Coaches for 2014

The Twins’ coaching staff for 2014 is the same as last year with one exception. Last fall Paul Molitor was added as a major league coach, and according to the current listing of coaches on the Twins’ MLB.com site, his title is simply “Coach”. My recollection of the announcement back then is not very clear, but I do remember one responsibility as “in game adviser”. At the time I was wondering if he was being groomed to step in if Gardenhire is let go, but that is such an unlikely scenario it must be he is now ready for the full responsibility of a season. In the past, he was quoted as saying he wanted time with family and that kept him in a more part time status.

No matter what the motivation for this addition, it will be interesting to see what impact he has on the team throughout the season.

Off-Season Day Two

The dust is beginning to settle a little after the tumultuous day of changes on the Twins staff. Terry Ryan, along with Dave St. Peter and Jim Pohlad, met with media this afternoon to talk about the changes in the coaching staff and head trainer.

It is clear that two years of last place in the American League finishes are unacceptable. Whether or not these changes and the coming search for pitching will be enough to produce a winning season in 2013 remains to be seen, but for now, the Twins appear to be ready to make significant changes in order to win.

The Twins organization has not been known for knee-jerk reactions. Loyalty has been a hallmark of the Pohlad era. Changes in so many positions are a signal of that changing. The Target Field era is different. There are no revenue excuses anymore. It also appears that the Pohlad sons, particularly Jim, are much more interested in winning or at least not fielding an embarrassing team anymore, than their father, Carl, was. Loyalty is no longer the dominant theme. Accountability is.

Ron Gardenhire has been retained – he has one more year on his contract – but he has not been offered an extension. Now all of the coaches are on one-year contracts. 2013 must be a turn around year, or there will be even more changes at the helm.

With the shuffling of roles (Vavra & Ullger) and retention of Gardenhire and Rick Anderson, three of the allowable six major league coaching positions are filled. That leaves three positions (as well as head trainer) to be filled. Much local media and blogger speculation is going on right now and Gene Glynn, Tom Brunanski and Bobby Cuellar are identified as the likely candidates. Paul Molitor, though he indicated interest, is not going to be in the mix.

I suspect within a couple of weeks, perhaps sooner, these positions will be announced and the promotion of current organization coaches are going to be the choice. With no inside information at all to bolster my view, I believe the staff will be settled before the organizational meetings so the focus can be on planning rather than filling of positions.

We shall see.

Off-Season Day One

Today is the first day of the 2012-13 off-season and it started out with a bang for the Twins. Terry Ryan is doing what he hinted not long ago in interviews and the meeting with the season ticket holders – making changes that are designed to put the team in a better position for future success.

Significant changes in the major league coaching staff were announced today. Details are available on the various Twins Cities media sites, so I will not reiterate any of that here, but what I will say is the moves are both expected and surprising. They are expected because the Twins cannot afford to continue another year as if all is well and Ryan and Ron Gardenhire said there might be changes in the coaching staff. The are surprising in the number of changes and in some cases individuals that many observers would not have identified as problems.

Tomorrow there will be a meeting where more detail and perhaps more changes will be announced.  I look forward to hearing more as the media reports today are rather sketchy.

The Twins Web site already reflects the changes announced today. Interestingly, Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were listed as minor league assignments which contradicts what local media have reported so far.

Attracting less attention than the major coaching changes is the release (non-renewal?) of the head trainer. I see that as a significant event in that the Twins have had several issues with injuries and apparent dissatisfaction of some players related to injury diagnoses the past two years. It remains to be seen if they promote from within or hire from outside the organization, but I am encouraged by this situation be addressed.

Day Two, tomorrow, promises to be as interesting as Day One.

Core of 2013 Roster

As the month of August winds down when a team is out of playoff competition it is almost inevitable that fan focus shifts to the next year. In the case of the Twins, it is too late for there to be any hope for a miracle finish, as if that hope was not already dashed in April, and the way the team has played in recent weeks, waiting for September call-ups to bring new fan interest in watching the games is getting old.

As my first post about 2013, I am going to look at the current set of players and project which ones are most likely to be the core for the coming year. Two factors will be primary in my selecting these players – current/past performance and whether or not they are under contract already for next year. I’ll also consider Ron Gardenhire’s known predilections because, like it or not, they will influence Terry Ryan’s decisions.

