I didn’t rush right out to post reactions to the Twins’ coaching changes as the information came out on Thursday, which is probably a good thing.
StarTribune beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III was obviously wired in to the situation at Target Field and started the ball rolling by announcing that bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek had been advised his contract was not being renewed. My immediate reaction, via Twitter, was something to the effect that blaming the Twins’ problems on Stelly was comparable to blaming the Titanic’s problems on the guy who painted the hull of the ship. Based on what I read of others’ comments, I wasn’t the only fan who felt that way.
But, as we now know, the Twins gave more of the coaching staff similar messages. Jerry White and Steve Liddle were also not renewed while Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were assigned instructional duties. Only Rick Anderson survived the purge and Andy got just a one-year reprieve. Of course, Ron Gardenhire himself has one more year on his contract and he’s being allowed to continue in his role, at least for now.
While the media was initially assuming (or at least speculating) that Ullger and Vavra would remain on the Major League staff, both coaches were listed as minor league instructors on the Twins’ official website. Their situations have been clarified apparently and both will remain with the Major League club, which disappoints me a bit. I don’t necessarily think Vavra has done a bad job as the Twins’ hitting coach, but how easy will it be for a new coach to establish himself with the hitters with Vavra still in the clubhouse?
What this all means is that the Twins have three open coaching positions to fill in their Major League dugout and while the Twins haven’t announced who would be filling those positions, it’s pretty clear who will be making the decisions. While most MLB managers are given a great deal of latitude in terms of assembling their own coaching staffs, clearly Gardenhire is not the primary decision maker this time around. He was on record recently as saying he wanted to keep all of his coaches, but General Manager (without the “interim”) Terry Ryan pretty much put an abrupt end to that possibility.
Instead, Gardenhire and Anderson will have three new faces surrounding them next season and two of those new faces are likely to be Gene Glynn and Bobby Cuellar, who are very definitely potential replacements for Gardy and Andy should the team’s performance once again fall below expectations in 2013.
The purge also could make room on the Major League staff for former Twins star Tom Brunansky. Bruno was hired to coach hitting for the Twins Gulf Coast League rookie team in July of 2010. A year later, he was the hitting coach at AA New Britain and this past season he moved up to AAA Rochester. His coaching abilities have not gone unnoticed, obviously, and apparently they’ve been noticed beyond just the Twins organization. Speculation has been that if the Twins don’t find a way to promote him, other organizations will and the Twins are likely lose him.
Ryan has indicated a desire to add a Spanish-speaking coach to their Big League staff since a number of MLB-ready players do not speak much English. That might bode well for Cuellar’s chances, but one has to wonder just how much help he’d be with communication issues during ballgames from his perch in the bullpen. Personally, I’d like to see AA hitting coach Rudy Hernandez considered for one of the openings. I’ve heard that players coming through New Britain speak very highly of Hernandez. Promoting him to the Twins would allow them to give Brunansky an opportunity to actually manage a year in the minor leagues, which might not be a terrible idea.
I’ve heard a lot of comments about how it isn’t fair that the “lesser coaches” got the boot while Gardenhire, Anderson and even Ullger and Vavra (since they’ll still be with the Twins) survived. Frankly, that’s true. It isn’t fair. But this isn’t about “fair.”
Baseball coaches at the professional level all know that their jobs are only as safe as the team’s performance on the field. They work under relatively short term contracts and they all know those contracts are subject to not being renewed for any reason. In this case, the primary reason Stelly, White and Liddle didn’t have their contracts renewed was more about Terry Ryan’s desire to bring a new group of coaches in to the clubhouse than any real or perceived performance issues on those coaches’ parts. I think it’s safe to say Jerry White didn’t cost the Twins too many games this season. Ryan needed to create three vacancies to create room for his guys, pure and simple.
I’m fine with these moves, both with the coaching changes and with retaining Gardenhire and Anderson, for now. But my being fine with them is conditioned on these moves not being the last bold moves Ryan makes this offseason. In fact, if March rolls around and the coaching changes are considered to be even close to the biggest moves he’s made, I’ll be well beyond just very disappointed.
Mr. Ryan, you have gotten our attention. Now show us what you do for an encore… and it had better be good.