Local Minneapolis beat writer Sally Slider recently had an opportunity to sit down with Twins GM, Harry Bottoms, to get his thoughts on their recent World Series win, his role with the team, and the future of the franchise. The following is the full article and interview.
As I sat with Twins GM Harry Bottoms in the stands behind the first base dugout on a crisp and clear winter day in an otherwise empty Target Field, I wanted to pick his brain to find out what goes on in the mind of a World Series winning GM.
SS: “First of all, congratulations! What a year! It must have felt great.”
HB: “Of course. It’s the reason we all do what we do in this, or any other organization in the game. So to reach that summit feels very, very nice.”
SS: “Was there any extra satisfaction from being the first American League club to win the Series in so long?”
HB: “Most definitely. It had gotten to the point where our league felt a bit bullied. When your league gets pushed around in the showcase of your sport year after year, and the club you’re a part of is finally the one to stand up and put the bully on his butt, yeah, that is very gratifying.”
SS: “Did you expect to win it all going in to the season?”
HB: (Deep, hearty laughing) “No. (He says emphatically.) You never expect any outcome in the game of baseball, that’s part of what makes our game so great, that unpredictability. You count on nothing in this game. Nothing is a given. Whenever you think you’ve figured it out, everything will be turned on its head. It’s a game of irregular angles, irregular methods, and irregular characters. But that’s wonderful to me. Every year is its own drama. No one knows how it will play out, but that unfolding is always thrilling, although sometimes it’s hard to appreciate when you are working from the lows and hoping to reach the high points. I did know that we had a good team. We’ve had a solid group for a while now, and I expected us to be competitive which gives you a chance, and that’s all you can really ask for in this game. But you can’t predict or expect a championship season. That would be incomprehensible arrogance. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been, and probably won’t be, in this game very long. There are just too many variables at play.”
SS: “Well, if having a good team gives you a chance, can you go into some detail about how to bring that about?”
HB: “Well, you’ll likely get 30 answers to that question. (chuckles) And there probably is no single correct answer, but I can tell you how I approach the challenge of building a good group of 25 and 40. For me talent is never the difference between being good and being great. You have to have talent, of course, but there is talent all over the league, on every team. But talent alone won’t give you the edge. You’ve got to have the right mix of talent first of all. All the pieces have to fit together in a complementary way. You have to have a group of guys who can fill every conceivable role or situation you might encounter in game, series or season. You need that balance. You can’t just be pitching strong, or power strong, or just great in the field, or only really great on the base paths. You need every element coexisting harmoniously. Taking it further, you’ve got to have balance within each element of your roster. You can’t just have quality starting pitching and a horrible pen, for example, or burners on the bases who don’t know how to makes good reads on when to take an extra base or swipe a bag, and so on. For me, it’s all about finding that balance where no one element of your team is going to significantly undermine another. It’s like being a chef really, finding that right blend so that everything comes together in the pot.
But beyond that, you have to also have baseball players. That may sound like an obvious thing, but there are many people playing the game of baseball, even in the big leagues, that I don’t consider to be ball players. They may be great athletes and have all the measurables or the obvious “tools”, but the game of baseball eludes them, the heart of the game just doesn’t click with them for whatever reason. They’ll entice you with the appearance of a ball player, and their numbers can even trick you sometimes, but they’ll let you down when it matters most because they don’t really get all those subtleties that are so important on the scales of winning and losing. Ball players are different. They see the game in its totality and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I look for those guys.”
SS: “So, how do you know when you’ve found a real baseball player?”
HB: “I think that’s a skill that can only develop over an extended period of time. If you observe enough guys play, you start to see it. It can be extremely subtle at first, but eventually it becomes more apparent. And it takes time to make that determination sometimes, and anyone can be fooled…for a while, but you move on from those guys, those imposters. So you try to get a roster full of complementary pieces that are also real ball players. It can take time to do that, but once you’ve acquired the right elements, it can be incredibly fun to watch. Then comes the challenge of keeping it going.”
SS: “I imagine that can be a real juggling act.”
