Twins fans have been clamoring for change since the middle of the 2011 season. While discussion, debate, and argument included the players to cut and the players to sign, there has been a strong contingent shouting “Fire Gardenhire!” I’ve never been a part of that faction. In my opinion, Ron Gardenhire has done a pretty fine job with the team he was given over each of the last two seasons.
To my chagrin, as the end of the season approached, the “Fire Gardenhire!” chant gained some momentum. Fortunately, the “Interim” GM Terry Ryan (who’s not expected to keep the “Interim” title much longer) made it clear that Gardenhire was not on the chopping block. While I would like to believe that was because the Minnesota Twins organization believe Gardenhire still has what it takes, it could be simply that Gardenhire has one more year on his contract. If he manages the team for a third consecutive 90+ loss season, well, he ought to be familiar with the “three strike” rule.
Gardenhire’s coaching staff, on the other hand, did not fair nearly as well. The staff has been removed or reassigned, almost in it’s entirety. The day after the Twins season ended, the following moves were made:
- Rick Stelmaszek (bullpen coach) – contract not renewed
- Steve Liddle (third-base coach) - contract not renewed
- Jerry White (first-base coach) - contract not renewed
- Rick McWane (head athletic trainer) - contract not renewed
- Joe Vavra (hitting coach) – reassigned to infielder instructer
- Scott Ullger (bench coach) – reassigned to outfield instructor
Gardenhire remains as the manager and Rick Anderson remains as the pitching coach; Anderson is the only other coach with a year remaining on his contract. It’s very possible that Gardenhire and Anderson are coaching for their jobs next year, as it seems unlikely that the Twins would keep them around if 2013 proves to be another 90+ loss season. “Minnesota Nice” might get you an extra year, but it can also give you a kind word at your dismissal:
Difficult day for @twins organization. Said goodbye to some high-quality people who have contributed greatly to team success. Thx to ALL.
— Dave St. Peter (@TwinsPrez) October 4, 2012
While a change or two to the coaching staff has been discussed for the last year and a half, it’s a bit overwhelming to see all the changes at once. Many may cheer the moves, others may think the front office hasn’t gone far enough, but the reality is that these men had significant history in an organization that values loyalty. Take Rick Stelmaszek, lauded by many and chosen by committee in 2010 as one of the “50 Greatest Twins”. And as coach of the bullpen, he was in charge of what was arguably the best component of the 2012 Twins.
Then there is the flip-side. A number of fans have to be asking why Rick McWane was brought back for another season as the head trainer after the barrage of injuries in 2011. What was different enough this year for him to get cut? Sure, in 2012 there were a couple of maddening stints with guys labeled “day to day” rather than being sent to the DL, but fans’ frustration with the training staff in 2012 was nothing compared to the frustration fans had with the training staff in 2011. Then again, fans may not see what lies below the surface as clearly as those within the organization do.
With the Twins’ front office willing to make at least some of the tough coaching decisions, fans can bet that some hard-to-swallow player moves will be made in the off-season, the kind where you know the decision is good but your heart breaks just a little to say good-bye. Still, I’d like to ask the Twins front office why they took such a broad stroke in removing current staff, but let two remain. If the answer is because they think Gardenhire and Anderson can still be part of the solution , I’m willing to trust the organization. But if the organization says that they didn’t want to waste the $2 million or so owed next year to Gardenhire and the additional money owed to Anderson, fans can expect player moves made to benefit the bottom line more than the outcome of the season.