For just the second time since 1986, the Minnesota Twins are looking for a new manager. And after four straight 90-plus loss seasons, who can blame them?
Is Ron Gardenhire to blame for the lack of talent? No. When given pitching staffs in recent years with Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond and Ricky Nolasco as aces, should success be expected? Definitely not.
But it’s time to get a new voice in the Twins’ dugout.
While the Twins were busy winning six AL Central titles in a nine-year span in the early part of this century, they were lauded for playing “The Twins Way.” That term was squashed by general manager Terry Ryan on Monday as having never existed, but still, Minnesota at the very least played the right way. Throwing strikes and playing defense was the name of the game.
And while the talent hasn’t been there, that style of play also hasn’t either. And to some degree, that does fall on the manager.
In 2002, the Twins went to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Looking back on that team, there were a few stars (and also David Ortiz, who of course would reach stardom elsewhere). But it was a staff led by Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays. Not exactly Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, but they were effective.
And if you looked around the diamond, there were plus defenders everywhere. Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, Torii Hunter, etc., all made it a little easier to get by with a pitch-to-contact type of staff.
But now, that pitch-to-contact staff has a defense behind it that doesn’t rank well in most metrics, including defensive efficiency. The team ranked last in that one in 2011 and 2014, and was third from the bottom in 2013.
It’s certainly up to Ryan to find the right players for the team, and enough hasn’t been done in that area. Some of that continues to fall on former GM Bill Smith. This column by ESPN 1500’s Phil Mackey points out in great detail the issues with the team, including how poorly it drafted during the Smith era.
All too often, though, players who were mired in mediocrity or struggled with the Twins found success with other teams. A few that come to mind are David Ortiz, Carlos Gomez, Francisco Liriano and, of course, Vance Worley. To say in the case or Liriano that a move to the NL was the cause just isn’t enough. Switching leagues isn’t enough to explain how his ERA dropped from 5.23 in 2011-12 to 3.20 from 2013-14.
Justin Morneau failed to hit even .270 in any of his final three seasons with the Twins, yet won the NL batting title this year. Was it just bad luck that he got it going after leaving the Twins when they showed patience in him? Maybe. But maybe not.
It has been an organizational wide breakdown that’s the reason for the recent run of losses. The Twins axed their GM a couple of years ago. They had no choice but to do the same with Gardenhire on Monday.