Designated HitterNovember 29, 2007
An Analysis of Terry Ryan's Talent Acquisition as General Manager of the Minnesota Twins
By Dan Levitt

In modern baseball the general manager is ultimately responsible for the talent level in an organization, most importantly at the major league level. Given the relationship between winning teams and better players, general managers have historically been evaluated based on team success. While a pragmatic measure, it has two notable drawbacks. First, it ignores all the extenuating circumstances that go into a team's gain and loss of players: general managers operate under different financial constraints; they initially join clubs with far different levels of talent, and have different levels of autonomy to shape the scouting personnel, minor league operations, and the major league on-field staff. Second, simply using team success as a yardstick is a very coarse measure that limits our ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a general manager. What were his specific successes and failures that led to his club's record?

With the recent resignation of Terry Ryan as the Minnesota Twins general manager, I thought it might be interesting to take an objective look at some aspects of the position that can be measured. Using the Retrosheet transactions database maintained by Tom Ruane, I evaluated all the moves made by the Twins after Ryan's hiring in September, 1994 through the end of 2005. Obviously this type of analysis assigns the ultimate responsibility for all transactions--rightly or wrongly--to the general manager. For a number of reasons I did not include an analysis of the draft. For most types of transactions one can compare value received to value surrendered. To evaluate the productivity of the amateur draft and the farm system, however, one needs to calculate the productivity of other franchises to use as a baseline--this is a study for another time.

To evaluate the general manager this analysis reviews the value of players lost via free agency (Fg), release (R), the expansion draft (X), waivers (W) and trades (T), and players acquired via amateur free agency (Fa), free agency (F), waivers (W) and trades (T). Unfortunately this is not quite as straight forward as it might be: for example players who become free agents and are subsequently re-signed; in the database these players are shown as both lost via free agency and gained through free agency. The net effect is zero, but it increases the total volume of talent coming and going: for instance, Brad Radke's re-signing after the 2004 season. Another example is players who come and go before they become established major leaguers. As an illustration of this issue, Casey Blake was claimed on waivers, lost on waivers, reclaimed on waivers, and subsequently released before he achieved any significant major league playing time. While it makes sense to account for them this way--each transaction needs to be evaluated on its own merits--these multiple moves can make the talent velocity appear greater than it might otherwise be.

Of course one also needs some way to value the players involved in the transactions in order to assess them. Win Shares is a metric created by Bill James that works well for this purpose. Using a complex set of formulas, it allocates team wins to individual players. The method allocates three win shares for each win; for example, 300 win shares will be allocated to the players on a 100 win team. As a benchmark, a 30 win share season is typically MVP caliber, and 20 win shares is an all-star season. For each player involved in a transaction, I calculated the win shares he would earn over the balance of his career. For players still active, win shares are calculated through the 2006 season (obviously, some of these players will significantly increase their career totals).

So, what does Ryan's scorecard look like? The table below summarizes the cumulative win shares surrendered and gained in all the Twins transactions from the fall of 1994 through the end of 2005.

Win Shares from Twins Transactions, Fall 1994 - 2005

Type    Type Description            From Min   To Min
Fg      Free Agency Granted              430        -
R       Released                         251        -
X       Expansion Draft                   93        -
Fa      Amateur Free Agent Signing         -      111
F       Free Agent Signing                 -      656
W       Waiver Pick                       60      154
T       Trade                            807      922
        Total                           1641	   1842

Despite working under relatively tight financial constraints for most of his tenure, Ryan lost surprisingly little talent to free agency. No player with more than 50 win shares remaining left the major league roster as a free agent. Only Travis Lee, one of four amateur draftees declared free agents because they were not tendered a contract within the mandatory 15-day period, produced more than 50 win shares over the remainder of his career.

Surprisingly, Ryan's two most significant personnel blunders resulted from releasing two players with significant major league ability, and both came after the 2002 season. In October he released Casey Blake, who would go on to become a valuable contributor with the Indians. More significantly, in December Ryan compounded his error by releasing David Ortiz, who became a perennial MVP contender. Both could have played important roles on the Twins competitive teams from 2003 through 2006.

