As unpopular as it has become to agree with any decision made at Target Field, the local ballclub got this right.
The Twins fired manager Ron Gardenhire at the right time, and for the right reasons.
They are keeping General Manager Terry Ryan for the right reasons.
If they want to earn their first triple crown of decisionmaking this decade, they need only hire Paul Molitor as their next manager.
Under Gardenhire, the Twins’ playing style deteriorated, while former Twins flourished elsewhere.
Relentless losing and Gardenhire’s willingness to critique players publicly eroded his authority in the clubhouse.
Ryan didn’t want to fire Gardenhire following the 2013 season because Ryan didn’t feel he gave the manager a competitive team. Then he signed two expensive-by-Twins-standards starting pitchers and a quality catcher, and the Twins lost 92 games as much because of unsightly fielding as any other factor.
Ryan hired Gardenhire in 2002 and re-signed him after the 2013 season. If any baseball executive would have kept Gardenhire as his manager, it would have been Ryan. That his last, best ally would decide to fire him tells you all you need to know about Gardenhire’s managing down the stretch of another lost season.
Why should Gardenhire go and Ryan stay? Because Gardenhire is responsible for the on-field product on a nightly basis, and the product was often embarrassing. Ryan is responsible for the overall health of the organization, and, despite 92 losses this season, the Twins could be on the verge of another 10-year run of success.
It takes a GM unable or unwilling to spend $150 million or more on payroll about four years to alter the course of a franchise. Ryan made his first blockbuster trade in 1998 when he sent Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees. Four years later, the Twins won the division.
When Bill Smith took over as general manager, momentum provided by Ryan’s decisions allowed him to win for three years before the organization fell apart, leading to these four horrid years on the field.
Ryan resumed his duties before the 2012 season. He has presided over lousy teams and a dramatic improvement in the farm system. If the arrival of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer doesn’t make the Twins more competitive in 2015, then Ryan will have had his four years, and the Pohlads will have reason to consider firing him.
Ryan deserves at least two more years. The guy who built a great farm system should get the chance to reap the benefits of a great farm system.
His second tenure will be defined by the next wave of prospects, and his next managerial hire.
When Tom Kelly won two World Series as Twins manager, he relied on players with whom he rode minor league buses.
When Gardenhire presided over nine years of winning, he relied on players with whom he rode Southern League buses.
Buxton, Sano, Danny Santana, Brian Dozier and Kennys Vargas will be the Twins’ most important position players for the rest of this decade. They all swear by Molitor.
This summer, I asked Buxton and Sano who they rely on in the Twins’ organization. Both said, “Molitor.”
I asked, “Who else?”
Both said, “Molitor.”
Of the thousands of baseball people I’ve encountered, perhaps only Kelly sees a game with the same incisiveness and prescience as Molitor, who can steal signs and find a pitcher’s “tells” before he starts his windup.
Those seeking a symbolic changing of the guard will beg the Twins to look outside their organization, to steal brainpower from the Cardinals. Hiring candidates associated with success is risky, though. Bill Belichick’s coordinators have not lasted as head coaches.
The Twins know what they have in Molitor. He’s a baseball genius, a gifted teacher of young players, a Hall of Fame competitor and, as something of an outcast on Gardenhire’s coaching staff, the rare detached insider who knows exactly what this team needs to improve.
So the Twins should do as Ryan insists, and conduct a wide-ranging international search for their next manager.
And then they should hire Molitor.