Several weeks have passed since the Twins signed Ryan Doumit to an extension, but at the time I saw that as a key move for the 2013 roster. Obviously, Joe Mauer is a given. With his extension, so is Doumit. What may not be as obvious, but I think there is a good case to be made for it, is I believe that signing also all but assures a spot for Drew Butera. I can hear the boos and derision from Twins fans already, but here is the case. Both Mauer and Doumit in recent years have missed a good deal a time due to injuries. Both Mauer (1B and DH) and Doumit (DH and mostly LF) have been in this year’s lineup for many more games than they would have been had they been the number one C with just days off at DH. That has been good for the Twins’ offense. Having Butera as backup and occasionally catching full games has made Gardenhire (here is one of his predilections) feel good about using both of his hitting catchers regularly and not run the risk of giving up the DH in any given ballgame. Keeping only two of these catchers would make them both less productive and Butera is not exactly blocking any other catchers from making the roster. He is not going to get worse as a hitter sitting on the bench and playing rarely. He is a good defensive catcher who calls a good game. Having his weak bat taking up a spot on the bench limiting pinch-hitting options is not enough of a detriment to not keep Butera because of the production of Mauer and Doumit all year. It makes sense to go into 2013 with the same plan. In future years, if better hitting catchers in the system are ready for the major league level, this plan can be altered.

Among the pitchers, very few are what I consider to be core players now. Scott Diamond is the only starter who deserves a guaranteed spot in the rotation. In the bullpen, I see only Glen Perkins and Jared Burton as having spots locked up. That doesn’t mean other current roster members won’t make the team and contribute in positive ways, but it does mean no guarantees for them.

Other position players in the core for 2013 are Josh Willingham, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll. I list only these three because I see Denard Span and Justin Morneau as important trade bait during the off-season. If they are not traded, they become members of the core group. Perhaps the most controversial choice is Carroll. I name him not because I see him in a starting role, but because he is under contract and serves as an excellent utility player whose veteran leadership/mentoring will be needed if the Twins go with young players as starters in the middle infield.

That is the core for 2013. If others want to become part of that core, they are going to have to earn the spot between now and the end of the season.

What to do with Liriano

Now that Francisco Liriano has had four consecutive bad starts, it is not difficult to believe the Twins’ brass will not even let him try “one more time” before looking at some alternatives. Given the comments by manager Ron Gardenhire after Liriano’s last start, patience has run out and options are being considered.  As a result, there is a good deal of speculation on what might be in the works for him, at least in the short term.

Perhaps most likely is his being moved to the bullpen, at least to see if he can regain some semblance of consistency on locating his fastball. If this is the decision, someone else may need to be moved to the starting rotation. My guess is the number one option for that is Anthony Swarzak, who has started a couple of games and pitched out of the bullpen to relieve Liriano on Sunday putting him in the right position to rejoin the rotation in a normal time interval.

If Liriano is envisioned to return soon to the rotation, the Twins could just skip his next start using the day off to keep the others in a normal five-day rotation. That would allow him to pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times in between starts.

A more radical alternative would be to send him to AAA to give him time under less stressful circumstances to regain his form and confidence before calling him up again later in the year. Because he has been in the major leagues for five or more years, he would need to give his consent to be optioned to Rochester. He might be amenable to that because in this contract year it is also in his best interest to demonstrate his value. Pitching well in AAA would be an improvement over his poor showing so far. Sending an established player who is struggling down would not be new for the Twins, so this choice cannot be ruled out.

If he is taken out of the rotation, one other move might be considered by the Twins. The fact that Scott Diamond has pitched so well at Rochester, gives them the option of calling him up and placing him in the starting rotation leaving Swarzak for the bullpen, where he is better suited.

Least likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, is some kind of trade that nets a serviceable starting pitcher for the Twins. I consider this a long shot because it is never wise to trade from a point of weakness, and I cannot imagine Liriano having lower market value than he has right now. Also, if the Twins have any hope of being competitive this year (a rapidly fleeting thought), the need is for a top of the rotation pitcher not another fifth starter type. Swarzak, Diamond or even Matt Maloney or Brian Duensing could fill the latter role cheaper than a veteran available by trade at this time of year.

If the decision was mine to make, I’d have Liriano pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times to see how he does and delay a final decision on his status in the rotation for at least a week. I’d choose to skip his start keeping others in rotation and giving as much bullpen flexibility as possible because the reduction from 13 to 12 pitchers is coming soon, probably after Nick Blackburn’s start on Tuesday. If all goes well for Blackburn, someone will be sent down or released and if he has a recurrence of his shoulder cramp, he’ll be put on the DL, creating yet another problem for the starting rotation.

