

Those were two pieces we looked at that we needed for 2013. We want to be a competitive team, we want to keep moving forward. We weren't looking to...we don't want to dump and completely rebuild and focus on 2015 or something. We've got a lot of quality players with Mauer and Morneau and Willingham and Plouffe and some others that we can build around, and we thought we could be a competitive team. We wanted to add those guys (Correia and Pelfrey) to help the 2013 Twins and you never know what goes from there. But it also helps us bridge the gap until Gibson and May and Meyer and some of the others are ready.

Jesse: With the guys who left, specifically I'm talking about Liriano and Baker, was there mutual interest in those players returning to Minnesota?

"...we didn't want it to basically be a donation for 2013." - On why the Twins wanted an option year from Baker


RA: Ah, I'm not altogether sure. Because we had several conversation with Baker and one of the sticking points was that we were looking for a year with a club option so that, knowing that this might be a year that he wasn't fully healthy or fully ready to go, and if by season's end he was pitching well, we didn't want it to basically be a donation for 2013. We were hoping that if we did get him healthy then there was the opportunity for us to pick up an option and have him for the following year, so that your time and everything is more of an investment.

They really didn't have much interest in that. They just wanted a one-year deal and then get back on the market and show people that he was recovered and healthy and go for a bigger free agent deal after the season. So, everybody had different thoughts in mind for what they were looking to do, and what we wanted to do were just two different things.

In the Pelfrey case it was basically later in the season, we were looking for that guy and it was after we were engaged and were able to do some other things, and so we weren't so much looking for the guy guy we were looking to count on, like a Baker. And also, Pelfrey was, we thought, farther along in his recovery and would be able to pitch and give us something.

Jesse: That's another thing I wanted to ask. Obviously when guys undergo Tommy John surgery they're going to have different timetables for recovery. People sort of give general answers for how long it takes, but with Joe Nathan he tried to come back about a year after he blew his arm out and he ended up having to miss time. He was closer to himself those last three months before he became a free agent. With Pelfrey, even now he's not a full year removed from having surgery. What did you see - obviously he's been ready for Opening Day - but what did you see that led you to believe he'd be a smart signing for the season?

RA: We just thought that his throwing schedule was aggressive. We did a lot of checking with doctors and people who believed that he didn't have any setbacks. I believe his mentality was such that - "I'm ready to go, I want to pitch, I'm not afraid, I believe my arm is completely healthy and has recovered, I'm going to go out and show that."

He had targeted a few teams he wanted to go to and we were one of them. I think he basically said "I want to be a Twin, let's make this thing work", and it game together pretty quickly. It was a good fit for us because he was looking for the opportunity, he basically said "I want to come in and show you what I can do." Hopefully this turns into more than one year.

I think that mentality, as well as the fact that he was saying "I am GOING to be ready for Opening Day", there was no hesitation. Doctors that we talked to, and our trainers and doctors that looked at him, said that there's not any reason to not believe this guy because he's on an aggressive throwing program. If anything, we had to slow him down. But from day one of spring training he was in a regular group throwing his bullpen, and there were no issues and he was ready to go.

Jesse: That's a fantastic story. During the Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan said something to the effect of "Sometimes you can't give your money away." What was he referring to?

"We made very competitive offers...maybe even better offers than what players signed for. - On free agent starting pitching


RA: We made very competitive offers to a couple pitchers, and maybe even better offers than what players signed for. You get into a situation when you're coming off of two 90-plus loss seasons - some pitchers, and to their credit they are looking to land in a place where they'll get a chance to win, and some teams can just offer that and a player will look at it and believe it moreso than when we say "Hey, we're trying to win, too."

Jesse: Sure.

RA: Y'know, it's a lot easier for a team that's been in the playoffs to be saying "Hey, we're not rebuilding or anything else, we think you could be the last piece of the puzzle" or "You can add to a tremendous staff", that type of thing.

So we tried to get some guys. We went after some free agents who basically didn't have a lot of interest in coming here, just because they thought that at this point in their career they wanted to win and they thought they could get the money and win somewhere else better than...be in a better situation than they would be here.

Jesse: Now that we're past the fact, can you talk about which guys you targeted?

RA: I can honestly say that we were chasing after every starting pitcher that you can think of who might be able to help. (Laughs) We did not...we were trying to be in the mix, knowing full well that you're not going to get all of them, but we wanted to be in the mix on as many of them as possible, hoping to be able to land a couple. It was from varying degrees - guys that got a lot of money and signed big deals to guys who ended up getting one-year deals for less money. But sometimes that happens after the fact, after you've...after we had already signed Correia and Pelfrey there were still some guys out there.