The Twins did not really lose any significant players through waivers (although technically they lost and then regained Blake over a three-week period). The loss of Damian Miller to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft proved surprisingly costly. Miller went on to a number of seasons as a quality major league catcher.

Given his financial constraints, is not surprising that Ryan never really exploited the free agent market. Over his tenure he signed only one major league free agent, Kenny Rogers, with over 50 win shares remaining. Some of his most worthwhile signings included re-signing his own declining veterans on a short-term basis, such as Radke and Shannon Stewart, and finding useful role players at a reasonable price, such as Mike Redmond.

Minnesota has not kept up a sufficient Latin American presence. In the mid-1990s the Twins landed two players who would develop into useful major leaguers--Luis Rivas and Juan Rincon--but have signed none of consequence since. Ryan's staff did smartly pluck Bobby Kielty from the U.S. amateur ranks. The Twins have neither lost nor claimed any significant players on waivers except for Blake, as noted previously.

Ryan distinguished himself most clearly in his ability to make quality trades. His worst trade, in terms of value differential, was the swap of Todd Walker to Colorado for two players with less than two win shares remaining in their careers. In Ryan's defense, with this transaction the Twins also received cash. On the other hand, his regime can be credited with several outstanding deals. The swap of A.J. Pierzynski and cash for Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan has been widely hailed, but a number of others were also highly productive. He acquired Johan Santana for Jared Camp in a trade of Rule 5 draft picks. Ryan landed Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman for Chuck Knoblauch--although Knoblauch's unexpectedly quick falloff makes this trade appear more prescient than it probably was. Trading Dave Hollins for David Ortiz was also a great move, unfortunately later vitiated by the latter's release.

A general manager's job entails more than talent acquisition, and sometimes a team is in a position where the key decisions involve sorting out the talent (including possibly surrendering more talent than one receives) to alleviate an abundance at one position and a dearth at another. But the luxury of rearranging one's talent first requires building a solid talent base. Ryan consistently surrendered less talent than he received as he built the team that captured four division championships between 2002 and 2006.


The table below summarizes all Minnesota Twin transactions of at least 10 win shares between the fall of 1994 when Terry Ryan became the GM and the end of 2005. The table should be moderately self-explanatory, but a couple of comments may be in order for trades. The "TransID" column ties the players to a particular transaction, so that all players identified with the same TransID were part of the same trade. A few transactions identified as a trade show only one player; in these instances the other players involved did not make the major leagues.