I expect Blackburn to pitch well demonstrating he is fully recovered and the focus will then remain on Liriano and how to get him back on track.

Next Roster Shuffles

This week the Twins had to make another roster adjustment to create space for Jason Marquis on the 25-man roster. Marquis had been in New Britain building arm strength due to missing so much of spring training.

Luke Hughes was designated for assignment to make room, a decision that came as a surprise to the Twins blogger/sports writers community. After doing a little musing about it, I’ve decided it is the first in what is most likely going to be a series of moves in the next few weeks.

Here are some reasons why I think moves are coming soon.

First, the addition of a pitcher and dropping a position player is almost certainly a temporary measure. Carrying 13 pitchers is not sustainable for any significant period of time. While it is easy to see why this number might be useful for the short-term, 12 is going to be the number eventually. Uncertainty with regard to Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn is what brought about the need for more pitchers. Neither one appears to be going on the DL, so numbers are needed to get through until they are pitching again. So far reports indicate Blackburn will be starting next Tuesday and Perkins could be available as soon as today.

Second, the removal of Hughes from the 40-man roster creates a spot for someone who is not currently on that extended ML roster. Much speculation has already begun about what that means with the most common conclusion being the vacant slot will be given to Brian Dozier as he is called up sometime in the next few weeks. Other speculation has concluded the slot is being held for a possible waiver claim in the near future. And, one blogger has even posited Drew Butera will be brought up because Ron Gardenhire likes having three catchers at his disposal. My guess is the Twins are creating flexibility with no specific action determined yet.

Third, as the Twins continue to play out the tough April schedule, it will become increasingly clear if they are going to be at all competitive this year. If not, the rebuilding will begin in earnest. If they are playing well, winning more than losing by the middle of May, the process will be delayed.

Finally, now into the realm of pure speculation on my part, I am anticipating rebuilding sooner rather than later. If that is the case, the next move to reduce the pitchers to twelve will be quite interesting. I think Jeff Gray is the most vulnerable to go. He has no more options so will be designated for assignment. Earlier in the season I was almost certain the first to go would be Alex Burnett because he had a less than stellar spring training and he has never had a full season in AAA. Instead, he has pitched very well so far and Gray has been less effective.

Continuing with the speculation on the position player side, the next few weeks will also be important for both Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla. If both continue to play and hit as well as they have over the past week or so, the promotion of Dozier will be delayed giving him even more time to prove he can be consistently effective at AAA. If one or the other falters, Dozier will be called up and he will get his shot at holding down the shortstop position.

When the rebuilding effort has definitely begun, I’ll get into more speculation about which veterans will be shopped for trades before the mid-summer deadline.

First Roster Adjustment of 2012

In the last couple of days, the Twins made what some might have thought an odd waiver claim. Clete Thomas was placed on waivers by the Detroit Tigers and the Twins claimed him. In doing so, the Twins had to make a corresponding set of roster moves.

To create a spot for Thomas on the 40-man roster, Scott Baker was put on the 60-day DL. That is no surprise as Baker will be out for the season following his elbow surgery. What came as a mild surprise to fans who had hopes for a starting spot this year for Ben Revere was his being sent down to AAA Rochester.

The moves make sense in the bigger context. Rochester has had some injuries to outfielders and Revere needs more regular playing time if he is to continue to develop. He is still quite young and has some upside, so the opportunity to play every day is important.

Thomas is a capable, versatile outfielder who is used to a bench role and is not seen as losing much by not getting playing time regularly. In fact, his role will likely be limited to defensive replacement most of the time. With the pressure off Gardenhire to play Revere enough, the right field situation becomes less of a log jam and Trevor Plouffe is almost certainly going to get more time on the field than he has to this point.

I am hoping this will also improve the outfield defense at least a bit. So far, Ryan Doumit has been adequate at best in right field and Josh Willingham has been less than that in left field.

