Over the past few weeks, the Minnesota Twins have resorted back to their old ways of the past two seasons which has been hallmarked by long losing streaks and feelings of inadequacy. While the team searches for answers to solve their many ailing problems, the media around the Twin Cities and around the nation have started to clamor for a change at the top with the firing of manager Ron Garenhire. While this may be the popular move at a time like this, it certainly isn’t the correct one.
Typically when a team struggles, the first person who takes the brunt of the criticism and responsibility for the team’s mishaps is the manager; whether or not that criticism is justifiable or not is another matter. While the manager is the face of the team, he by no means is the sole reason why the team struggles. He does not make the plays on the field, he does not hit with runners in scoring position and he doesn’t get hitters out on the mound. Instead, he manages the game and attempts to put players in the best position to succeed. The managers who do these things the best, the most often and with the greatest efficiency are the ones who stick around the longest and are remembered as “great managers”.
Up until 2011, Gardenhire was characterized among the best managers in baseball. His teams were wining division titles under the financial constraints of playing in the Metrodome and he had to often put together a team with an organization unwilling to go out and spend money on players who could take the team to the next level in the playoffs. Instead, Gardenhire and his staff relied on a strong farm system and a strong core of young players. Because the Twins continued to compete, win division titles and make the playoffs—despite not performing well in the playoffs—Gardenhire’s ability to manage was rarely questioned; yet, over the last three seasons, the name that often gets thrown into the blame game first is Gardenhire’s. That, Twins’ fans, is utterly ridiculous in my opinion.
Gardenhire has won six division titles, Manager of the Year in 2010 and a total of 969 wins compared to 903 losses during his 12 year tenure. In addition, 247 of those 903 career losses have come over the past three seasons. While Gardenhire’s poor record over the last three years should not be excused, it by no means indicates that he has lost his ability to manage. Sometimes in sports, a team fails to respond to a manager’s message and style after a certain period of time. This results in a lack of effort and poor performances. Because of this, teams normally fire the manager in hopes of reigniting the team and bringing in a new person with a fresh message that the players may be willing to embrace. In the Twins’ case, this would not be the correct move.
If you look at the Twins this year, they certainly have played poorly, but they have continued to play hard and haven’t complained about playing for Gardenhire. The losing streaks and poor play haven’t been Gardenhire’s fault. The reason the Twins have struggled is simply been due to a lack of talent at the majors. There certainly is talent on the way headlined by Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and I’m confident that once Gardenhire has the full array of talented players on his roster—most importantly a competent starting rotation—he will again return to his consistent winning ways. Changing managers now would not alter the team’s success this year or next year because this team is built to contend two years from now, not this season. Unless the organization decides to spend big in free-agency this winter, that plan will not be altered; thus, it won’t matter who is managing the Twins because they will continue to lose.
Unfortunately for Gardenhire, he may not have that long. Instead, he may need to rely on the 2013 version of the Twins to turn it around in order to save his job. If the Twins decide to part ways with Gardenhire, it will be a horrible mistake for the organization and will simply be a public relations move. Gardenhire knows how to manage and do so effectively and if longevity—in addition to six division titles in 12 overall seasons—is any indicator, Gardenhire deserves to stay; firing him would solve nothing.