Min Twins Transactions (>10 WS), Fall 1994 - 2005

DateID        TransID      Type      Player              Team        From Min        To Min
19960619      22943        Fg        Lee, Travis                         72.8              
19961004      33661        Fg        Reboulet, Jeff                      26.6            
19981029      39348        Fg        Steinbach, Terry                    11.9        
19981221      26718        Fg        Meares, Pat                         13.2        
19991007       8367        Fg        Cordova, Marty                      23.1        
19991015      12658        Fg        Fiore, Tony                         10.1        
20011008      26077        Fg        McCracken, Quinton                  19.6        
20011019       6461        Fg        Carrasco, Hector                    19.5        
20011105      20603        Fg        Jones, Todd                         35.6        
20031026      15777        Fg        Guardado, Eddie                     17.5        
20031026      39476        Fg        Stewart, Shannon                    30.1        
20031027      17104        Fg        Hawkins, LaTroy                     20.6        
20031028      14799        Fg        Gomez, Chris                        16.2        
20031029      35073        Fg        Rogers, Kenny                       46.9        
20041028       3435        Fg        Blanco, Henry                       11.3        
20041028      33228        Fg        Radke, Brad                         21.5        
20041101      21947        Fg        Koskie, Corey                       16.5        
20051028      20511        Fg        Jones, Jacque                       16.9        
19950713      39482         R        Stewart, Scott                      15.3        
19960401      13631         R        Fultz, Aaron                        18.9        
19970516      30220         R        Olson, Gregg                        21.5        
19981003      34439         R        Ritchie, Todd                       32.8        
20001220      23436         R        Lincoln, Mike                       13.5        
20021014       3412         R        Blake, Casey                        48.1        
20021216      30458         R        Ortiz, David                       101.4        
19971118      27370         X        Miller, Damian      ARI             92.5        
19951009      34458        Fa        Rivas, Luis                                       24.7
19961104      34373        Fa        Rincon, Juan                                      35.6
19990216      21343        Fa        Kielty, Bobby                                     50.3
19950613      39481         F        Stewart, Scott                                    15.3
19951205      27848         F        Molitor, Paul                                     40.7
19951208      28907         F        Myers, Greg                                       24.0
19951211        302         F        Aguilera, Rick                                    31.2
19960102      18388         F        Hollins, Dave                                     23.8
19960129      21020         F        Kelly, Roberto                                    24.6
19961205      39347         F        Steinbach, Terry                                  28.6
19961212      40617         F        Tewksbury, Bob                                    16.8
19961218      40139         F        Swindell, Greg                                    29.0
19961220      30219         F        Olson, Gregg                                      21.5
19970124       7751         F        Colbrunn, Greg                                    27.8
19971216      28221         F        Morgan, Mike                                      13.6
19971223      14199         F        Gates, Brent                                      12.0
19980114      27003         F        Merced, Orlando                                   18.3
19990104      39349         F        Steinbach, Terry                                  11.9
19990127      43376         F        Wells, Bob                                        24.3
19990603      12657         F        Fiore, Tony                                       10.1
20000401      27793         F        Mohr, Dustan                                      31.2
20001219      32882         F        Prince, Tom                                       12.1
20010330       6460         F        Carrasco, Hector                                  23.9
20010413      26076         F        McCracken, Quinton                                19.7
20010530      12661         F        Fiore, Tony                                       10.1
20030109      14798         F        Gomez, Chris                                      18.5
20030317      35072         F        Rogers, Kenny                                     57.6
20031207      39477         F        Stewart, Shannon                                  30.1
20031218       3434         F        Blanco, Henry                                     16.7
20040108      13638         F        Fultz, Aaron                                      14.9
20041123       6724         F        Castro, Juan                                      13.1
20041124      33691         F        Redmond, Mike                                     12.9
20041207      33229         F        Radke, Brad                                       21.5
19941104      34714         W        Robertson, Rich     PIT                           15.0
19980403       6456         W        Carrasco, Hector    ARI                           31.7
20000523       3409         W        Blake, Casey        TOR                           48.4
20010921       3410         W        Blake, Casey        BAL             48.2        
20011012       3411         W        Blake, Casey        BAL                           48.2
20031120      15803         W        Guerrier, Matt      PIT                           10.7
20041014      13639         W        Fultz, Aaron        PHI             12.0        
19950608      49355         T        Courtright, John    CIN                            0.0
19950608      49355         T        McCarty, David      CIN             18.0        
19950706      49364         T        Rodriguez, Frank    BOS                           21.2
19950706      49364         T        Aguilera, Rick      BOS             31.2        
19950707      49365         T        Klingenbeck, Scott  BAL                            0.0
19950707      49365         T        Erickson, Scott     BAL             54.0        
19950731      49386         T        Coomer, Ron         LAN                           53.1
19950731      49386         T        Hansell, Greg       LAN                            6.3
