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.

For the Twins, the time for judgment is at hand

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: July 12, 2013 - 1:13 PM

 

We've now reached the point of the season where things are going pretty much as we thought they would. The Twins have deteriorated into a flawed mess that is leaking losses at home and on the road. The saddest part -- and there's some competition here, so I could be wrong -- is watching Gardy and Rick Anderson in the dugout waiting to see what will happen next. Or make sense of what  just happened.

To me, they sometimes look like two old guys trying to figure out how to use the GPS on their cell phone.

On Thursday, Patrick Reusse threw the Ron Gardenhire-as-manager discussion into overdrive with his column that the Twins should spare Gardy the coming grief and make a change sooner rather than later. Putting a new guy behind the manager's desk won't solve the problems, but the manager is the most representative symbol of a team's failure. (Players are the symbol of success, so it's never quite fair, but that's the way it is.)

The Twins have disserved Gardenhire with flawed personnel moves, whether they were free-agent decisions, trade giveaways or the unwillingness to bring in the type of veteran who have served as a competitive bridge to the future.I think Gardy bears some responsibility, especially because the field staff's opinion had to weigh more heavily during Bill Smith's failed term as general manager, if for no other reason than Smith was not a "baseball guy."

I also think Gardy will manage someplace else before retiring and will do well.

The mere arrival of Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and the pitchers-with-promise guarantees little except new faces and short-term excitement. There will be a need for able veterans to make sure that whomever whoever is managing the club has experienced hands to model the way things need to be. In 1987, that was Bert Blyleven, Dan Gladden, Jeff Reardon and the late-season addition of Don Baylor. In '91, it was Jack Morris, Chili Davis and Mike Pagliarulo. Those teams already had established stars, but needed that much more to get to a championship level.

To say the Twins were not going to settle for .500 this season -- a Terry Ryan contention from season's start -- while forcing Gardenhire to regularly use getting-experience and makeshift lineups is a disservice to the manager and an insult to ticket-buying fans. The Twins currently have a $76 million payroll -- about half going to two guys whose names begin with M -- so there was room to bring in talent without spending beyond reason (whatever that is).

Aaron Hicks being the regular center fielder because there was no viable alternative, not because he hit three home runs in an exhibition game; promised competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base never materialized; Jamey Carroll is back to playing as often as not. The Caleb Thielbar scoreless streak and the Michael Tonkin story are sweet distractions, but even a dozen such successes doesn't take a team from 95 losses to 70.

Fans looking to the future and saying they're fine with Plouffe or Chris Parmelee at first base instead of Morneau for financial reasons -- yes, I've really heard that -- are following a road map that will continue the Twins toward being Kansas City North.

There are other paths, and it's up to the general manager to find them and ownership to finance them.

To say the Twins have been the victims of injuries and bad fortune since the last trip to the postseason doesn't take into the account the decision making that has gotten us to July 2013. Not that Delmon Young shouldn't have been traded, but he was given away. Not that J.J. Hardy would be putting up his current numbers with the Twins, but trading him for Jim Hoey*. Not that Jesse Crain wouldn't have been a nice bullpen anchor, but ... You get the idea.

For longer than I would care to admit, I have deflected some criticism of the coaching staff by saying that major leaguers are pretty much responsible for their own improvement. I've been queried specifically in the last couple of years in that regard about Rick Anderson. The troubling thing is that I can't think of a single established pitcher who has come to the Twins and shown marked improvement.

Meanwhile, the departures of Crain, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey, Jason Marquis, Craig Breslow, Pat Neshek and .... what's his name ... oh, yeah, Francisco Liriano (9-3, 2.00 in 12 starts for Pittsburgh)  ... resulted in all of those guys finding more success than they had while pitching for the Twins. (Some of the comparisons between those players are apples and oranges, but are in the fruit family.)

And here's what the Twins have to show in return for those guys:

 

 

 I'm not going to turn this into a car wreck's aftermath and try to establish percentages of blame among ownership, management, the field staff and the players. But this is a time when 110 percent pretty much bites.

So here's the deal: The bad state of the current team is the result of failures on all levels that needs to result in hard judgments over the next few months.Some people chided me for calling out the Twins' lack of attention to 2013 in the off season, but I can't imagine those people being satisfied with what they've watched this half-season -- and some of the happy talk that's been serving as a distraction. Others chided me for hanging with a team they felt was commited to mediocrity, but walking away isn't on my list of options.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the debate was more abstract: Were Gardenhire, Anderson and other coaches the right people to handle the next generation of Twins? Until recently, Gardenhire appeared to have more supporters than detractors. Now, however, those who dislike Gardy and many of those who care for him, are saying change is needed.

Now, we know the time for judgment is coming. Will the Twins really try to pass off a change in manager as the cure? Or will the organization take a hard look at what's going on, from top to bottom, and come to the conclusion that the franchise's failures run much, much deeper?

*Jim Hoey has a 1.08 ERA -- for the Somerset Patriots in an independent league! He says he's regained his fastball! Really!

 

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