Monday, September 29, 2014

Gardy gone

Having lost 90+ games for the fourth consecutive season, there's no way the local nine could maintain the status quo. The first step in the overhaul process began Monday.

The Minnesota Twins fired manager Ron Gardenhire on Monday, saying it was time for a new voice after his 13-season tenure concluded with at least 92 losses in each of the last four years.

The move was made with one season left on Gardenhire's contract, ending the second-longest active tenure in the major leagues behind Mike Scioscia of the Angels.

"The reason for this change, I think it's safe to say, the last couple years we have not won enough games," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "That's what it comes down to. It's nothing more, nothing less than that."

Gardenhire played an integral role in the franchise's renaissance, guiding the Twins to their first of six American League Central division titles in 2002 in his first year on the job. But Gardenhire's teams only got out of the first round once, and his postseason record was 6-21 with the last win coming in 2004.

I do not believe the franchise's woes over the past four years are solely at Gardy's feet. Given the pitiful starting pitching the Twins have trotted out to the mound the past few years, I can't think of one manager who could have come close to a .500 record with the assortment of starters they cobbled together. However, it's hard to convince a quickly diminishing season ticket base that keeping a field manager who has presided over four straight lousy seasons is the best way to right the ship.

The next obvious question is who will the Twins consider for only their third manager in the past 28 years? The natural inclination is to go with St. Paul native Paul Molitor. Not only is he a Hall of Fame player but Molitor has quickly earned the respect of Twins players and prospects with his high baseball IQ. In fact, he was being strongly considered to manage the Twins in 2002 before the job went to Gardenhire.

Another possibility is Terry Steinbach (also a Minnesota native), who just completed his second season as Twins bench coach. Steinbach too has a reputation of having earned a high baseball acumen during his 14-year career as catcher for both the Oakland Athletics and Twins. But if the Twins are considering Steinbach as their manager, they might want to get together with him posthaste. Steinbach's manager in Oakland, Tony LaRussa, was hired as Chief Baseball Officer by the Arizona Diamondbacks a few months ago. In addition, former A's pitcher Dave Stewart (who was teammates with Steinbach in Oakland for seven seasons) was recently hired as GM of the Diamondbacks. One of Stewart's first official actions was to fire manager Kirk Gibson and bench coach Alan Trammell. Don't think for one second Steinbach isn't on the D-Backs' short list of replacements for Gibson.

The Twins also kept open the possibility of hiring outside the organization. One name that cropped up via baseball insiders was that of Dave Martinez, who played 16 seasons (1986-2001) in the big leagues with nine different franchises. Martinez has been the Tampa Bay Rays bench coach since their AL pennant winning season of 2008. This would be intriguing from the standpoint that Martinez has been under the tutelage of highly respected manager Joe Maddon, who managed the Rays to five 90-win seasons in six years. Quite an accomplishment for a franchise with scant financial resources.

I imagine there will be other names bandied about in the coming days and Ryan will likely weigh all options carefully. Given it's been almost three years since he's been back on the job as Twins GM, Ryan may well be the next guy on the hot seat if this next move doesn't work out and the team continues to struggle on the field.

This will definitely be one of the more intriguing offseasons the Twins have had in over a decade.


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