What we didn't want to do, is we didn't want to sign another pitcher or two. We were talking with Joe Saunders til the very end. There were some other pitchers we had an interest in earlier in the off-season, but we didn't want to get into a situation where you go in and you have five guys locked up and you basically freeze out Liam Hendriks and Cole De Vries and Pedro Hernandez and some other guys, the Dedunos and Walters. We wanted there to be some competition, and we didn't want to be in a situation where guys came in and they knew they didn't have a chance.

Sometimes it's better for your team when there's some competition for that last spot. So unless we got the right person that we were really seeking, we weren't going to go get another guy who might not be a huge upgrade over a lot of those guys.

Jesse: So...and I'm sure you're not going to answer me but I'm gonna go ahead and ask you anyway...when you sit down for your first meeting and you've got your list of pitchers - who's at the top of your list? Who's that one guy you wanted to hit?

RA: I mean, there's...you could sit down and rank the free agent pitchers, and you would probably be pretty close to what our list would be. You can imagine who we looked at, knowing some were more realistic than others.

Jesse: Sure.

RA: The guys that got the most money, we were in communication with them. Some farther down the road than others. We met with, I would say, probably 15 different agents at the Winter Meetings, and we talked about how we absolutely have a need, how we obviously need to upgrade, and some would listen and say "Let me talk to my guy, it's intriguing" and that. Everyone's polite about it. Basically you find out later that it was a situation where, you know what? He'd rather pitch on the East coast or the West coast. There's always reasons. He wanted to get with a different club he thought had a better chance to win, he wanted to pitch for a National League club, there's a varying degree of answers. That's why you really need to zero in.

There are other guys that, the more you talked to, the more you research and the more information we gathered, the less interested we were. Whether it be medical reports, whether it be background information, off-field things, everybody does their due diligence and everybody talks to people, so we're doing our homework in the process as well. And sometimes you fall off of guys and lose some interest that you might have had before.

So you try and find the right fit, you try and find the right guys. We were satisfied with signing Pelfrey and Correia. There were other guys on our list that we would have been thrilled to get also. Some work, some don't, but both of those guys were excited to come here. Both of those guys filled a need that we had, and we thought that it was a good match.

Jesse: Looking at the big moves, the high-profile moves over the winter, what you've already mentioned - trading Span and Revere. Did you know which one you were going to trade? Did you say, right, we want [Revere] to take center field into the future so we'll trade Denard, or was it kind of an open thing that depended on the offers you fielded?

"...most clubs did not believe we would trade Revere." - On trading both center fielders


RA: I think initially we had more calls on Denard, and that was kind of the focus on it because most clubs did not believe we would trade Revere. He was young, he was cheap.

Jesse: Right.

RA: You have longer control of him. Everything that other clubs are looking for. So other clubs that were looking for a center fielder were more focused and more zeroed in on Denard. I think we had more conversations about him.

After we made that trade, a couple of clubs called and said "Is there any chance you would entertain Revere?" And we said we'd have to be bowled over. We're looking for pitching, and we're willing to listen.

We were looking at what commodities we had and how we could acquire pitching, and there weren't many other options that we had to acquire pitching without giving up pitching. When we looked at it that way we realized we couldn't turn a blind eye to it. We had Hicks coming, we had Buxton behind him. Those guys are improving and Buxton is obviously years away from the big leagues, but we thought Hicks was close if not ready. We knew there would be some growing pains. But at the same time we knew it was an opportunity that if we could get the pitching back in return it would fill such a void in our system that we had to entertain that.

Jesse: I know that, personally, that my favorite [moves] over the winter were the trades of those two guys. Personally - well done. Good job. (Laughs)

RA: (Laughs)

Jesse: Looking at the Revere trade, who else were you getting calls from?

RA: Philadelphia was kind of in and out, and then they came at us about Revere and we went back and forth with that. And there were a couple of other clubs, I don't want to talk out of school. (Laughs) But there were about four clubs that were in the mix.

Sometimes you have varying degrees of interest. Some teams hear that a guy could be available and they call to kick the tires. Other teams are much more aggressive and get into a name exchange - "What are you looking for?", "We could do this", "We could do that", "We could entertain this." As those things move along you get a sense of who's the most serious and who's ready to make a deal. Philadelphia was aggressive with that, and therefore we were able to get something done at the Meetings shortly after trading Span.

