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Twinkie Town 2016 Q&A with Rob Antony: Part II

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Welcome to the transcript of Jesse's visit with Twins Assistant General Manager Rob Antony. Byung Ho Park, Paul Molitor, Ricky Nolasco, Jose Berrios, Joe Mauer, and a great deal more will be covered within.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

You've reached Part II. If you have not already done so, I highly recommend first reading Part I.

JL: I want to go back to some of the things the Twins did over the winter. We haven’t talked much about JR Murphy yet. The Hicks-Murphy trade has been called one of the most equitable trades of the winter. I’m curious to know who called who first on that one.

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 1: John Ryan Murphy #12 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a photo during the Twins' photo day on March 1, 2016 at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

RA: There were basically just conversations. They touched base with us to see what our needs were in the offseason and one thing led to another. They talked about looking for some depth in their outfield and some versatility, somebody who could play center, and it felt like who they were targeting was Hicks. We talked about looking for catching, so they knew we were looking at Murphy as well. It turned into, basically, just a good old fashioned baseball trade, where we had a need, they had a need, we matched up well, and it worked out that way. Once we had identified that, both sides admitted – they didn’t have much interest in trading Murphy, but they knew that if they wanted quality back, they had to give, and we did the same, and it unfolded from there.

JL: I’m sure it probably helps the Yankees cause that they now have two players younger than 30 on their roster now…but we don’t have to go there.

It was a deal that went down pretty early. What kind of interest, if any, did you have from other organizations when you put out feelers for help at catcher?

RA: It was very difficult because there were a lot of clubs who were in the same boat as us, looking for catching. We thought it was important to strike early, because the free agent market wasn’t really a way to address what we wanted to do – and that was to acquire somebody that was more than just a one-year fix or a band aid. We were looking for somebody that could be around for a while. So when the opportunity came along, we wanted to be aggressive there because it’s hard to pry away young catching a team. Fortunately for us, the Yankees had some depth in that area, and we wanted to try and get something done with them when the opportunity was there, knowing that it would only get more difficult as there were a lot of teams who were going to be in the market for catching.

JL: Looking at the starting rotation, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gisbon – those are the three guys we always kind of knew were going to be pencilled into the rotation. Paul seems to really like Tyler Duffey, and I was watching the broadcast of the Twins game last night and Terry Ryan said that Tommy Milone was officially going to be in as the number five starter. What’s the fallout for guys like Trevor May and Ricky Nolasco?

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 16: Kyle Gibson #44 of the Minnesota Twins warms up prior to the start of the Spring Training Game against the Boston Red Sox on March 16, 2016 at CenturyLink Sports Complex and Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

RA: With Trevor May, I’m sure he’s a little bit disappointed. He’s always been a starting pitcher, he wants to be a starting pitcher, but he’s also a team guy. He shifted to the bullpen and was very successful in that role last year. He came in with a legitimate chance to try and be in the rotation – but with always the caveat and understanding that if all things are equal we know he can succeed in the bullpen, where some other guys we don’t know. I think he took the news as well as you can.

There’s probably some disappointment, but at the same time – I had a conversation with him in the winter and a year ago he would have said “I’ll take anything, I just want to be in the big leagues,” and a year later you can’t completely lose perspective and realize and understand you’ve been in the big leagues for a year now, you can’t really call your shots and “I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do.”

He’s a smart guy, he understands things, and he’s versatile, as we saw with the ability to pitch in short relief or for two or three innings if we need him to. But also, we see him as a starter down the road. But right now this is the best thing for our club.

Ricky is still in the mix for the rotation. Paul talked about Tyler Duffey early in the spring, he believes that off of what he did last year, he kind of had him pencilled in. And I would say he’s in the mix with Ricky for that other starting spot. I don’t think it’s locked in and nothing’s been given to him. Paul just said that “All things being equal right now, I would expect Tyler to be part of the rotation.”

