Twins president eager to reclaim winning tradition
In exclusive Q&A, St. Peter declares state of ballclub on upswing for 2014 season
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After winning six division titles in nine seasons, the Twins have fallen into hard times in recent years, with at least 96 losses in each of the past three seasons.
But moving forward, there's optimism in the air for an organization with one of the game's best farm systems and a revamped starting rotation following the free-agent signings of Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey this offseason.
Twins president Dave St. Peter took time out of his busy schedule to give a "state of the union address" as part of MLB.com's Presidents Day coverage. Here's what St. Peter, who is on Twitter (@TwinsPrez) and has been club president since 2002, had to say:
MLB.com: With pitchers and catchers reporting on Sunday, the offseason is coming to a close. How do you feel like it went for the Twins?
St. Peter: I think we feel good about it. We certainly had a priority going into the offseason around addressing our starting pitching. We feel like we were able to make significant strides with the signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and bringing back Mike Pelfrey. So I think that piece of our offseason was a success.
Ultimately, we were also able to come to agreement with Joe Mauer about his position moving forward, and obviously we think that's first base. That was a major question going into the offseason that needed to be addressed.
And lastly, just the health of our club. We feel good about guys who might've been dinged up last year and where their rehab has taken them. As we come into Spring Training, we feel like we're a lot healthier. That would include [Josh] Willingham and [Trevor] Plouffe and some of those guys we feel like we need to count on heavily over the course of the next few months.
But by no means are we satisfied with where we're at, we're always looking to get better. I know there continues to be question marks, but all in all, I feel like we're a better baseball team today than we were at the close of last season.
MLB.com: Terry Ryan, as general manager, is the architect of this ballclub but recently had surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his neck. How's he doing as of Friday?
St. Peter: Terry's doing fine. He's had an interesting week. I'm happy to report that all the doctors continue to give him glowing reports as it relates to the surgery that took place. Everybody continues to be optimistic about his ability to make a full recovery. So nobody, including Terry, takes that for granted, so we're going to take this one step at a time. But we're feeling pretty good about his ability to get back to the ballpark in the pretty near future."
MLB.com: So with Ryan out, how much confidence do you have in guys like Rob Antony, Mike Radcliff, Wayne Krivsky, Bill Smith and even manager Ron Gardenhire to fill in for Ryan in his absence?
St. Peter: I think it's one of the things Terry and I spent a lot of time talking about last week before the announcement and the surgery. It's a transition period. But it was very clear to me that Terry has a tremendous amount of confidence in the people who surround him and specifically the guys you mentioned. Rob and Mike will handle the bulk of those responsibilities, but when you can tap two former GMs in Wayne Krivsky and Bill Smith, and certainly the fact that Ron Gardenhire is one of the longest-tenured managers in the game, that's going to play a big role in helping ease this transition.
MLB.com: Speaking of Gardenhire, what was the organization's general feeling on bringing him back after his contract expired at the end of last season?
St. Peter: Well, we thought it was the right thing to do. Certainly we understand the debate. There were a lot of people weighing in on it. To be honest, the easy thing to do would've been to make a managerial change. The hard thing to do was bring Gardy back and acknowledge that our front office, Terry Ryan and myself, need to do a better job as leaders and get Gardy and his coaching staff better players.
Gardy, over time, earned himself a reputation as one of the game's best managers. I believe he still is, but we need to ultimately get him more to work with. I think we did some of that over the offseason, but whether we've done enough of that, time will tell. The good news is we believe very strongly in what our farm system is producing and will continue to produce. And we'll continue to add players to our roster over time. Ron and his wife, Carol, have been tremendous ambassadors for the organization. They're great people in the community and in the organization. Ultimately, I think Gardy is a good manager and this was the right decision to make.
MLB.com: Switching gears here, the Twins are hosting the All-Star Game this year at Target Field. How are preparations going for that?
St. Peter: They're going well. We're obviously deep into planning. I think you'll see a significant number of announcements starting now to come with more details. The ticket demand for the All-Star summer events at Target Field goes even beyond what I expected. I think it's a once-in-a-generation event. There's no doubt that baseball's All-Star activities are at another level compared to other sports. I think there's great anticipation, not only here in Minnesota but in the region. Ultimately, I think it's going to be a great showcase for the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota.
MLB.com: How much has it helped season ticket sales and how are ticket sales going this year?
St. Peter: It has helped. There's no doubt. Any time you have an All-Star Game, it helps. But unfortunately, we're not seeing a growth in our base. We had about 19,000 full-season equivalents last year and this year we're projecting to be just north of 17,000 full-season equivalents heading into this season. But without the All-Star Game, we probably would've fallen more than that.
In terms of single-game tickets, they'll go on sale on Feb. 22. Again, I'm pretty bullish on our ticket sales. I think if we get off to a reasonable start, I don't think there's any reason why we can't surpass last year's total of just shy of 2.5 million.
MLB.com: So it seems evident that winning, more than anything, breeds higher ticket sales. With that in mind, what are your expectations for the upcoming season?
St. Peter: Well, we need to take a step forward. I'm not going to put a number of wins on that and define. There's no reason why we can't be competitive in the American League Central. I'd like us to play meaningful games into August and September. If we can do that, it'll certainly represent a step forward. That's what the expectation is from our front office and from the people on the team. And that's what it should be for our fans. It should be high.
The Twins brand is about a lot of things, but ultimately it should be about winning. That's been a big part of our tradition, and ultimately we need to get it back.