Probably the most disappointing thing for me so far this season has been Willingham on defense. He has been exciting to watch as a hitter, but quite an adventure – similar to the foibles of Delmon Young – in the field. My disappointment stems less from his weakness as a defender and more because he seems to be so lackadaisical in his effort so often. To give credit where it is due, he has made a few nice running catches, some in foul territory, so he appears more capable than he has played at times. In spring training, I noticed he did not run out ground balls and otherwise seemed to lack hustle. In the field, he has looked very much like he doesn’t care much if he gets to a ball in time or even throws to the right base with much authority. Again, credit where it is due, he did once make a nice foul territory catch and a subsequent great throw to home to get a runner trying to score, but one good play has been overshadowed by some very weak play.

This bears watching, because right now, the Twins seem to have too many DH types and not enough defensive players. As it looks currently, I would not be surprised to see a shift in alignment to Morneau at first base, Parmelee in right field, Plouffe and Doumit platooning in left field with Willingham as the full time DH. It may just be marginal improvement, but I think in the long run Willingham is a tremendous liability in the cavernous left field of Target Field.morn

Morneau Progress and Speculation

The last couple of days several of the Twins sports media/bloggers have been raising questions about Justin Morneau. Two factors in particular have been the focus of concern – weak hitting and playing only as DH the last 10 days or so.

The good news is he has been on the field every day playing A games, B games, and minor league games, including traveling with the team sometimes as he did today to Tampa for the Yankees game. No concussion related symptoms have kept him from playing, working out or doing what it takes to get ready for the season.

What is drawing attention is the wrist he had surgery on in the off-season. All reports so far from Terry Ryan and Justin himself indicate that he is not 100% yet, icing the wrist every day after playing. He has been told there is no risk of re-injury by using it, so he continues to work to strengthen it.

Obviously, the wrist is a major contributor to his hitting woes so far. Not only is he not squaring up well enough to get hits, but he also has hit no home runs. The last three or four games he has shown some improvement hitting the ball hard. For example, today he had a long fly for an out and a double over the head of the center fielder. These are good signs.

Timing is also a factor for hitting and Morneau continues to be quoted as saying he is working to improve his timing and hopes to be more consistent by the time the season opens.

Some have been concerned about his DH-ing so much rather than playing first base in so many games, but I think that is an overblown concern. Ryan and Ron Gardenhire have both said they are not concerned about his ability to play first base. They just want him to get on track as a hitter.

In spring games, teams like to see a lot of players in the field. Unless they have players who are DH only, it is less crucial that they see a variety of players in that role. It therefore makes sense that putting Morneau at DH would allow for him to get more at bats per game than he would if he shared time with others at first base. Morneau has made it clear that he wants as many at bats as he can get in game situations and Gardenhire is accommodating him. The manager also does not want to take any chances of his triggering concussion symptoms by going after a foul ball or playing aggressively in the field.

There is still enough time for him to gain strength in the wrist as well as get his timing down before the season starts. Even though no one is declaring him the starting first baseman for opening day yet, I think he is probable for that role then. If he does not make the progress he hopes and his wrist is still bothering him enough that he needs more time, he should be put on the DL and remain in Fort Myers for extended spring training rather than start the season struggling.

In the meantime, I remain hopeful that he will be ready.

Leadership

Much has been said during the off-season about the Twins’ lack of leadership. Although there may be some truth to that argument, I believe this situation is much more nuanced than that.

I find the topic of leadership one of interest, not only because of how much it is being discussed these days, but also because it has been a topic I have researched, studied and practiced for a whole career. So, here is my take on the Twins and leadership.

There are many levels of leadership in an organization such as the Twins – owners, senior management, field manager, coaches, players. Owners demonstrate leadership in how they set the expectations for the senior management. Senior management lead in the choices they make for lower level managers, etc.

One could argue that the two most important leaders in a major league baseball operation are the general manager and the field manager. They certainly are the most high profile positions when it comes to evaluating the success of the franchise. While some of the chatter about leadership the past few months has involved discussion of those two positions, most has been about team leadership or lack thereof from key players.

Once the tone is set by Twins’ ownership and senior management, including Gardenhire, leadership from the players can play an important role in the success of the team, but the tone definitely is set from the top. Ownership made a change in general manager and Terry Ryan has been public about some of the changes he wants to see. He has set the tone.

From all the public comments Ron Gardenhire has made this year, he seems to have decided that he needed to change his approach and is asserting himself more vocally and boldly. That may simply be because last year’s disaster was so embarrassing that he does not want anything like that to happen again, or it may be that he realizes he needs to be more directive with younger players and not assume they have absorbed all they have been taught coming up through the system. His previous style of practically deferring to veteran players who he knew would do the right thing did not work last year and so he is going to be more vocal and directive.

