Hints from Gardenhire

News about the Twins has been hard to come by the last week or two and that leads to bloggers searching for things to talk about. One of the most recent little morsels came as a result of the November 30 ESPN 1500 radio interview of Ron Gardenhire.

After listening to the podcast, I found there were several interesting tidbits that are worth commenting on here.

Regarding some of the player decisions that need to be made, his comments about Justin Morneau are both revealing and alarming. He said he had kept in contact with Morneau through exchanges of text messages getting updates on his progress. Gardenhire wants to make a decision before getting too deep into the off season on whether Morneau will be at first base or the DH. The fact that there is still some doubt about the former MVP’s ability to play first base regularly is not good news. If doctors are going to be making decisions about his ability to take the field, it is probably best for him to be the full time DH. It sounds like that is the way Gardenhire is leaning right now and the longer it takes to hear definitively from Morneau, the more that is the likely outcome. If that is the case, finding a first baseman this off-season will becoming a high priority.

We have been hearing for a while how the Twins want to bring back Matt Capps. Gardenhire was almost effusive in his praise of Capps. I’ll have more to say about this later, but it is my fervent hope that the Twins are patient and leave the closer decision until the rest of the roster holes are taken care of.

It was good to hear that there is some serious interest in upgrading the starting rotation. In my opinion, that is a more urgent issue than finding an experienced closer. Carl Pavano’s age could become a liability quickly. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have not been healthy for a full season in recent years and Liriano is still a huge question mark. Which Francisco is going to show up in 2012? If Duensing is going back to the bullpen as is sounds like will happen, that leaves Kevin Slowey as the fifth starter. I’m not convinced he is fully recovered from the wrist surgery and am wondering if he ever will have the breaking ball needed to be effective again. Another proven starter is a must if the Twins want to be at all competitive.

I was also intrigued by Gardenhire’s comments about Terry Ryan. When asked whether his relationship with Ryan was about the same or different from Bill Smith, he first gave a typical “safe” response of about the same, but then elaborated at little bit saying something to the effect that Ryan communicates more and keeps him updated more regularly. He indicated that Smith “kind of got away from that a little bit sometimes”.

Later in the interview Gardenhire when responding to the question about if he has had some time off to relax said that one thing about Ryan is he communicates regularly. He calls all the time, so Gardenhire has been more involved than before, even calling some guys such as Jamey Carroll to give them an idea of what to expect if they sign with the Twins.

This may just be a case of what psychologists call “confirmation bias” on my part, but his talking about communication so prominently seems to support my opinion that differences in communication including quantity, quality, and style are at the core of the philosophical differences cited when Smith was fired and Ryan hired.

While I’m focusing on Gardenhire, I’m going to mention what I believe to be his two most obvious flaws. He definitely has an obsession with mediocre players who “get after it” as he says. Matt Capps is the latest example. Somehow someone needs to get through to Gardenhire that performance results do count! Trying hard is not enough. Winning consistently requires effort that produces results. I certainly hope the more regular communication with the general manager does not lead to over paying for players who are average at best. If Capps is to be the closer for 2012, let it be because he came at a much lower cost later in the off-season.

The other major flaw I see in the manager is his unhealthy fear of ego in players. The way he has handled Danny Valencia, for example, has contributed to less than stellar play not encouraged better effort and results. This is not the only example. Other bloggers and sports writers have commented on this as well.

If he wants the “player’s manager” reputation he has to continue, he needs to figure out how to work with and motivate players with big egos. Yes, that kind of player can be very challenging, but virtually all of them actually need more support, encouragement and teaching and less public criticism because the public displays of ego are almost always a cover for insecurities of some sort.

Figure it out, Gardenhire! The Twins’ future depends on it because many young players fit this category.

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