Jim Souhan: Knee-jerk firing can't fix Twins' poor product

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2012 - 12:12 AM

Sacrificing coaches and managers temporarily satisfies the public’s lust for accountability and change, but Minnesota sports fans should know better.

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Ron Gardenhire

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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A little more than two years ago, the Twins played their first game in Target Field. They were enjoying their status as one of baseball's model franchises. They looked forward to playing at least the next 30 years in a beautiful downtown ballpark crammed onto an improbably small footprint.

Target Field mirrored the Twins' ethos: doing more with less.

Over the past 13 months, the Twins have done less with more.

The Twins entered the weekend with baseball's worst record. Since reaching a "peak" of five games below .500 last June, they have won about 27 percent of their games in a sport in which winning 40 percent of your games represents abject failure, while being funded by the two largest payrolls in franchise history.

Managers and coaches rarely survive such extended stretches of failure, so it is logical to think that Ron Gardenhire and his staff will be fired if the Twins fail to right themselves.

Sacrificing coaches and managers temporarily satisfies the public's lust for accountability and change, but anyone who thinks that Gardenhire is the source of the Twins' problems is focusing on the dented rim instead of the smoking engine.

Minnesota sports fans should know better.

Everyone wanted Brad Childress fired; the Vikings are 6-16 since he left.

Many Wild fans blamed Jacques Lemaire for a lack of playoff success and excitement; the Wild has not made the playoffs since he left.

The firing of Glen Mason was widely celebrated; the Gophers haven't won a bowl game since he left.

Flip Saunders was derided for failing to win more playoff games, and Dwane Casey was fired with a record of 20-20. The Wolves haven't come close to posting a winning record since Casey departed.

Baseball managers are far less pivotal than fans would like to believe. For proof, you need look no further than Gardenhire's predecessor.

Tom Kelly won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, and posted a winning record in 1992. He was considered one of the two or three best managers in baseball. When the Twins organization stopped providing him with quality starting pitching, the team went on an eight-year losing streak.

When the front office again provided him with decent pitching, in 2001, the infant Twins contended until late in the season and set themselves up to be the American League Central's best franchise in the 2000s.

Pitching always has been the key to the Twins' fortunes. The franchise has produced dozens of star positions players and few outstanding starting pitchers. Firing Gardenhire would fail to fix what is wrong with the organization.

Terry Ryan made his bones as a general manager by amassing arms. What should worry Twins fans the most is not whether Gardenhire needles Danny Valencia too often, but that what Ryan did in his first tenure as GM might be impossible to replicate in his second.

Ryan didn't just draft and develop pitching; he stole it. He traded for prospects and young big leaguers who turned out to be Johan Santana, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Joe Nathan, Kyle Lohse, Carlos Silva and Francisco Liriano. He added valued veterans such as Rick Reed and Matt Guerrier.

The Twins' current rotation lacks quality, depth and home-grown talent. The fivesome -- Carl Pavano, Jason Marquis, Nick Blackburn, Liriano and Liam Hendricks -- includes two Twins farmhands, no aces, and nobody who would be a second or third starter on a contender.

There are no pitchers at Class AAA Rochester who promise to develop into top-of-the-rotation starters, and two recent first-round draft picks, Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers, are injured.

Calling for Gardenhire and his coaches to be fired probably is comforting for fans, because doing so presumes that the Twins' problems are easy to fix.

Gardenhire's successor would find the truth to be otherwise. If he gets fired, Twins fans will get a chance to watch a baseball version of Leslie Frazier, Todd Richards, Tim Brewster and Randy Wittman make all those visits to the mound in the third inning.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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