Since Gardenhire has clearly set that new tone this year, player leadership will emerge to compliment his new approach. With several new players on the team and some dominant personalities gone, it will take a little time for it all to work itself out, but before long we will see players settling into their new roles.

From outside the clubhouse, it appeared that Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan were key leaders in the past. I think it is important to emphasize the point about “outside the clubhouse” because none of us know what really goes on behind the scenes. We are thus left to speculating based on reading between the lines of comments made by management and players as reported by the media.

Leadership by players can take many forms. In sports, it is almost a worn out cliche that the best kind of leadership is leadership by example. One can find many stories throughout the history of baseball that illustrate the importance of this kind of leadership. Their play showed how it is done and others learned from that success trying to emulate it in their own work to be better.

In the last decade or so, it appears to me that more emphasis has been put on vocal leadership than in the past. Leaders are now quite often identified as guys who speak out, call out teammates who are not playing up to their potential, and assert a dominant role by their dominant personality. I think there may be some truth to that kind of leadership being important in today’s game, but I also think players who lead quietly by example are critical to success.

It would be interesting to know who really commands the most respect in the Twins’ clubhouse. Was Cuddyer really the acknowledged leader among peers or was he just the public face because he was most comfortable talking to and with media? With Cuddyer and Nathan gone, who now do the players look to as the most respected guys?

I have a feeling the real, most highly respected leaders might contain a few surprises to us fans and even the beat writers. My reason for that is I think some of the more introverted players may have more influence than we think. We might get occasional glimpses or hints of who the real leaders are by comments made by players in answer to less direct questions. Maybe even some of the tweets provide insight that might not be obvious if you are not looking for it.

From some of this year’s evidence, it appears Jamey Carroll has quickly gained respect and may become a key leader. If that is true, it will be very good because on the field one of the positions that requires leadership is shortstop. In my opinion, it was as much the failure of leadership at shortstop as it was poor play and errors that led to such a bad year for the Twins last year. Alexi Casilla has all the physical skills to play shortstop well, but he does not, apparently, have the leadership skills needed. It may be largely a language issue with him, as I’m sure was a factor for Nishioka, but it is more than that. It requires a take charge personality that exudes quiet confidence and Alexi seems to be more of a good follower than a leader. He is, therefore, better suited to second base, if he is going to be a regular.

Catcher is the other most important leadership position on the field. Mauer does that well when he is able to play, but may not be a forceful enough personality or extroverted enough to do that much off the field. The other players who played so much behind the plate last year may have done alright calling the games, etc., but the inability to hit made them liabilities as complete leaders. This year it will be interesting to see if and how Doumit emerges as a leader.

Although I have no way of knowing this for sure, I suspect Jason Kubel may be missed more in the clubhouse and on the field by some players than Michael Cuddyer. The reason I say that is he led by example. He apparently said very little, but always showed up and gave full effort. I think the younger guys noticed that and those with less than big personalities will emulate that, or at least I hope so.

I’m going to be bold and predict that Denard Span, Matt Capps, Jamey Carroll and Glen Perkins are going to be important leaders this year. They will each lead in their own way. For example, Perkins is their new union representative, and that demonstrates that players have some level of respect for him.

In addition, I think Morneau will lead again if he is able to play well, otherwise he will not be a dominant voice on this team. It will take a full MVP year for Mauer to assert himself and even then he may never be a clubhouse leader because of his mild manner and introverted personality. His value off the field may be in how well he relates to and works with the pitchers and pitching coach, Rick Anderson. Both Mauer and Morneau have publicly stated more than once that they believe they lead best by example, so they need to be in the lineup regularly and playing well.

One more player to watch is Josh Willingham. He is said to be similar to Cuddyer off the field and if that is the case he could emerge as a leader.

With spring training games now underway, the players are no doubt feeling their way into their appropriate roles for this year. I am looking forward to this year in part to see who the players look to for leadership from their peers.

Gardenhire Philosophy

On the Twins Caravan yesterday Ron Gardenhire made very clear that he was looking forward to this spring training. He compared it to last year by saying this year everything will be on HIS schedule. Last year he had to follow schedules made up by doctors for Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer. As he said, we all know how that turned out.

In his typically humorous way he said he had been practicing yelling and even has learned how to “yell a little bit in Japanese”! He proclaimed himself ready for spring to begin. Obviously, the manager likes things to be done his way.

