After approaching 100 losses in back-to-back seasons, the Twins clearly needed to make some changes. As we put it when introducing our Offseason Handbook
yesterday, complacency was not going to be an option this winter.
They wasted little time shaking things up, parting with their entire coaching staff – save for pitching coach Rick Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire – in the very first day after the season came to an end.
Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, third base coach Steve Liddle and first base coach Jerry White were all told that their expiring contracts will not be renewed. Head trainer Rick McWane also is gone, which comes as no surprise given the iffy handling of injuries over the past couple years. Hitting coach Joe Vavra and bench coach Scott Ullger will be reassigned within the organization.
For a team that has maintained remarkable field staff stability over the past decade, this is an enormous development. It's also warranted, because while I doubt that each departing coach was blatantly incompetent at his job, a change in clubhouse culture and a message that all this losing is not acceptable both were necessary.
Some fans are already voicing frustration that Anderson and Gardenhire were left alone for the time being, given that the pitching staff was clearly the leading issue this year and ultimately the manager should assume responsibility for a team failure as miserable as we've seen.
Yet, there have undeniably been challenging circumstances beyond the control of those two, and I think it's fair to say that they are on thin ice at this point. Gardenhire will almost certainly enter the next season as a "lame duck manager," with only one year left on his contract. The writing is on the wall that if things don't turn around, Gardy and his right-hand man are probably going to follow the rest of the coaching staff out the door.
Personally, I'm OK with giving them both another chance, considering their strong track records prior to 2011. But it's refreshing to see the organization sending a strong message, and I'll be interested to see how the the vacant spots are filled (or the spots that open up in Rochester, assuming that Gene Glynn, Bobby Cuellar and Tom Brunansky are brought up as expected).