• Top Stories for 2013: #1 Gardy's Gauntlet

    Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is on the hot seat.In many ways, Ron Gardenhire’s present situation reflects the paradox faced by the 2013 Minnesota Twins.

    After two straight 90-loss campaigns, the long-tenured manager has been put on notice. He enters this season without a contract extension in place. Several of his assistants have been reassigned or released, and it’s been made clear that his performance will be under stringent evaluation. If we don’t see tangible improvement over the last two miserable years, it’s a good bet that Gardy will be shown the door.

    It's no secret that the manager is loved and revered by the organization, so they’re not eager to see that happen. They’re also not eager to field a third straight cellar-dweller that struggles to draw fans in the latter part of the season. They’ve been vocal about these things.

    But actions speak louder than words, and the organization’s actions during the offseason hardly conveyed urgency to impel a sizable step forward in the short term. One year after shedding about $15 million from their payroll, the Twins cut roughly the same amount this winter, passing on the opportunity to meaningfully bolster their beleaguered starting corps and opting instead for cheap, unreliable targets like Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Terry Ryan traded two established, valuable starting outfielders for young pitchers who largely won’t help until further down the line. No moves were made to address weaknesses in the infield or on the bench.

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    Without question, the Twins are in excellent position to return to contention down the line. Their farm system is as strong as it’s been in many years, and the benefit to their frugal approach is that they have almost no contractual obligations beyond this year. That flexibility will allow them to extend successful players as needed and sign free agents to fill holes at the appropriate time, with blockbuster type deals potentially on the table.

    Of course, none of that does much good for Gardenhire, who probably won’t be here to help usher in the next wave if this thing doesn't get turned around quickly. For him, the “appropriate time” is now (many impatient fans probably feel the same way), and the pressure to get things on track is immense. While I’m willing to believe that his managerial performance won’t be judged solely on wins and losses, another 90-loss season – especially if it includes a familiarly horrendous start – would almost have to spell the end.

    Luckily Gardenhire, much like his team, is in good position to take people by surprise. Although the Twins will enter the season with as bad a rotation as you’ll find in the league, there are a number of intriguing reinforcements in the wings, such as Scott Diamond, Samuel Deduno, Kyle Gibson and Rich Harden. Even newly acquired prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May are long shot contenders to make a late-season impact. Whereas the issues for last year’s unit snowballed as injuries and ineptitude piled up, this year the rotation could improve considerably over the course of the campaign.

    If the Twins can somehow manage to get respectable production from their crop of starting pitchers – admittedly a bit of a stretch, all things considered – they can certainly be a competitive ballclub, albeit not a championship contender. The lineup has a chance to be as good as any in the division, with a pair of (finally) healthy former MVPs anchoring a group that offers plenty of upside. It’s not difficult to envision the Twins being above average offensively at six or seven positions, depending on your level of optimism regarding Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks.

    I can’t help but feel like the Twins’ run-scoring potential this year has been widely undersold, even by a general manager who apparently didn’t see fit to provide much help during the offseason. If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have the kind of years they’ve shown capable of when not burdened by health issues, while key young cogs like Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe take the next step, the thought of watching those efforts go to waste at the hands of an ill-equipped pitching staff is painful… probably more so for Gardenhire than anybody.

    In many ways, this is the perfect season to evaluate the manager. He’s got a moderately talented roster with low expectations. It will take every bit of his savvy to steer away from the wreckage of the past two seasons – both on and off the field – and keep this club relevant into the later months. Ultimately, that’s the goal for this Twins team, and while it’s not all that ambitious, I’d see it as a satisfactory outcome in what has plainly been established as a bridge year.

    The Twins may not be aiming for the World Series, but they need to show progress. They owe that much to fans who have been subjected to the horrors of these last two years. If it doesn’t happen, the responsibility will fall on Gardenhire’s shoulders, whether it’s his fault or not.

    On the flip side, he’s sure to get the lion’s share of credit if we see significant improvement and a record approaching .500, which in my mind is well within the realm of possibility. I tend to think a manager’s impact in baseball is generally exaggerated, but in this situation, with this collection of arms and this overall level of inexperience, Gardy may have to work harder than ever before. Or, as he would put it, battle his tail off.

    Because now his tail's on the line.

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    This article was originally published in blog: Top Stories for 2013: #1 Gardy's Gauntlet started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. mako83's Avatar
      mako83 -
      The prospect of Tom Buransky as manager over gardy is not going to excite the fans. Keep him until we have a serious alternative
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      The prospect of Tom Buransky as manager over gardy is not going to excite the fans. Keep him until we have a serious alternative
      Bruno is a far less likely candidate than Molitor or Gene Glynn. I'd put even money on Glynn moving in as interim manager at some point in 2013.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      It could just be blowing smoke I suppose, but Bruno has said more than once he doesn't want to be a manager. If he had, he likley would still be in the minors at the helm of one of the affiliates.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      How is it impatient to want a good product, if you are paying a lot of money to see that product? Never understood that, frankly.....as for Gardy, there are studies in the NFL that show that most coaches' records really start to fall off after 10 years (and yes, you can site plenty of anectdotes where that is not true, does not matter, if you look at the entire sample, it's true), but I"m not sure there is or is not a similar study in baseball.

      I've always felt Gardenhire must be good at the non-game aspects of being a manager, because the Twins generally have a clean clubhouse, no major issues, and were generally successful under his tenure. So, he's probably doing something right.

