Twins Announce New Coaches: Cuellar, Bruno and Steinbach

The Twins announced Monday that they’ve filled their three open Major League coaching positions. As had been speculated, two of those coaches are Bobby Cuellar (bullpen coach) and Tom Brunansky (hitting coach). But the third addition qualifies as a mild surprise, as Terry Steinbach will be stepping in as the Twins bench coach (and catching instructor).

While many Twins fans had wanted Minnesota native Paul Molitor to fill one of the openings, it turned out to be another native of the Gopher State, New Ulm’s Steinbach, who got the gig.

Many had expected Rochester Red Wings manager Gene Glynn to be promoted to the Twins dugout, but reports are that he will remain in his role at Rochester.

Tom Brunansky, new Twins hitting coach (Photo: Knuckleballs)

Of particular note, two of the new Twins coaches come with championship jewelry that they can flash in the clubhouse. Brunansky, of course, was a member of the Twins 1987 World Series Championship team and Steinbach got his ring with Tony LaRussa’s 1989 Oakland Athletics team that swept the Giants.

Brunansky came up through the Angels system and appeared in a few games with the Halos in 1981 before being traded to the Twins a year later. In 1988, Brunansky was traded to the Cardinals for Tommy Herr in one of the most infamous trades in Twins history. Over the final seven years of his career, he played for the Cards, Red Sox and Brewers.

Following nearly a decade in an A’s uniform, Steinbach finished his playing career with three years, from 1997-99, with the Twins.

Both Brunansky and Steinbach also have All-Star credentials. Clearly, in these two coaches, the Twins have added plenty of credibility to the coaching staff. Any player that won’t listen when Brunansky and Steinbach talk probably won’t listen to anyone.

Brunansky has been working his way up through the Twins minor league coaching ranks the past two and a half years and Steinbach has served as an instructor during Spring Training with the Twins for several years.

While Cuellar doesn’t come with the same Major League credentials that the other two do, having just the proverbial “cup of coffee” with the Rangers in 1977, he does have a long history of working with successful pitchers on their way up to the Big Leagues.

Most notably, to Twins fans anyway, Cuellar is credited with working with Johan Santana to perfect the change-up that Santana used to lay claim to two Cy Young awards as a Twins pitcher. However, Cuellar also worked with other pitchers, such as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who didn’t turn out so bad, either. Most recently, he’s been the Red Wings’ pitching coach, but he has also spent time on Major League staffs with the Expos (pitching coach), Rangers (bullpen coach) and Pirates (bullpen coach).

In the same announcement, the Twins indicated that Scott Ullger would be the first base coach and Joe Vavra will man the third base coach’s box.

I can’t help but wonder if Glynn was left off the Major League staff for essentially the same reason that Molitor wasn’t seen as a “fit” by GM Terry Ryan. Specifically, both men would probably be viewed as a potential “manager in waiting” to replace Ron Gardenhire should the Twins get off to a slow start in 2013. Assuming they both remain in the organization in their prior roles, they would still be available to step in if the ship starts sinking early in the year, but it makes some sense to me not to have them standing there looking over Gardy’s shoulder every game.

To my mind, there’s nothing not to like about these hires. The Twins have brought on a bullpen coach that has a long track record of success working with young pitchers (which the Twins bullpen is likely to have a plethora of well in to the future) and both a bench coach and hitting coach who not only have related well to young players, but should have credibility with the Twins’ veterans, as well.

I’m on board with these hires, although I cringe a bit at Ullger and Vavra coaching the bases. Most importantly, now that the coaching staff is set, Terry Ryan can turn his attention to adding a few new players for these guys to coach.

– JC


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.

Will these two be seeing more of one another in 2013? (photo: Jim Crikket)

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.

– JC