Reading between the lines on his comments, it seems to me pretty obvious that Gardenhire is not about to change his philosophy of how to run a ML ball club, in spite of the worst year he ever had as a manager. He is convinced he knows how to prepare a team for the long season ahead and he plans to execute his plan leaving little doubt about who will be in charge this spring. It won’t be the doctors/trainers, the players, or, for that matter, the players’ agents. The latter group may have had too much influence, or at least communication control last year. It also won’t be the General Manager, so if there are any “philosophical differences” between the two, Gardenhire is prepared to put himself on the line.  For the record, I don’t think there is much difference in philosophy of how the manager should operate between Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. They have known each other for a long time and if there was a significant problem, last fall would have been the time to correct that by moving to the future with a new manager and coaching staff.

We can debate whether or not Gardenhire’s philosophy of management of a team is as good as some other managers, but other than last year, it is fair to say that the Twins preparations for the season and spring regimen have been quite effective for winning division titles.

An important element of his philosophy appears to be having a determined role for each player. He has said he believes players respond better when they know their role and expectations for that role. This is almost certainly the reason he has named a starting pitcher for opening day already and yesterday indicated who he would like to see in his opening day lineup.

Last year he deviated from that approach because he had not seen Tsuyoshi Nishioka play before he arrived at spring training so Gardenhire waited to see how Alexi Casilla and Nishioka worked together and how they looked at shortstop and second base before making a decision on who would start where. As it turned out, that combination never got a chance to gel before Nishioka’s injury. This year, there is no hesitation on Gardenhire’s part. Casilla will be at second base and Jamey Carroll will be at shortstop.

Such an approach makes it easy for bloggers and beat journalists to “predict” who will make the 25-man roster at the beginning of the year and who will be in what roles. That does not mean there is not plenty of room for opinions on the wisdom of those decisions. In fact, I expect there will be continuing vigorous debate in the blogosphere about Casilla and Carroll with many believing Carroll would be better at second base, but barring an injury to Casilla, I don’t expect that to happen by opening day.

Another element of Gardenhire’s philosophy that many in baseball find wise is his belief that bench players need opportunities to stay sharp and regulars need periodic rest to get through the demanding 162-game schedule. Last year was an aberration, but otherwise the Twins have been strong down the stretch and many attribute that to this approach to managing players.

A little more into the speculative realm, I think Gardenhire gives more decision-making responsibility to his coaches, especially pitching coach, Rick Anderson, than most managers do, at least publicly. Glimpses of this philosophy appear every once in a while. For example, recently when talking about Carl Pavano as his opening day starter he said something to the effect that he talked to Anderson and Anderson told him Pavano was the guy. This is  certainly not the only time the manager publicly appeared to defer to his pitching coach. While this may well all be just for public display and something else actually goes on behind the scenes, I have no reason to believe Gardenhire would attempt such an ongoing ruse.

Gardenhire wins much praise on a regular basis for his ability to manage the people. Many players are very positive about working under his leadership, so much so that he has earned the reputation of a “players manager”. Many fans, on the other hand, are quite critical of this element of Gardenhire’s leadership style saying that he needs to be much tougher and take charge, show who is the boss. I happen to believe in this age of players salaries and attitudes, Gardenhire’s approach is much more conducive to a good working environment than what so many fans call leadership.

Over that last several years of following the Twins, I have come to believe he is good with people, but not very good at game management. His in-game decisions are sometimes really suspect at best and it ends up costing the Twins games. Also, when it comes to big games, such as the Yankees or the playoffs, he appears visibly nervous and I suspect that is because he knows he is not good at single-game management. In the playoffs especially, there is no long-term to balance out the errors in critical strategic decisions that sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing a game. With his particular set of skills, Gardenhire would be wise to hire a bench coach who is a master tactician who could be the game manager for him. Unfortunately, I don’t think Scott Ullger is that guy and neither was Steve Liddle.

In spite of my misgivings, I expect Gardenhire and his philosophy to be around for a long time. The Twins’ ownership and management are not only satisfied with him in the dugout, they act as if they believe he embodies the Twins’ philosophy. About the only way he would be gone is if the Twins lose another 99 or 100 games in 2012 leaving ownership and top management no real option but to sacrifice the manager and coaches to appease what will almost certainly be hostile fans.

I’d be very surprised if 2012 is the disaster that last year was, but it will take some minor miracles to go from last to first in the division. More about that in a future post.