So, Ricky has pitched well this spring. Duffey has pitched well and struggled, but you can’t get too carried away with spring training because, in particular, Duffey’s throwing a lot more changeups. He’s working on his changeup, and when you’re trying to improve or work on a pitch the team understands that you don’t get too carried away with the results. If he goes out and pounds his fastball and his breaking ball like he did last year, there’s probably a good chance to have similar success to what he had last year. That’s our hope and belief, but if he can develop that changeup that gives him a whole other look and he doesn’t have to just go to breaking balls against left-handers; it’ll improve his arsenal and give him more options.

JL: Listening to Darren Wolfson’s podcast from this week, he had spoken to you over the weekend about the statement that Ricky Nolasco’s agent had made. I heard your response, and I certainly understand that Nolasco, if he has to go in the bullpen, will be a good soldier. But do those kind of comments, or those kind of statements, do they have an effect on how many calls you get on his availability?

RA: No, I don’t think so. I think everybody knows the situation and that Ricky’s fighting for a spot in the rotation. There’ve been plenty of scouts here watching to see if we have excess pitching, or starting pitching, that we would be willing to move or talk about. That’s everybody doing their due diligence. But I don’t think anybody really worries too much about that.

Teams know that Ricky can start, and we know that – if he’s not in our rotation – we’ve never started the season with five starters and finished with the same five starters through 162 games. That would be wonderful but it just doesn’t happen. You have injuries, you have situations where you need to have seven or eight pitchers you believe can start for you. Having that depth is important for every organization. If Ricky’s not in the rotation to start the season, if he’s pitching in long relief, we know that the minute we need somebody he’s right there to jump in if he’s not in the starting five.

JL: I’m not sure how to ask this question. I’m not trying to come off as disrespectful to you or to Ricky by any means – but if a team comes calling and has interest in Ricky Nolasco, are the Twins willing to eat a certain percentage of the $25 million he has left on his deal?

RA: We haven’t discussed that at all, Jesse, to be honest with you. We’re trying to put together and figure out our roster and how our pitching staff is going to break down. If somebody came to us and had a trade proposal we’ll listen and we’ll listen to all the different parts of it, but we haven’t talked about eating money or anything else.

Ricky started off and had a good spring last year, started off relatively well and then he got injured. He worked very hard. Most people wrote him off and didn’t think he’d be able to pitch again last year, and he was able to come back at the end of the year. He wanted to try and help. He’s been a great teammate. So despite the fact that it hasn’t worked as we’d hoped when we signed him, we haven’t given up and we don’t believe that Ricky Nolasco isn’t a Major League pitcher.

However it falls out, we’re going to use him and we still believe he’s a quality Major League pitcher.

JL: Mentioning some of that rotation depth – how close to being Major League-ready is Jose Berrios?

Mar 13, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Jose Berrios (68) pitches during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

RA: He’s getting closer. He had a little bit of a tough outing the other day on the minor league side, he just didn’t have very good command of his fastball. But he’s shown indications that he’s getting closer and closer. I’m not sure he’s quite ready, but I also don’t think it’s a reach to say that there’s a good chance he’ll pitch for us in the big leagues this year at some point. When we start needing guys, he’ll be one of the first guys that’s considered if he’s pitching well in the minor leagues like he was last year and pitching like he can. If he doesn’t make the club he’ll be one of the first alternatives, and right now it probably looks unlikely that he would make this club because he’d have to make it as a starter. We wouldn’t put him in the ‘pen.

JL: One of the guys I want to touch on briefly is Alex Meyer. He seems to have some of the most electric stuff in the organization. He has some command issues, or some mechanical issues. He’s 26, you’d think he probably needs Major League innings – hopefully sooner rather than later. What’s his role in the organization?

RA: Right now he’s competing for a spot in the bullpen. For me he had an encouraging outing his last time out, because he walked the first guy on four pitches and he had every opportunity to hang his head or collapse, and he regrouped. He made good pitches, he got a double play to get out of the inning without any damage. He still has the arm strength, he still has the velocity, he still has the breaking ball. He’s worked on his arm slot, and when you do that it can be difficult because sometimes the breaking ball flattens out when you lower your arm slot. He’s trying to get his slot back up to where it was before the arm injury. Sometimes when you do that you can lose your feel for your release point, and I think some of that has happened to him.

