If a Change Must Be Made…

I think most Twins fans had limited expectations for 2012, but this is getting ridiculous.

The theory was… with the health of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Scott Baker uncertain, we had to keep expectations in check. But if all of those players proved healthy, the team could surprise some people. Of course, not all of those players proved healthy as Scott Baker never made it to the starting gate before undergoing season-ending surgery. But the others have not only been healthy, but quite productive, thank-you-very-much.

The pitching has been a disaster, plain and simple.

In situations like this, it’s tough to come up with reasonable solutions. As manager Ron Gardenhire told the media the other day, it’s not like they can just go out and buy more pitching at this point. They have to hope the guys they have do a better job.

But the Twins’ problems on the field are starting to have an effect off the field… in particular, in the stands. Target Field has about 40,000 seats and this week barely 3/4 of those seats have had fans’ butts in them. That means not only lower ticket sales, but fewer hot dogs, beers and jerseys being sold. That’s not good news when it happens toward the end of a season that doesn’t go particularly well. When it happens before May Day, it’s got the potential to be disastrous for an organization.

If there are no reasonable solutions, however, what’s a front office to do? It really only leaves one option… consider UNreasonable solutions.

I’ve said many times that I believe baseball managers, like football and basketball coaches, get too much credit for their teams’ success and too much blame for the failures. It’s a basic truth of professional and major college sports. Another truth in big time sports is that, whether right or wrong, it’s easier to make a change in management than it is to make all the roster changes that are called for.

Would Terry Ryan really do it though? Would he fire Ron Gardenhire?

He may have no choice.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

Gardy has his supporters and his detractors. Many people question his strategies… his fondness for (some might call it an obsession with) “scrappy” ballplayers who “get after it.” Others point to the success his Twins teams have had over the past decade… the Division titles won with arguably marginal talent. Others point to the postseason failures.

But none of that really matters right now. This decision… if it’s to be made… would not be about Ron Gardenhire’s basebally smarts or lack thereof. At this point, it would be a business decision for Terry Ryan and the Twins ownership, pure and simple.

The Twins front office wants to win, of course. They are competitive, by nature, and that means they want to beat the competition. But does that mean winning baseball games or making more money? Some people seem to think that Twins ownership only cares about the latter, but that’s absurd. Even if that’s true, now that they have their new stadium, the two are intractably intertwined. The Twins can’t beat the competition in the financial competition if they don’t also beat them on the field.

Fans are telling the Twins, loud and clear, that as nice as Target Field is, they won’t fill the stadium to watch bad baseball… frustrating baseball… consistently losing baseball. If that’s the kind of baseball the Twins are going to play, changes must be made… and probably sooner rather than later. If only 30,000 fans are coming to games at the end of April, how many are going to be coming through the turnstiles in August and September?

But would a change in the manager’s office mean more wins? Maybe… maybe not… but it would do one thing for certain and that’s generate discussion… generate renewed interest. Whether they agree or disagree with the decision, fans would pay attention… they’d tune in to see IF it makes a difference.

And that’s a factor Terry Ryan may not be able to ignore much longer. Major League Baseball history is littered with fired managers who didn’t suddenly get stupid, but found themselves fired… or “reassigned other duties”… anyway. It’s a cruel fact of Big League life that Ron Gardenhire may be on the brink of finding out about first hand.

All of which begs the question, if Gardy’s days are becoming numbered with the Twins, who would… or should… Terry Ryan replace him with?

When a manager loses his gig mid season, often the replacement is someone within the organization… usually the bench coach or maybe whoever is managing the organization’s AAA affiliate. But if this really would be primarily a business decision, would putting Steve Liddle or Gene Glynn in charge fire up the fan base enough to keep their interest? I have my doubts.

Who would make people start paying attention again, even if the chances of the Twins climbing back in to contention are all but gone?

