After a surprising last place finish, people who follow the Twins grew restless. Tack on four losses to start this season, and even many Twins fans who are normally calm are starting to get upset. Whenever a pro sports team hits a losing patch, fans inevitably start to call for the team to fire its manager or head coach. At the rate the Twins are going, it’s only a matter of time before the chorus of fans demanding Ron Gardenhire get the axe swells to a deafening level.
So maybe it’s worth thinking about who the Twins would hire if Gardenhire did receive his walking papers.
A few disclaimers are in order here. First, the Twins’ season is far from a disaster at this point. As annoying as those first four losses were, we have no more reason than before the season to believe that the Twins are going to repeat their basement finish. Second, the misfortunes that have befallen the Twins are probably not Gardenhire’s fault. Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that no Big League manager could win many games if he was forced to rely on the AAAA roster Gardenhire had in 2011. Finally, even if the Twins do stumble, and even if we could somehow pin their 2012 struggles on the manager, it’s far from certain that the Twins would let him go. This team has not fired a manager since 1986, despite plenty of losing seasons.
That said, part of the fun of having an internet sports website is the ability to speculate wildly about things like this. For the purposes of this article, let’s go ahead and panic. Assume the Twins lose 100 games in 2012, and after a short period of soul searching (and perhaps a trial before the Court of Puckett’s Pond) the Twins let their manager go. Doing so probably would not fix any of the team’s losing ways, but it would be a message to the fanbase that the team wants to make changes.
At this time, there appear to be several candidates to succeed Gardenhire as Twins manager:
In recent times, bench coaches are often the ones who win open manager jobs, and that means Ullger is the Twins’ second-in-command, the Marty McFly to Gardenhire’s Doc Brown. If by some astronomically improbable chain of events Gardenhire were to be fired before the end of the season, Ullger would almost certainly be named interim manager. He has seven seasons of minor league management experience and sixteen years of service time as an MLB coach. There is no question Ullger has the resume needed for the job. The only problem is that if the team were to fire Gardenhire, it would mean they are looking for a change in direction. In that situation, it’s hard to imagine they would simply replace Gardenhire with his right hand man; in fact, Ullger may very well get a pink slip too.
Liddle’s prospects for the job are about the same as Ullger’s. He spent nine seasons as bench coach before becoming the third base coach, so he also has plenty of coaching experience. But he’s also firmly entrenched in the current regime, so his success or failure with the Twins is closely tied to that of Gardenhire and Ullger.
Smith it the manager of the New Britain Rock Cats. Since AAA Rochester’s manager Gene Glynn is new to the organization, Smith is probably the highest level manager in the Twins organization who would receive consideration for the job. He started managing at Class A Fort Myers in 2008 and had some success with that club. Last year was his second season with New Britain, and he oversaw a big jump from a 44-98 record in 2010 to 72-70 and a playoff chase in 2011. He has already worked with many of the Twins’ rising prospects, including Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, and Brian Dozier, which would be a plus.
Move one level down the minors, and we find a familiar name in the Twins organization. Jake Mauer has managed the Fort Myers Miracle for two seasons after two years managing in the Rookie Leagues. Like Smith, he has worked with the next wave of Twins prospects. Mauer would also carry some symbolic significance. Believe it or not, Jake Mauer is actually the brother of one of the players on the Twins (I won’t tell you which one; it’s a secret). That would definitely create some favorable publicity for the Twins. Also, like his MLB brother, Mauer is a Minnesota native, which could help his cause.
Okay, this one is just a joke. But I wanted people to imagine this idea, just to see if it’s possible to wrap our heads around it. There is a sizeable contingent of Floridians who are calling for Guillen to resign as Marlins manager, so it’s in theory possible he’ll be out of a job this offseason. If Terry Ryan feels the need to appeal to the angry/crazy side of the Twins fanbase, Guillen might just be the way to go.
Hiring Molitor would be a bold move, and it would instantly provide some palpable excitement for the team. His credentials as a player are impeccable: 3,319 hits, seven All Star appearances, 504 stolen bases, and a World Series ring. Like Mauer, Molitor is a native Minnesotan, and he finished his playing career with the Twins as a fan favorite. He knows how to hit, how to run, and how to win, and he seems to have a personable demeanor that would allow him to do well with the media. And hiring a Hall of Famer to manage is probably the best way a team can create positive buzz and sell tickets. In fact, Molitor is such a good all-around candidate that he might have gotten the manager job in 2002 had he not been afraid contraction would eliminate the Twins. If he is willing to be the Twins manager this time around, he might be the best choice for the job.
If it’s open, that is.