We still believe in Alex Meyer. He’s still in competition for a spot in our bullpen. Like I say, especially the spots in the middle of that thing, they haven’t been determined and he’s competing for one of those spots. If he does not make it and he goes back to Rochester, it’s not a lock that he will pitch in relief as there is some sentiment that he needs innings, pitch development and repetition to regain form.

JL: I want to talk about Joe Mauer for a couple minutes, and then we’ll get to some community questions. Following Mauer’s admission earlier this year about his vision, I know it maybe came off a bit more serious than intended, maybe there was a bit of damage control done there, but how serious of a condition are these symptoms for Joe?

RA: I guess he’s the only one who can answer that question, but since we never heard about anything I think it was a situation where he thought it was a bit of an issue. But at the same time it wasn’t something that he wanted to be a crutch or an excuse or anything else. He has worn sunglasses down here, particularly in day games, whatever he’s more comfortable with. I will tell you he’s looked very good this spring. He’s taking good at-bats, and he kind of looks like the Joe Mauer who won some batting titles and had about a .380 or .400 on-base percentage a few years back. He’s taking his walks but not a matter of just going up there and taking pitches. He’s been aggressive on pitches to hit, but he’s also been selective with a good eye at the plate. We’ll take that, and I think Joe is going to have a pretty good year this year.

JL: I certainly hope so, I’m not trying to sensationalize it by any means. But I know one of the things he spoke about doing was covering each eye in turn between defensive innings. Injuries of this nature are serious and, for example, if symptoms continue through this season, is there a threat to his career longevity?

RA: I couldn’t begin to answer that, Jesse. That would be our medical people. Since Joe did that interview and that article came out and he addressed it, there has been virtually zero talk about it up here in our offices or down in the clubhouse or by Joe himself. In talking with the trainers, they knew nothing about it, he had not approached them or told them he was having any issues which, Joe, if he thought it was any legitimate concern or any danger to his health or anything else, he would have mentioned it. It was one of those things where he wasn’t as comfortable and wasn’t picking up the spin, and deducted it might be the after effects of the concussion.

We take concussions very seriously and if there are issues, we’ll deal with them. But at this point it’s not of great concern.

JL: That’s good to hear. Here’s hoping he can turn around and win another batting title or two before all is said and done.

Turning to questions from our community. Dan asks: How much say does the Twins PR team have regarding a player’s communication with the media?

RA: As much as anything, Dustin Morse and his communications staff prepare the players and let them know what to expect. But they’re not coached on what to say. We’ve never been big on telling players how to answer questions or what to say. We want them to be honest, speak freely, but as much as anything we just want them to be accessible, accountable – if they have a bad game, be out there to answer the questions. We stress accountability, accessibility, and an understanding that the media has a job to do just like you have a job to do. Be out front to answer questions whether you had a good game or a poor game.

JL: Scott asks: Carlos Quentin has taken some good at-bats and seems to be hitting the ball well. Is there a realistic path to the Opening Day roster for him?

RA: I think there is. I think there’s a possibility for him, he’s in competition with a few others. I think we view him, if he were to make this 25-man squad, that he would be a bat off the bench, a pinch hitter. He can be an occasional outfielder. I think you’d want to limit the innings and the amount of time he plays in the outfield. He’s fine, but he acknowledges and we understand, coming into camp, that he’s not an everyday player anymore. His body just wouldn’t hold up. But he’s shown good bat speed, really good hands to hit – he’s still a good hitter. I think he could be a productive player off the bench.

JL: A quick follow-up to that. Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana – two guys out of options, maybe pencilled in as guys on the bench. Are their spots guaranteed?