Jesse: Looking to the future of center field, Aaron Hicks was awarded the job out of Spring Training. What goes into making that decision? Obviously he's never played above Double-A. So is it a situation where you're looking at the Spring Training numbers and it's "Oh, that's fantastic", or are you looking more at his development and what's best for him going forward?

RA: It was a combination. He was very, very impressive in Spring Training. When you go out and say it's an open battle for center field, and it was primarily Hicks, Benson, and Mastroianni who were competing for that job, and one guy clearly outplays the other two and has a great spring, I'm not sure what message you'd be sending to that player and to the team when everybody's looking at him and saying "There's no reason he shouldn't be our leadoff hitter and center fielder."

You could say we should have sent him to Triple-A, but if that was the case then we should have said from the beginning "You know what, this guy hasn't played, we're going to bring him in and give him a look but we don't really think he's ready", so that no one's disappointed when the time comes.

We did look at it like an open audition for center field and he earned it in Spring Training. Not just with what he did on the field but in the way he carried himself day in and day out. He didn't get carried away, he didn't have any situations where he'd have a great game and the next day he didn't show up or was going through the motions. He carried himself well, he was very mature in the way he went about things, and he just looked poised and ready. He had a very good second half [of 2012] in Double-A.

And it's not the first time we've taken players from Double-A to the big leagues. Chuck Knoblauch, back in the day. Scott Erickson, there have been guys that...Mauer. We've had players in the past. To be honest with you there was a lot made about "slowing down the clock" and "if you just send him down for a month you pick up an extra year..."

Jesse: Right.

RA: I think we're kind of at a point right now where we want to put the best players on the field and we'll deal with all that down the road. If he's that good of a player we're going to do what we can to sign him long term and none of that's going to matter. We just want to try and do the right thing by the player and by the organization.

Jesse: Sure. And along with Hicks, Sano's on the way. Rosario, Kepler, Berrios. I really feel like the Twins system, at this point, is in the best shape it's been in for at least ten years. It's been quite a long time. The two trades made a big difference. So when you're looking forward and you're seeing all these guys who are going to be ready in two or three years, is there a plan for how you're going to build the team around them so that, when they get here, there's something in place that they're coming into?

RA: Well that's one of the things that was part of the plan. Especially with a guy like Hicks and Dozier and guys like that, you'd like to try and phase two or three of them in per year so that you don't have a year where you're bringing in eight rookies and you know you're just going to get beat up that year and they're going to learn the hard way and you hope they survive and everything else. If you can bring a couple guys, a couple rookies in each year, it helps infuse that and it helps to spread it out so that not everybody becomes arbitration eligible at the same time or free agents at the same time, all that stuff.

"...for the first time in a long time you can look at each position and you can envision that you could have a pretty good prospect at every position." - On the Twins farm system


By being able to bring those guys along now and you look at the next wave and you say, "Next year it's Gibson's turn, he'll be ready, and maybe May's ready next year". Not far behind them is going to be Meyer from the pitching side of things. Then you start looking at the position players, and Sano could come fast and Rosario's not far behind him, if he's behind him, they're both off to great starts at Fort Myers. Danny Santana's doing a tremendous job. You start looking, and for the first time in a long time you can look at each position and you can envision that you could have a pretty good prospect at every position. On the diamond as well as on the mound. We've had some pretty good arms come out of the last two drafts.

A lot of it's going to be whether they can stay healthy and whether they can progress, but we really like the velocity that some of those guys bring and it's a little bit more of your prototypical bullpen. The Royals have the bullpen that I admire, and there are other clubs as well, but when you can roll three, four, five guys out there that are throwing in the mid to upper 90s, that's pretty impressive. That's the way you'd love to be able to put a Major League bullpen together. They obviously have to be able to throw enough strikes and they need to have the makeup and the composure and everything else, but it's tough to go find that type of velocity and we finally have some guys who are coming up through the system who we think are going to be those types of guys. So hopefully over the course of the next three years we can blend them in.

Jesse: The exciting part about those guys, the guys that you're talking about in the minor leagues, the best part is - they miss bats. That's been one of the things that people have talked about with the Twins system for years is they, rightly or wrongly, they accuse the Twins of developing command pitchers, command pitchers, command pitchers. So it's great to see these guys posting good strikeout rates.

