Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
There's a story about when the Twins were moving into Target Field and they were deciding on the ballpark's official hot dog. Seems like a simple thing, right? But the Twins way to do it was for a couple of dozen team officials to gather and taste test all the possibilities. Someone asked if they could have mustard and was told no -- that this was all about the meat.
That's not to say that such widespread involvement is holding up the hiring of the new Twins managers.
It's just that deliberation is the Twins way of doing things, even when the decisions may appear as simple (to some) as hiring a Twin Cities legend over the fiery minor-league upstart and a stat-head from Boston to be the team's next manager. Or someone else, if Terry Ryan is being forthcoming in the update in today's news.
And, if you're Ryan, deliberation is all the more vital for another reason: I believe his tenure as general manager is dependent on making the right choice. So while Paul Molitor may well get the job, I'm dismissive of those who are certain the entire slow-moving process is a charade leading up to his selection.
Should Molitor get it? I don't know. As much insight as I may have about baseball, my insights into Molitor's potential managing skill are worth less than a second of your time compared to the hours than Ryan is spending grilling the candidates and matching his expectations to the right fit as he sees it.
Yeah, I like the fire that I presume Doug Mientkiewicz would bring to the job. I like it a lot. I like that he's worked with all the young players who are seen as key parts of the Twins' future. I liked Mientkiewicz as a colorful player during the Twins' seasons of resurrection and I'd hope that he'd quickly make the Twins greater than the sum of their parts.
Yeah, I like Torey Lovullo almost as much because of his reputation as a guy who understands baseball's metrics more than we assume is the norm in the Twins' organization. He's been with Boston during the best of times and during the times when things have gone wrong, so I assume he's internalized the things that can make a good team go in one direction or the other. His choice would also be different thinking by a team that needs a new direction.
Yeah, I've also spent maybe a total of 15 or 20 minutes thinking through all of this. Anything more would be a waste of time and energy. I think I (and a lot of other people) can look at a baseball player over a period of time and have a pretty good feel for how good he is -- or isn't. If you think I (or anyone) can look at someone who has never managed in the majors and know how good he'd be -- and how better he might be in Year 3 or 4 compared with Year 1 or 2 -- you're asking way too much.
That's what the hours of deliberation are about.
I hate to be reasonable about this, but here's what I know: Ryan is making his choice against a backdrop of skepticism that the Twins have earned by bungling more things than they have gotten right in the last half-decade. Get it wrong and he isn't likely to be the one making the next choice.
Get it right and probably he won't be the one making the next choice, either. But that'll be a good thing because Ryan, 61, would be leaving on his own terms by hiring the Twins' manager for many years to come -- and leaving the club in better shape that he found it.
If you had that responsibility, you'd be taking your time, too.
I covered the firings of the two managers before Tom Kelly was hired by the Twins. Billy Gardner was cut loose in 1985 and conducted a one-liner filled exit interview with me 'n' Patrick Reusse, who was working in St. Paul at the time, in the Super 8 motel room in Roseville where he lived during the season. Little more than a year later, Ray Miller waxed bitter about his firing in the downtown Minneapolis high rise where he lived during his brief and flawed stint with the Twins.
You could see those coming too, even if both of them were in some denial about what led to their job loss.
Ron Gardenhire went out differently. I really think that every word he spoke on Monday afternoon, after Terry Ryan announced the change, was from the heart. For him to stay on as manager of the Twins would have been the wrong thing on many fronts. This is a team that needs a new voice, especially if that voice is intended to be heard for as long as Gardenhire's and Tom Kelly's were. This is a voice intended to be heard in 2025 as well as 2015, if Ryan and the Twins make the right choice.
I was among the first to write this season that a change of manager was needed. If you think I was happy to write that, you're mistaken. I was as happy to make that case as Ryan was to tell Gardy that he was gone.
Gardenhire's spring training tryout with the Twins came in 1987, the last year I covered the team, and he lost out on a reserve's job (as did Ron Washington) after the Twins traded for Al Newman. Gardy played in 10 games that spring. He made five errors and didn't hit much. Kelly made no secret that he was looking for a glove more than a bat -- and Gardy was cut at the end of camp (on the same day the Twins traded with San Francisco for Dan Gladden).
I saw a lot of those fringe guys come through spring training. None of them came back and made an impact, other than Gardy. When the curmudgeon Kelly resigned, Gardy was the folksy, cheerful replacement. He was a voice the Twins needed and he was the right manager to guide the group that he took over, which is a very different group than the one that led to Gardy being thrown overboard.
This group needs a voice more strident than folksy. If you want a leader for a core of self-starters who are going to demand the most from each other, Gardy is among the best choices to manage. That's not a description of the current Twins, who act way too content with being on the periphery of other teams' success. As constructed by Ryan, this wasn't a team good enough to contend -- and I got the sense that didn't bother players as much as it should have.
So why not sack Ryan, too?
Well, if that happened, whom in the organization would you trust to find his replacement -- much less a new manager? Starting pitching isn't the only area in which the Twins have little depth.
The choice of a new manager and the revisions made to the current roster will, basically, be a referendum on Ryan. He has done some things for the minor-league organization to help it recover from the fraying that took place between his general manager stints. But the real challenge is whether that will soon pay off at Target Field.