      I've always felt he was a mediocre in game manager. Sacrifice bunts early in games, "productive outs", batting guys second that had no business being there, refusing to move Mauer up to the 2 hole.....he always seems stuck in a world of the past to me. Also, it seems like few young guys come up and really grow under him and his coaches (I know some of you will disagree on this, I'm not interested in arguing over it today).

      All in all, he seems like he's a good guy to work for, seems like a super nice guy, but who is just ok at the strategy part. I'm kind of indifferent on his future. I'm much more interested in Ryan's future (if we are talking off the field stuff), because it is his philosophy and approach that will either build this team quickly, slowly, or not at all.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      I like Gardy. I think he has gotten the most out of this team that he could. Most guys who have left (not including Lohse) have tailed off some very much so (Johan). It is apparent that the Twins are looking for 2014 and 2015 to contend. Gardy should be given a chance to manage that group. I know this is a minority opinion...

      If Gardy goes, replacement should have managerial experience--that eliminates Bruno and Molitar. (Maybe Sandberg is the right choice).
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Bruno is a far less likely candidate than Molitor or Gene Glynn.
      Not so sure about Glynn, but I thought it was pretty telling when Molitor wasn't brought in among the new staff. That's where my money would be should it happen.

      Unless Gardy 'loses the clubhouse', I wouldn't be surprised to see him stick around for a chance to lead our impending, unavoidable resurgence.
    1. MarcusE's Avatar
      MarcusE -
      Quote Originally Posted by DAM DC Twins Fans View Post
      I like Gardy. I think he has gotten the most out of this team that he could. Most guys who have left (not including Lohse) have tailed off some very much so (Johan).
      Except for AJ, Torii, Nathan, Big Papi, Kubel, Casey Blake, Garrett Jones, Jesse Crain, etc...

      I'd say that's more of a coin flip for how various MLB careers play out, not some credit or detriment to Gardy.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      Not so sure about Glynn, but I thought it was pretty telling when Molitor wasn't brought in among the new staff. That's where my money would be should it happen.

      Unless Gardy 'loses the clubhouse', I wouldn't be surprised to see him stick around for a chance to lead our impending, unavoidable resurgence.
      Definitely not sure about Glynn long-term. I did say logical interim choice, especially if he continues to do well with the Red Wings. As with Kelly in 1986, if the players buy in as they apparently did at Rochester last season, the "Minnesota boy" (MN Mr Basketball 1975) just might be asked to stick around through the Twins bridge years.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Definitely not sure about Glynn long-term. I did say logical interim choice, especially if he continues to do well with the Red Wings. As with Kelly in 1986, if the players buy in as they apparently did at Rochester last season, the "Minnesota boy" (MN Mr Basketball 1975) just might be asked to stick around through the Twins bridge years.
      The big difference with Kelly and Glynn (and Ryan and MacPhail) is the age. MacPhail who brought Kelly in was 32 when he got the GM job. Kelly was 36 in '86 when they hired him. And not only that, the whole front office and organization was full of young minds thinking outside the box. Fast forward 25+ years, the same people are running the Twins. Something's got to change and major purging is needed....
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      The big difference with Kelly and Glynn (and Ryan and MacPhail) is the age. MacPhail who brought Kelly in was 32 when he got the GM job. Kelly was 36 in '86 when they hired him. And not only that, the whole front office and organization was full of young minds thinking outside the box. Fast forward 25+ years, the same people are running the Twins. Something's got to change and major purging is needed....
      Excellent analysis. The very definition of a calcified organization. It's sad when Ryan makes disparaging comments about a local golden boy and Hall of Fame all-around good guy in Paul Molitor as being a "poor fit" and telling that 56 year old Gene Glynn is the only legitimate breath of fresh air in a stale organization that is currently on the short managerial replacement list.
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      Nice point that I hadn't considered -- there's a lot of short-term and expiring contracts coming up, which means that a new manager would have an opportunity to immediately put his own 'stamp' on the Twins.

      This leads me to believe that the Pohlads may be calling the shots here, deliberately setting up a situation where they can lure a high-profile managerial candidate in the off-season and surround him with folks schooled in the 'Twins way', hoping that may result in a best-of-both-worlds resolution. It'll be interesting to see what Ryan himself does at the end of the season -- if he 're-retires' in the wake of a Gardenhire firing, it'll be a good sign that the Pohlads are cleaning house.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Excellent analysis. The very definition of a calcified organization. It's sad when Ryan makes disparaging comments about a local golden boy and Hall of Fame all-around good guy in Paul Molitor as being a "poor fit" and telling that 56 year old Gene Glynn is the only legitimate breath of fresh air in a stale organization that is currently on the short managerial replacement list.
      This pretty much justifies my perception of why Ryan selected Gardenhire over Molitor when TK "stepped down". Ryan could bully Gardenhire into his philosophy [the Twins way] but if there was ever a dispute between Molitor and Ryan, Molitor would win the PR aspect--a huge problem! But when Smith became GM, the tables were turned, Gardy was the fan-favorite and Smith the stuffed-suit. W know how that ended.

      I also agree with dwintheiser about Pohlads calling the shots. Ryan made big promises about new pitchers before the end of the '12 season--but the executive committee had a different plan. When Ryan "agreed" to the new plan, the "interrim" tag was removed from his GM title. It's not a certainty whether Gardenhire will be retained or replaced yet, but I'm confident that this is his last year as Twins manager. I am skeptical that the Twins will hire a "ML-experienced manager" after Gardy leaves (whenever)--it will be someone who can be controlled easily to "manage right".
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