RA: And I think at one point we probably did put more emphasis on that than other clubs did, but we're no different than anybody else. It's great when you have pitchers who can get guys out on their own, when you don't leave things to chance. When you put balls in play, there are going to be balls that find holes and there are going to be mistakes that are left up that are hit a long way, but when you have guys who have stuff and can get people out and are able to get people out on their own...the most dominant pitchers are primarily strikeout pitchers. You get some guys who don't get the high strikeout numbers, but we're no different than anybody else and I think we have put a little more of an emphasis on that, especially the last few years.

When we went out and got Alex Meyer, we did him straight up for Denard Span because he throws in the mid to upper 90s, he's got a great curveball that's a strikeout pitch, and we believe he can be a dominant starter, a front line starter, with strikeout ability.

Jesse: He does look like he could be that guy. If Oswaldo Arcia continues to dominate pitching at Triple-A as he's done at every other level for the last three years, what more would he need to do to precipitate a callup and how would playing time be found?

RA: If he plays well at Rochester he will put himself in position to be called up if we have a need or an opportunity presents itself. It is a long season, with injuries and other circumstances arising, so he just needs to play well so that he is the guy to get the call if there is an opportunity.

"No." - On Aaron Harang


Jesse: Aaron Harang was recently traded to the Rockies and then designated for assignment. Is there any interest in bringing him in to help shore things up until guys are healthy?

RA: No.

Jesse: None at all?

RA: No, I don't think so. I think we're really close to being healthy. [Deduno] is going to be throwing bullpens and throwing live BP this week. He's not too far away. I don't think De Vries is going to be out for a long time. Scott Diamond is going to be back and probably starting for us this week. So I think that we have enough guys who are very similar to him that we don't need to go get guys. If it was last season, when all of a sudden Baker and Pavano and some of our other veteran guys were down, then it would be a different situation. But I don't think that's a fit for us right now.

Jesse: Okay. Just a couple more questions and I'll let you go. What kind of dialogue took place between the Twins and Jim Thome's people this year?

RA: We had conversations, but we haven't for a couple of months now. Basically we indicated that he could be a fit for us, and he indicated that he wanted to continue playing, but we weren't able to really get on the same page. He kind of knew where we stood from the beginning and we knew what he was looking for, but it didn't really go any further than that to be honest with you.

Jesse: Was it something where he was looking for a Major League contract and that wasn't something that the Twins could necessarily guarantee?

RA: Yeah, I don't really want to get into the details of the negotiation out of respect for a future Hall of Famer and everything else. We just weren't able to connect the dots to make it work.

Jesse: What do you see in the future for Justin Morneau?

RA: I hope he has a great year. It'll benefit everybody. We don't really know what to expect. He's had a couple of years with injuries. He's healthy now. Right now we just want him to go out and be able to play, not think about anything else, and after the season I'm sure we're going to sit down and talk with him and his representatives and see where we're at, and see what can be worked out or what interest level he has, what we're looking at, what they're looking at, and see if something works out.

The key for everybody is him staying healthy and going out and having a productive year again. If he does that everything's going to work out just fine for him. It would be great if he could be a Twin for life. He's a guy who's meant a lot for this organization and we'd love it if he were to play his entire career here, but you just don't know how things are going to work out in the end.

Jesse: I agree, that can't be an easy situation for a guy who's been here his entire career. One final question. Is there any preset guideline for what it's going to take to give a new contract to Gardenhire after the season, or is it more a case of evaluating how the team progresses throughout the year?

RA: I think a lot more was probably made of that than was intended to be. Just the fact that he had always been extended before his last year, coming off of two 90-loss years I just think the message basically was that everybody here - whether it be in the front office or down on the field - is that we need to do better. In fairness to the fans and ownership and everybody else, everybody was kind of put on notice that we need to do better.

I don't think that Ron Gardenhire's in any tougher shape than any other year. We're expected to improve, we want to improve, we want to do better, and I know he does as well. So I don't think it's as big of a deal as some people have made it out to be. Once again - he's done so much for this organization and a tremendous job. We're just hoping to have a good year, and three years from now people will look back at 2013 when there was talk of if he'd be back or not, and hopefully he's our manager for many years to come and we get this thing turned in the right direction. That's all of us really want to do is get back to winning and get back to playing the type of baseball that we got accustomed to playing and we just haven't the past few years - with sound fundamentals and throwing strikes and putting ourselves into a position to win everyday.

Jesse: I think that's it. You're a good man, Rob. Thanks for doing this with us, it's always good to talk baseball with you. Good luck this year.

RA: Thanks, Jesse.

Q&A, February 2012
Q&A, February 2011
Q&A, February 2010
Q&A, May 2008

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