Mar 14, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins right fielder Oswaldo Arcia (31) connects for a base hit against the St. Louis Cardinals during the game at Roger Dean Stadium. The Twins defeated the Cardinals 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

RA: No. No, I think they understood that and we tried to explain to them and anyone else who would listen that we have players who are out of options but we are in a win-now mode. You have to earn your spot on this club. If you don’t, or if we think there are better options, we’re not afraid to expose them to waivers or trade or to do other things with players.

I’ll give Arcia a ton of credit. He spent the entire winter down here in Fort Myers getting his body in good shape. He looks terrific. He has not had great results as far as playing, but he’s giving it a good effort and he’s done everything we’ve asked and he’s given every indication that he’s ready to turn the page from what was a very, very difficult year last year, and look more like the player we had a couple of years ago.

JL: Amy asks: When you go on the road with the team, what are your favorite cities to visit?

RA: I guess two of my favorites are probably Boston and Chicago. I really enjoy going there, I just like walking around both downtowns, a lot of good places to eat and a lot of history in both places. They’re fun towns to visit. Depending on how we’re playing, that’s more important than anything. We can go to any city on the road, and if we’re playing well I’m enjoying myself.

JL: Dan, a different Dan than earlier, asks: How good does the potential pool of international signings look this year compared to other years?

RA: There’s always quality there. Maybe there’s a little more depth. But the top end, the few guys who get the really top-end dollars, there might not be as many high-end dollar guys as in the past.

JL: Pete asks: Can you please stop Justin Morneau from signing with the White Sox?

RA: (Laughs) There’s not a thing we can do unless we want to sign him ourselves.

JL: Craig: How do you identify players who are trying to tough it out through injuries, not saying anything, when they’d be better off trying to get better?

RA: Well, that’s something we’ve always tried to explain to the players. Number one, understand the difference between discomfort and pain-slash-injury, and if you believe that you’re injured, you need to communicate with the trainers because we don’t want to send anybody out there who’s not capable of playing up to their ability because of an injury. We definitely don’t want them to further injure themselves. They have to trust is, in that we’re looking out for their best interest. Some players want to be able to play through it and they just don’t think it’s very serious; it’s not anybody’s fault, but if they can communicate and talk with their trainer and their manager, sometimes just giving a guy a couple days is enough to head it off so that it doesn’t get worse.

JL: Bob asks: When will the public be able to have a walk-through of the player development complex in Fort Myers?

RA: We did a media tour when it opened, but with all the players in the academy it would not be right to bring people through. The media did a great job with video and pictures, but they are living in there now so for privacy and security sake we don’t run tours through now.

JL: Our final question comes from Rachelle, and she says: Players who reject qualifying offers often take longer to sign, and sometimes don’t sign until the following season. Do you think something needs to change with the money or draft pick side of compensation?

RA: I think it probably will change, because we’re coming up on a new CBA and this might be number one on the list of issues coming from the Player’s Association. So I’m sure that’s something that will be addressed.

It’s always a tough thing, and I can sympathize with the players in that they have to weigh “Do I take a one-year for $15 point something or do I roll the dice and think I can get a multi-year deal?” That’s something the player and his agent have to discuss, and it works out for a lot of players but it’s magnified by the players for whom it doesn’t work out – they get a one-year deal or they get less than if they’d taken the qualifying offer. It’s not a perfect system, but they always have that opportunity.

For the first time – three players took it this year, said “I’ll take that one year and go right back out,” They might be coming off of injuries or a season they don’t think will parlay them into a free agent deal that they would like. So sometimes there’s nothing wrong with going back on a one-year deal and saying “You know what, I think the market for my position next year is going to be thinner and I’ll have a better chance of getting a good deal, and I have no problem going out and improving on my previous year.” Other guys might be coming off a really good year, they know the time is now to cash in, they reject the qualifying offer and go out and get a great deal in the free agent world. Those are the ones everyone looks beyond, so it goes both ways. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

JL: I’ll be honest, I’d take it. Every single time. $15 million? Fine. I’ll cash that check.

RA: (Laughs)

JL: Rob, thanks for your time. I appreciate it. Good luck this year, and enjoy the rest of your time in Florida.

RA: Alright, thanks Jesse.