I’ve had a hunch that the Twins have been kind of grooming Tom Brunansky to take over down the road at some point, but he hasn’t even managed a full-season minor league affiliate yet (he’s Rochester’s hitting coach this season). He would be someone the fans would recognize and would have credibility in the clubhouse, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Twins trusting him in the manager’s chair this soon.

So who would they hire?

I don’t have any answers to that question, yet. But it’s probably time to start sorting through potential candidates.

It’s a good bet that Terry Ryan has already started doing just that.

– JC

5 Replies to “If a Change Must Be Made…”

  1. Wow. What bit you? You start sounding a lot like me 🙂

    And firing the manager and his cohorts mid season, replacing him with a young hungry manager and replacing the interim GM with a young GM who would energize the front office this off-season cannot be that bad… Remeber 1986 and what happened in 1987.

    Both Gardy and Ryan have to go. Ryan was also part of the problem. And it might had been a long time ago, but before the Twins rose like Phoenix this millennium, Ryan took the team of champions that McPhail built and turned it into a candidate for contraction…

    New blood (and outside of the organization) in the front office and the manager’s office will do wonders for this team, I am certain (heck, been certain since they lost game 163 in Chigaco and been consistently saying so…)

    Glad to see others coming on board 😉

  2. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly “on board” with your line of thinking, thrylos. I don’t agree at all with your evaluation of the performance of the manager and GM. Players are not doing their jobs well and you seem to think the answer is to blame everything on management. It’s a typical instinct in most of America today. I simply don’t subscribe to it. I don’t agree with your view that everyone in the front office and field management is incompetent and replacing all of them magically solves the Twins problems.

    For me, this is simply boiling down to a business decision. There are masses of fans who think the way you do… “management is the problem”… and that means that a change may be necessary just to keep those people engaged through the rest of this season and in to next year. It doesn’t make them right. It just makes it necessary to acknowledge that they feel that way and ignoring them would come at a financial cost.

  3. I am not sure any manager could do much with this team. I know that it is easier to fire a manager than the players but this team is what we thought it would be. You can’t make silk out of a sow’s ear.

  4. Gardy hands are clean of this mess, in my opinion. I think we’re seeing the results of poor scouting and what really happened when Bill Smith was the GM. Terry Ryan has his work cut out for him, and he’s struggling with cleaning up and repairing the damage. It’s still too early in the season to tell what’s going to happen. Yes, the starting pitching is an issue, but so is the offense’s inability to drive in runs. There have been too many games already this season where the Twins had several opportunities to take the lead and win the game, but too often they could not come through in the clutch.

    Oh, and if in the off chance Gardy does get his walking papers, I’m gonna play the nepotism card and say that Jake Mauer would get promoted to manage the Twins.

  5. I’m not a Gardy fan (although he seemed to be a refreshing change from TK in 2002, I’ve never been all that impressed by him as a manager), but it’s hard to imagine this group of talent suddenly taking off just because Gardy is gone and either Brunansky or Liddle (or, god forbid, Ullger) take over, and it wouldn’t seem like the Twins to fire the manager just to get people buzzing for a little while.

    If fans won’t come out to Target Field just for the splendorous atmosphere and beauty of the ballpark, and if that matters to the Pohlad heirs, then Terry Ryan will need to get straight to work on fixing what’s wrong with the team. And it looks like the most pressing problem is the pitching, right? The club has a good lineup core still under contract after this season, but the pitching is just a mess.

    Fortunately, this winter will give Ryan a great opportunity to rebuild the rotation practically from scratch, with Pavano, Baker, Liriano, and Marquis all coming off the books (that’s $23.5M, right there). After focusing on pitching in the draft this June, I hope to see Ryan sign at least two good SP’s after the season, in addition to the bargain basement vets who will be brought in to compete with the youngsters for the other two open spots. And after 2013, I expect him to decline Blackburn’s option and go get another quality pitcher to take his spot, too.

    That’s the task in front of him. He may not be able to fix it all by next year, but he has a chance to overhaul the staff and right things pretty quickly, if he makes good decisions and ownership will spend the money.