The Minnesota Twins are holding their annual “organizational meetings” in Fort Myers this week. As newsworthy baseball stories go, that bit of information ranks quite a bit below the MLB postseason games and their seemingly nightly extra-inning games and walk-off finishes.
What exactly are the organizational meetings? Well, in Hollywood’s version of Moneyball, you may remember seeing Brad Pitt as Oakland General Manager Billy Beane gathering a few guys around a table in a room and tossing out names of players they might want to pursue acquiring for the following season. That may have fit screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s needs, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of a real life professional baseball organization.
The Twins hold these meetings every October, but this year’s gathering could be the most critical such gathering in years.
Over the coming days, weeks and months, the Twins need to
- Hire a new manager for the first time in over a decade.
- Work with said new manager to assemble a seven-person big league level coaching staff.
- Assign manager and coaching duties to every level of minor league affiliate.
- Determine which, if any, of their minor league free agents to attempt to retain.
- Determine at which minor league level to place a significant number of their top young prospects to start 2015.
- Determine whether to offer arbitration to a few members of their current big league roster.
- Identify potential MLB level free agents and/or trade targets to pursue once the World Series is completed.
Some of the items on that to-do list are not common tasks for this organization, but even for some of those that are on the list every postseason, the stakes this year have risen significantly.
First order of business: Identify and hire a new manager
When it comes to deciding who should manage the Twins in 2015 and beyond, a seeming significant majority of fans agreed on one thing – it shouldn’t be Ron Gardenhire. OK, that group (which included me) got their wish. Gardenhire will not manage the Twins going forward.
There is far less of a consensus concerning who SHOULD manage the Twins and, obviously, that’s a far more important question than simply coming to an agreement on who should not.
A fair number of fans seem to feel that anyone the Twins could pick would be better than Gardy. I beg to differ.
Say what you will about the man who managed the Twins for the past 13 years, every year there were MLB managers who were worse at their job than was Ron Gardenhire. Some of those managers were newly hired by their organization. Some were getting their first opportunity to manage at the big league level.
Of all of the confirmed candidates, both internal and external to the Twins organization, that have been identified by the media, exactly one of them would not be making his MLB managing debut on Opening Day 2015 if he is hired by the Twins.
The Twins have had just two managers since Ronald Reagan second term as the US President wrapped up. That can lead fans to feel a certain level of complacency, as if it’s unlikely or even impossible for the Twins to make a bad hire. But they can and they have. Ray Miller, who preceded Tom Kelly in the job, managed just 239 games for the Twins before being axed.
As was the case when Miller was hired back in 1985, the Twins are widely viewed as being on the cusp of a new era of competitiveness, with a number of highly touted young prospects nearing completion of their minor league apprenticeships. Making a bad hire could dangerously impede the club’s reemergence in to relevancy in the American League Central Division.
I agree with Terry Ryan. It’s not important if the new manager comes from within the organization or from the outside; whether he has prior experience or not; whether he is multi-lingual or struggles just to speak coherent English.
What matters is that the choice is the right choice. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know with certainty whether that’s the case immediately (though I think we can pretty much be certain that a significant – and vocal – segment of the fan base will think it is not the right choice, regardless of the final decision).
Assembling a big league coaching staff
While not as highly visible as their selection of a manager, the final make-up of the Twins’ MLB coaching staff is arguably as important. The manager has to run the clubhouse and make out the line-up card and deal with the media and be the public face of the team. But it’s his coaching staff that will spend far more time working with directly with the next generation of Twins players.
When you look at the names of the players likely to wear Twins uniforms for the next several years, it’s not hard to project that as many as one-third of them in any given year will be Latin American natives. Some of them speak passable English. Many do not. It’s easy to say, “they should be learning English,” and – over time – they will. But even above the obvious need for coaches who can communicate with these players in their own language, it’s equally important to have coaches familiar with the culture from which those players have come.
I hope the next Twins manager is more open to using advanced metrics in his game-day decisions (or at the very least, is far less openly dismissive of the idea). But let’s be honest, no manager has the time to pour over all of the information that’s going to be available to him and determine which is helpful how to apply it every day.
That makes it just as critical to have coaches who have experience doing exactly that and, where they don’t have such experience, they have minds open to learning and applying new things.
Finally, Tom Brunansky certainly appears to have done a good job as hitting coach and if the Twins don’t move quickly to retain him, I think they risk losing him to another organization. I would hate to see that happen.
Minor league assignments
For the past few years, the Twins have pretty much nibbled at the edges when it comes to making adjustments to their staff of minor league managers and coaches. They’ve moved a couple guys around every year, but largely there has been a fair amount of consistency at every level, from non-complex rookie ball at Elizabethton through AAA in Rochester.
That’s normal when you have stability among the big league staff and, given the highly acclaimed status of the Twins minor league organization, you would perhaps like to see such stability continue.
But when there are eight spots at the big league level open, it’s hard to imagine we won’t see some of those openings filled from within the current minor league managing/coaching ranks.
Ray Smith has been managing at rookie level Elizabethton for 13 consecutive years (21 years overall) and is likely to continue there, but it would not be hard to imagine Gene Glynn (AAA), Jeff Smith (AA), Doug Mientkiewicz (hi-A) or Jake Mauer (A) in the Twins dugout next season. Two of them, Glynn and Mientkiewicz, have interviewed for the manager vacancy, an indication of how highly the Twins think of both men, while Smith and Mauer have each been managing in the Twins organization for longer than Glynn and Mientkiewicz, combined.
If the Twins hire a manager from outside the organization, that manager is likely to bring in a few additional outsiders with him. If the Twins hire from inside the organization, one might hope that they similarly insist that the new manager include some outside blood among his staff.
But in any event, given the Twins’ history of rewarding loyalty, it is almost impossible to imagine a Twins big league coaching staff without the presence of some number of coaches from within. That may well include one or more current minor league manager or coach, especially considering that they all will be familiar faces and voices to most of the Twins prospects due to arrive in the big leagues over the next couple of years.
By and large, most of the field managers and coaches in the minor league organization look to advance up the organizational ladder, just like the players do. When there are wholesale coaching changes made at the big league level, it would be at least mildly surprising if there were not similar adjustments to the minor league assignments.
Just as is the case with players, some of the staff may move up, some may look at the new landscape and decide their paths to the big leagues might be more open in another organization and, unfortunately, some will not be retained by the Twins, as minor league hitting coordinator Bill Springman and Fort Myers pitching coach Gary Lucas have already found out.
Some fans have become so disgruntled with the Twins’ lack of success at the big league level that they will be satisfied with nothing less than a clean sweep of every manager and coach in the Twins’ system.
That’s not going to happen, nor should it.
The Twins may indeed have become too insular and every organization benefits from adding quality people from the outside. Organizations also benefit from identifying and promoting quality people from within.
The Twins are in a unique situation this offseason in that they have room in the organization to do both.