HB: “Absolutely. Especially for a small to mid market franchise where maybe you’re not swimming around in Dodger’s money.” (chuckles)
HB: “You build a nice group, but in doing so, you find the bank account tightening. Good players have to- and should be- compensated for their work on the diamond. So you have to make decisions about your core, or The Indispensables, as I like to call them. Everyone can’t get paid like a star, so you have to identify who you can and cannot live without. Once you’ve done that and kept your core intact, you flesh out your roster with other pieces that fit into the overall puzzle, sometimes letting go of guys you really don’t want to lose in the process, but that’s my job, and decisions have to be made. And I should mention that having less money to spend than some other teams shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a handicap. When you have less room to maneuver, every decision is magnified and consequently receives more scrutiny before it’s made. You really look long and hard at things when the weight of a decision can have long-lasting effects.”
SS: “Taking an assumed weakness and spinning it into a perceived strength is a good approach to have, I’m sure, and is an interesting insight. If you’ll allow me to change course for a moment, I wanted to highlight some of the individuals that deserve attention from last year. The Twins fielded the top two players for rookie of the year, the reliever of the year, the manager of the year, and the runner-up for MVP. That’s a pretty impressive list.”
HB: “It’s definitely not every year you get a group like that. We were a bit fortunate in finding Luis Solis out there as a minor league free agent. Our scouting department loved his raw ability, but saw it as untapped potential. But, they did a good sell job on me, so I gave him a deal. He got a few at-bats prior to this past season, but he really wasn’t fully ready then, but he had an excellent full rookie campaign last year. He’s ready now. We wouldn’t have been interested if we were a National League club, in all honesty, but in the AL, his lack of fielding prowess is a non-issue considering how much he brings to the table in the batter’s box. We were also very lucky to pick up Thomas Dillard in the rule 5 draft. Catcher has always been a position where we’ve struggled to get any real solid continuity over the years, but he came in and was more than we could have hoped for, and really gave us an incredible post-season in the AL playoffs. Nick Burdi has been great since he came into the league. He’s always a guy you can count on to be a stopper late in the game- simply a vital position in the game today. And not much really needs to be said about Jarid Joseph. He’s really the glue of our team in many ways. He’s not a showy guy in any way. He just loves the game. He puts his head down and works, and does all the little things and wants to get better every single day. That leadership by example really makes a difference. We talked about what a baseball player is earlier. JJ is most definitely one.
SS: “You didn’t mention your first-year manager Jay Baller.”
HB: “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about him. We were at cross-roads going into last season. Do we renew Bannister’s deal or go in another direction. We all liked Jeff as a manger, as a baseball guy, but we kept seeing and hearing good things about what was going on down in the GCL. Some guys just refuse to go unnoticed, no matter where they may be, and that was the situation with Jay. His teams just played the “right” way, from our perspective, and he seemed to be a guy who knew how to captain a ship. You’ve got to have someone steering everything, conducting the show, and he seemed to have a real knack for doing just that. Additionally, you really like to promote from within your own organization if possible. There’s something valuable in that sense of familiarity and pride that goes along with being a part of things from the bottom up. We are absolutely thrilled with the job he’s done.”
SS: “Well, I know you said you can’t count on any outcome in this game, but what are your expectations going forward for the Twins.”
HB: “We hope to compete. We want to go out there every day and fight. You can’t control all circumstances in baseball or in life, but you go out there with an end in mind, with a purpose, and you battle to achieve your dream. You may not always get it. You may not ever get it, but you take joy in the struggle, you embrace the obstacles in your way, and you smile defiantly at the odds against you. If you can do that, you’ve got a chance.”
And with that, I was able to get a bit more flavor of our beloved Twins, and the man at the helm of this incarnation of the team, a team that is enjoying as much success on the field as at any other time in franchise history. After 4 post-season trips in 5 years, 3 division titles, two World Series appearances, and one championship all in that same span, it’s easy to feel optimistic about the future of this club as a fan. But as Harry reminded us, you can count on nothing in this game. So enjoy the success we’ve had Twins nation. 2023 will be a brand new year with a brand new tale to tell, but it’s comforting to remember that we’ve got a group in this organization that, if nothing else, at least gives us a fighting chance. And sometimes as a baseball fan, that’s all you really need.