One of the bigger storylines of the offseason was the future of Ron Gardenhire as manager of the Minnesota Twins. Most years throughout his tenure, he signed a two-year extension before he got to the final year of his contract. However, after last season, Gardenhire did not receive an extension, so he is in the last year of his deal.
On its own, that means very little. I mean, Terry Ryan could still choose to extend him any time during the season or following the season. Unfortunately, Gardenhire has been the man in charge on the field where the Twins have lost 195 games over the past two seasons. As you recall, last year, three of his coaches were not brought back for the 2013 season.
Although Gardenhire is the same manager that won one AL Manager of the Year award and finished second in voting five other times, the on-field results have not been there the past two seasons.
He has been at his best as a manager when expectations were low. He is beloved by his players. Unlike his predecessor, Gardenhire is willing to get thrown out of a ball game to back his players. Like his predecessor, he wants the little things to be done right and well, even though his players have frequently not been able to do those things well.
Those who donít like Gardenhire as manager will choose to bring up several topics as well. Many will tell you that he hasnít won in the playoffs, an argument that canít really be disputed at this point. Some will say that he can be tough on rookies, but he isnít as hard on them as Tom Kelly was. Some will focus on his lineup construction, although that is something that likely every fan base complains about their manager. Some talk about how he uses his bullpen, but most in the industry say that he and Rick Anderson handle their bullpen as well as any.
With Ron Gardenhire in the final year of a contract with a roster that Las Vegas thinks will lose 95 games again in 2013, what does he have to do to maintain his job throughout the season and beyond?
For what itís worth, Gardenhire says that he isnít spending much time thinking about it. At Twins Fest, the manager told reporters, ďI donít even worry about that. Really, I donít. Itís only talked about because thatís the way the business goes. I really manage, what is this 11 going on 12 years? I think my predecessor went one year at a time. I donít think he ever signed more than a one year deal. You know what, I really donít have a problem with it at all. Itís just the way it is. I laugh about it. I kid about it. You know what, you should be held accountable year by year. I have no problem with that. Iíll go about my business. Itís not going to change what I do.Ē
Gardy may not think about it, but unfortunately Terry Ryan likely will. And, we know that Twins fans will as well. So again, what will be the determining factors in the decision to bring back Gardenhire, or not? Here are some ways to look at it. There may be more.
Some may simply look at the Win-Loss record and determine whether or not he comes back. However, this is not a case of looking for a certain number. As mentioned, the team has lost 195 games over the last two seasons. To expect them to suddenly win 85 to 95 games is just not very realistic. So, is there a win total that would mean you would keep him? Is it 81? Is it 75?
I think that it should depend upon many more factors than just the Win-Loss record. Would you be willing to accept a lower number if various players are hurt? Maybe you just expect them to be competitive until mid-July? At that point, the Twins could decide to trade some veterans and go with younger players. Is it fair to expect that younger team to continue to win at the same level?
How about just being more competitive from game to game? How many times in the last two seasons have the Twins been behind by four or more runs after the first couple of innings? But, depending upon who Gardenhire is able to put on the mound each day, he has little ability to control the results.
I think itís important to see improvement from year to year, and even from month to month. A manager can try to motivate young players or struggling players. Of course, the player is the one who has to develop and perform. However, I would like to see guys like Liam Hendriks and Brian Dozier take a step forward in their careers in 2013. Both struggled in 2012, and both do have the talent to be solid big leaguers. Thatís not to say that those are the two players who should determine Gardenhireís future. Others will need to improve as well.
Also, it will be important to see the team as a whole play better from month to month throughout the season. Again, that may or may not be measured by wins.
HANDLING OF YOUNG PLAYERS
It is likely that rookies such as Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and maybe others will debut in 2013. How will Gardy deal with them through the good times and the bad?
In speaking out Aaron Hicks at Twins Fest, Gardenhire said, ďI think one thing I know how to do is make these guys relax a little. Try to keep it as light as we possibly can. Thereís a stress out there that I canít control, and thatís him trying to make this baseball team. I can control how he handles himself, and I can try to keep him as relaxed as much as I possibly can with the rest of our staff and not put too much pressure on him.Ē
This speaks beyond rookies though. It speaks to other young players, like Dozier, Hendriks, Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson, Cole De Vries, Chris Parmelee and even Trevor Plouffe. How will their successes and their adversities be handled, and how will that be judged?
Letís face it, the Twins roster, particularly the pitching staff, has a lot of question marks tied to health that will affect the 2013 season. Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are returning from Tommy John surgery. Scot Diamond may not be ready for Opening Day due to removing bone chips from his elbow. Liam Hendriks had the same surgery in October, and Vance Worley had it in August. Other pitchers could get hurt throughout the season. The hitters sound like they are at 100%, but Morneau has missed a lot of time the last couple of years. Josh Willingham played a career high number of games in 2012. Can he stay relatively healthy in 2013? Trevor Plouffe missed a lot of time last year. And there are always unforeseen injuries.
The manager canít control those things. Players get hurt, unfortunately. How he responds publically and within the locker room to those things is important.
This is a category that social media have seemed to make more important. Every decision a manager (or GM, or scouting director) makes is scrutinized. If a Manager goes with his gut, rather than the book on occasion, he will be called out by some. If he always does the same thing (even if that is what the book says to do), he will be scrutinized as being too predictable.
Again, every fan baseís manager will make decisions throughout the season that the fans wonít agree with. I think this is a poor reason for firing, but some fans will think itís important.
There are likely many other reasons to either fire or keep a manager around. Ron Gardenhire is the same manager that won a lot of games for this organization over the past dozen seasons. He has dealt with more injuries and lack of talent the last two seasons than in any of those previous seasons.
It is clear that the Twins are building for 2014 and 2015 and beyond, so the biggest question really needs to be, Is Ron Gardenhire the right guy to have leading a young and developing roster? Thatís the most difficult question to answer as well. He has had a lot of successes with young players this century. Iím sure there have been some busts as well. Thatís the same with any manager or any team.
Itís a tough question to answer, and at the end of the day, it will be Terry Ryanís question to answer. Hopefully the players will stay healthy and improve and the Twins will surprise a lot of people which will make Ryanís decision easy.