19950731      49386         T        Parra, Jose         LAN                            5.3
19950731      49386         T        Guthrie, Mark       LAN             25.9        
19950731      49386         T        Tapani, Kevin       LAN             49.4        
19950919      49365         T        Bartee, Kimera      BAL                            2.9
19951030      49386         T        Latham, Chris       LAN                            3.8
19960826      49492         T        Mahomes, Pat        BOS             14.3        
19960829      49496         T        Hollins, Dave       SEA             23.8        
19960913      49496         T        Ortiz, David        SEA                           137.7
19961211      49520         T        Walbeck, Matt       DET             18.9        
19961217      49492         T        Looney, Brian       BOS                            0.0
19970814      49587         T        Colbrunn, Greg      ATL             27.8        
19970820      49591         T        Kelly, Roberto      SEA             15.4        
19970905      49597         T        Myers, Greg         ATL             17.6        
19971009      49591         T        Mays, Joe           SEA                           44.7
19971212      49630         T        Becker, Rich        NYN              0.0        
19971212      49630         T        Ochoa, Alex         NYN                           30.3
19980206      49642         T        Knoblauch, Chuck    NYA             69.7        
19980206      49642         T        Buchanan, Brian     NYA                            9.8
19980206      49642         T        Guzman, Cristian    NYA                           79.7
19980206      49642         T        Milton, Eric        NYA                           68.4
19980206      49642         T        Mota, Danny         NYA                            0.0
19980731      49693         T         Barnes, John       BOS                            0.0
19980731      49693         T        Kinney, Matt        BOS                            7.3
19980731      49693         T        Merced, Orlando     BOS             18.3        
19980731      49693         T        Swindell, Greg      BOS             19.3        
19980825      49709         T        Morgan, Mike        CHN             13.6        
19981103      49709         T        Downs, Scott        CHN                           11.6
19981214      49735         T        Ochoa, Alex         MIL             27.5        
19990521      49771         T        Lohse, Kyle         CHN                           41.5
19990521      49771         T        Ryan, Jason         CHN                            1.9
19990521      49771         T        Aguilera, Rick      CHN              4.3        
19990521      49771         T        Downs, Scott        CHN             11.6        
19991213      49836         T        Santana, Johan      FLO                           101.1
20000715      49891         T        Sears, Todd         COL                            1.9
20000715      49891         T        Huskey, Butch       COL              0.0        
20000715      49891         T        Walker, Todd        COL             74.5        
20000909      49936         T        Ford, Lew           BOS                           41.6
20000909      49936         T        Carrasco, Hector    BOS             23.9        
20010328      49973         T        Frias, Hanley       ARI                            0.0
20010328      49973         T         Moeller, Chad      ARI             16.4        
20010728      50015         T        Jones, Todd         DET                           35.6
20010728      50015         T        Redman, Mark        DET             40.6        
20010730      50017         T        Lawton, Matt        NYN             48.9        
20010730      50017         T        Reed, Rick          NYN                           18.7
20020712      50111         T        Buchanan, Brian     SDN              8.8        
20020712      50111         T        Bartlett, Jason     SDN                           18.5
20021115      50142         T        Kinney, Matt        MIL              5.1        
20021115      50142         T        Valentin, Javier    MIL             21.4        
20030716      50199         T        Kielty, Bobby       TOR             27.3        
20030716      50199         T        Stewart, Shannon    TOR                           39.0
20031114      50237         T        Pierzynski, A.J.    SFN             38.6        
20031114      50237         T        Nathan, Joe         SFN                           47.1
20031114      50237         T        Liriano, Francisco  SFN                           16.3
20031114      50237         T        Bonser, Boof        SFN                            6.5
20031203      50245         T        Milton, Eric        PHI             13.5        
20031203      50245         T        Punto, Nick         PHI                           21.6
20031203      50245         T        Silva, Carlos       PHI                           31.0
20031215      50254         T        Mohr, Dustan        SFN             14.2        
20031215      50199         T        Gassner, Dave       TOR                            0.1
20040731      50322         T        Mientkiewicz, Doug  BOS             13.3        
20051202      50425         T        Castillo, Luis      FLO                           17.2
20051202      50425         T        Bowyer, Travis      FLO              0.0        

Dan Levitt's forthcoming biography of New York Yankee general manager Ed Barrow is scheduled for release in the spring of 2008 from the University of Nebraska Press. He co-authored (with Mark Armour) the award-winning book Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way. Dan has also published numerous baseball related articles and short biographies.


One issue not addressed in this is the nature of the talent the team had and what that talent was used for. Circa 2002, the Twins seemed to have a huge surplus of outfielders and two horrible starting middle infielders. What did Terry Ryan do? Why, he acquired a good but far from great outfielder, Shannon Stewart.

I don't think there's any fair way to account for perhaps unwise uses of resources but this really seemed to be one.

Very interesting and great work as usual from Dan Levitt. If the Twins gained 201 more Win Shares than they lost, that works out to about 17-18 more per year. Since 3 WS makes 1 win, it seems that the Twins added perhaps 6 wins a year by their moves. That is significant.

This was a very interesting look at Ryan.

Any possible way you could do the same for Walt Jocketty? I'd love to see that.