In addition to hiring a new manager, I hope Ryan hires a top assistant to work with him. The next year or two will be a test of his abilities to construct a winning major league team, and if the troubles continue, his job should be the next on the line. So I want the coming changes to include someone who could well be the Twins' next general manager.
Worst case is that change needs making in a year or two.
Best case for the Twins is that the right moves are made and Ryan is replaced when he damn well pleases -- and well down the road.
This may have been the ultimate First World issue, whether the Twins should have found a way to give pitcher Phil Hughes the $500,000 bonus he would have earned if a rain delay hadn't robbed him of a chance to get one more out on Wednesday.
(For those who haven't been following the deal, Hughes had that bonus in his contract for pitching 210 innings -- and he'll finish the season with 209 2/3.)
The Twins offered to let Hughes pitch against Detroit to earn the bonus. Hughes declined, and apparently rebuffed efforts to find a way to have the money given to him in some other way. It would have been deserved, but Hughes took the position that he just didn't feel right about any of the ideas that had been put forward.
Both the Twins and Hughes came away looking good.
That's a small but important thing.
However the Twins move forward in reshaping the team for 2015 and beyond, they need to be perceived in a better way than they are right now.. J.J. Hardy, Vance Worley and Carlos Gomez have been among those with unflattering things to say after their exits. The David Ortiz complaints, however ancient (or valid) they may be, are ancient history.
Much had been made about the success of players after they have left the team, whether it's the All-Star status of Gomez, the three ex-Twins among National League batting average leaders or the attention that Francisco Liriano and Worley have gotten for their work in Pittsburgh. Combine those with the tumble from postseason staple to baseball bottom-dweller and the picture is pretty ugly.
Obviously, $500,000 isn't much to Twins management or to a pitcher making an $8 million salary this season. By themselves, the positions of the Twins and Hughes don't mean much.
But as one step toward reshaping the team's image, it's a start.
And, yes, there's still a lot of work to do.
To that end, here are a few interesting reads and listens for the final weekend of the season:
Steve Buhr, who has written for Section 219 as "Jim Crikket," writes about what he'd do if he owned the Twins.
ESPN 1500's Phil Mackey has this in-depth look at the deterioration of the Twins.
Here's the Star Tribune's special report from earlier this week on what needs to be done to fix the Twins.
And I was invited to talk about the Twins (from bobbleheads to bobbled grounders) on the Talk to Contact podcast on Thursday night. I had fun ... and only cussed once.
A “month of hope” for the Twins is about to begin. Players will be called up and others will be cast aside, or to Houston in the case of Samuel Deduno. We can be fairly certain the Twins will again lose more than 90 games – but it would take their worst month of the season for them to lose 100. Small blessings, huh.
Don’t take anything you see this month seriously. If you’re the kind of person prone to get excited by the late season, I’m here to remind you of Chris Parmelee (2011) and Josmil Pinto (2013), to name two. If you’re that kind of person, watch more football or take a Community Ed class or something.
Change from within isn’t going to help the Twins. I’m doing my best to believe in the month of Kennys Vargas and the half-season of Danny Santana, but even those positives bring questions. We have no clue whether Santana is a major league caliber shortstop because the Twins forced themselves, through lousy roster management, to put him in center field – where Byron Buxton is expected to play into the 2020s.
And Vargas, if he is as real as he looks, creates issues about how to handle the first base and DH positions into the future. But any Vargas/Mauer/Pinto/whomever/whatever/however debate about filling those spots detracts from the other real issues facing a team that has slipped into mediocrity on so many levels. For many, the timeline to competence has been pushed back for another year for all sorts of reasons, including the injuries that rendered Buxton and Miguel Sano unavailable, and has apparently hindered some of the top pitching prospects we’ve been talking about.
Saturday’s minor-league news was that prospect Alex Meyer was pulled from his start in Rochester after only a few batters. Sunday’s news was that he was placed on the disabled list. August’s news, in addition to Buxton’s scary-as-heck concussion, was that Trevor May didn’t look ready for the majors despite all of the clamoring for his promotion. Five starts, 19 innings, 44 base runners. Splat!
I’m not talking solutions right now. I don’t have the energy to add voice to a debate that dances around the fringes of fixing mediocrity. Anyone who wants to debate Jordan Schafer can leave me out of it. And I don’t want to dip even one toe into the Gardy-created discussion about whether pressure over the All-Star Game contributed to Joe Mauer’s substandard performance.
If you missed that one, here it is. If your reaction is bleepity-bleeping-bleep, join the club.
My response for now is silence and apathy. I received some thoughtful emails when I asked for suggestions to fix the Twins, and I’ll be sharing some of them on the blog now and then. I’ve taken to following the Twins, more than anything, by looking at the in-game box scores on the MLB web site. Ricky Nolasco getting smoked again and Anthony Swarzak adding gasoline – Sunday’s action in Baltimore – go down more easily that way. I've got a Fantasy Football title to defend, a college class to teach and lots of other things going on.
Refusing to invest in a flawed product is the best message I can send right now.
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