Twins players packed up, hugged teammates and departed Target Field on Sunday, getting away from a 66-96 season as fast as they could.
Left behind was a list of things for the front office to address during the offseason — starting with the future of manager Ron Gardenhire, who does not have a contract for next year.
Gardenhire and General Manager Terry Ryan met Sunday morning in the manager’s office and the two were expected to be in touch with each other during the evening and Monday, if necessary. Indications after the game were that the Twins wanted this issue taken care of by the end of the day Monday so they would not interfere with the start of baseball’s postseason.
“Conversations are still going on,” Gardenhire said. “We all know what’s at stake, and [an announcement] is not going to go through me. It is what it is. Whatever happens, he is going to make a decision and go with it and I’ll live with it one way or another.”
If Gardenhire returns, look for him to receive at least a two-year contract, perhaps longer, as he will get a chance to steer the Twins away from a disastrous three-year run in which they have lost 291 games. Ryan, whose association with Gardenhire goes back to the early 1980s when both were with the Mets, has pointed the finger at himself several times in recent weeks when questioned about Gardenhire and the team’s struggles. Ryan has said he is the one who has supplied Gardenhire the players.
But Ryan definitely is coming back. Gardenhire’s future remains up in the air.
Twins players came to Gardenhire’s defense on Sunday.
“He’s been the reason why we have won here,” injured catcher Joe Mauer said. “He’s a great manager and it’s not his fault, um … it’s not his fault. Hopefully they realize that and bring him back. I love playing for him.”
If Gardenhire was a dead man walking Sunday, he didn’t show it as he cracked a couple of jokes during his pregame presser and chatted up security guards and clubhouse attendants outside the entrance to the clubhouse before the game.
“I don’t think about that stuff,” he said when asked if he was able to ignore the possibility that Sunday was his final day as Twins manager. “I don’t care about it. I like where I’m at. I’d rather stay here, and if it doesn’t work out here then you start thinking about other stuff. I enjoy it here. This is as good as it gets for me.”
Twins owner Jim Pohlad on Friday met with Ryan and President Dave St. Peter for three hours to go over the team and the managerial situation. When asked about it Sunday, Pohlad said he gave Ryan the final call on firing or bringing Gardenhire back. Pohlad also acknowledged that the club is willing to pursue free agents harder than in the past and has told Ryan that. Promises that the roster will be improved could weigh into Gardenhire’s decision to accept any offer.
Ryan also has met with members of the coaching staff in recent days and could make changes in that area. But Ryan hasn’t indicated that any chances were coming.
There will be other items on Ryan’s to-do list in the coming weeks.
The Twins definitely are interested in re-signing righthander Mike Pelfrey, figuring that he’ll be much better than his 5-13 record in his second year removed from Tommy John surgery. Pelfrey is expected to test the free-agent market and see what’s available and could be swayed by a playoff contender.
Pelfrey is very comfortable in the Twin Cities, and also would be swayed if the Twins show they are serious about upgrading the roster.
And don’t rule out the Twins making trades to fill holes. The Twins have several prospects they could deal — prospects not named Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano.
With Brian Dozier closer to establishing himself as a reliable second baseman, the Twins might listen to offers for second baseman Eddie Rosario. He will play second base and the outfield in the upcoming Arizona Fall League.
But Item No. 1 on the Ryan’s list will be Gardenhire’s future, and it’s an item that should be resolved in the next couple of days.