It was not a screed from Reusse, who has been covering Minnesota sports since the 1960s and has developed a relationship with the Twins manager, but rather a plea for the struggling organization to show Gardenhire mercy.
“If the Twins have any respect for long and meritorious service, they will not make you endure another death march to the finish,” wrote Reusse, acknowledging Gardy’s six division titles and the Manager of the Year award he was given in 2010.
“There will be 70 games to go after the All-Star Game and this could be the year that the Twins make it to 100 losses for the second time (1982 being the first).”
It’s almost September and Gardenhire is still around.
The manager was good-hearted about Reusse’s article, telling Reusse’s colleague Phil Miller at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It’s never good when someone starts out with, ‘Goodbye Gardy, but the article was actually complimentary. I think it was an entertaining article, let’s put it that way.”
General manager Terry Ryan has been adamant in his support for Gardenhire, telling Miller that he can go ahead and speculate about Gardenhire’s job security. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” the general manger said, “because there is no validity to it.”
Ryan and the Twins management are right to stick behind Gardenhire. He brought success to a team that was on the verge of folding, is the victim of poor personnel moves and injuries during the down years and should be part of what looks like a promising future.
Success in the Early 2000s
People forget that the Twins and something called the Montreal Expos were threatened with contraction in 2002. Montreal’s story is long and complicated, and won’t be explored here, but it ultimately ended with Canada’s second baseball team moving to America’s capital and becoming the Washington Nationals.
In 2002, the Twins were struggling as well.
Five years earlier, in 1997, Twins owner Carl Pohlad met with Don Beaver, who inked a letter of intent to buy the team and move them to North Carolina. Minnesota was only six years removed from a World Series Championship, but it was also in the middle of the dark era spanning from 1993-2000, where the Twins would have eight straight losing seasons playing in the dark, dingy Metrodome, which was designed primarily for football and, as we all know, eventually would collapse.
Losing seasons combined with a second-rate facility resulted in the Twins playing in front of crowds of 10,000, and so the league thought perhaps it would be better off without them.
Tom Kelly endured the losing seasons from 1993-2000 after winning both titles as manager of the 1987 and 1991 teams and resigned in 2001, allowing Gardenhire, who had been his third-base coach since 1991, to take over as manager.
Gardenhire had immediate success, winning the Central Division in his first three years as manager and then again in 2006. Granted, he was handed a talented team rebuilt during the Kelly years, with A.J. Pierzynski, Torii Hunter and Doug Mientkiewicz at the plate and Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays on the mound.
This is a long way of saying that while Gardenhire was handed a pretty talented team, even before the Joe Mauer days, he also breathed life into a moribund organization. It should not be forgotten that none of these division championships came the easy way, as it was often a dogfight to the very end that often resulted in a 163-game season.
Every single move a manager makes is held under a microscope in those circumstances, and Gardenhire did enough to emerge victorious more often than not at the end of the day. While he only won one Manager of the Year award, he was the runner-up five years before that.
His Twins nearly won the division again in 2008, losing to the White Sox in Game 163, and then proceeded to win the Central in 2009 and 2010.
It appeared that if the Twins could beat the New York Yankees, who defeated Minnesota in the American League Division Series in 2009 and 2010, it could bring home the first championship in the Gardenhire era.
And then things went completely wrong.
The [Crap] Hits the Fan
Perhaps Gardenhire forgot to check the oil gauge, but unlike Ted Striker in the 1980 classic Airplane!, he was given a faulty plane to begin with and asked to land it.
Current special assistant to the president and general manager Bill Smith took over for Ryan, his mentor, in 2007 before giving Ryan the job back in 2011.
Smith was named GM right at the time where ace Johan Santana’s contract was up and the Twins, without extra revenue from Target Field, did what they always did with the best players they developed: traded them away.
With his hand being forced, mind you, Smith settled for trading Santana to the Mets for Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Carlos Gomez. Guerra, 24, is currently in Minnesota’s minor league system and Mulvey made a total of four starts for the Twins and Diamondbacks before retiring last season.
Humber made a name for himself when he threw a perfect game for the White Sox in 2012, but the No. 3 overall selection in the 2004 draft left Minnesota in 2009 as a free agent and never established himself as a regular starter in the majors.
Gomez was the only player in that trade to have genuine success in the Twin Cities. He became the team’s center fielder after Hunter left to join the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, having been offered only a three-year deal by Minnesota.
He may never have been a true blue-chip, five-tool prospect (though he did hit for a reverse cycle in 2008), but he was a viable major league player and eventually was swapped for shortstop J.J. Hardy in 2010.
Hardy struggled in his lone year in the Twin Cities, playing only 101 games due to injury and hitting an uncharacteristically low six home runs that year.
Minnesota traded him, utility infielder Brendan Harris and $500,000 in cash to the Baltimore Orioles for minor league pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. That’s right: Minnesota paid Baltimore to take Hardy off its hands.
Hardy was replaced by Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was supposed to be a long-term answer at the position, but he eventually flopped. The Orioles shortstop hit 30 homers in 2010-11, 22 last season and currently has 23 this year.
He is the hard-hitting shortstop Minnesota desperately needs.
“Hardy and Cash for Magic Beans” will go down with the Vikings’ Herschel Walker trade as one of the worst transactions in Minnesota sports history.
To top it all off, Smith traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps. Ramos, 26, was named to Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team in 2011 and has become a solid, albeit injury-prone hard-hitting catcher in the major leagues.
Capps had a 4.25 ERA as a closer in 2011, had his $6 million club option declined and was bought out for $250,000 in 2012 and currently resides in the Cleveland Indians minor league system.
This was Timberwolves-esque: Randy Foye for Brandon Roy, Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury. It was bad.
To be fair, Smith and the Twins probably did not want to force Mauer out from behind home plate, but the hometown hero has often been used as a designated hitter and played more and more first base after an injury-riddled 2011 season and may eventually be transferred away from the plate in the latter years of his contract.
Ramos could have found a spot on the team and, at the very least, should not have been traded for a subpar closer.
So, to summarize, during the Smith years: a) Santana was traded for Gomez, essentially, b) Hunter was low-balled, c) Gomez was traded for Hardy, d) Hardy was traded for next to nothing and replaced by Nishioka and e) Ramos was sent to Washington for Capps.
The collapse did not come until 2011, and the injuries to Mauer and Morneau were a culpable as well, but even with healthy M&M Boys, there is no way Gardenhire could have continued his success with the players he was given.
A Possible Turnaround
The Twins have started to repair holes in the roster. They have converted Glen Perkins into a closer and are using Pedro Florimon—ironically, a former Oriole—as a defensive plug at short.
The rotation is still suspect, but at this point, Johan Santana’s career is over, so even if the Twins had kept him, he would be of little help to them now.
Right now they are hoping that Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Kyle Gibson will be top-of-the-rotation starters and Scott Diamond, Andrew Albers, Vance Worley or Kevin Correia will fill in behind them.
At the very least, if the rest of the roster is set, Minnesota now has Target Field revenue to throw at a free-agent ace—something the ballclub did not have in the past.
Mauer has recovered and looks healthier than ever, Brain Dozier has turned into a solid second baseman and Trevor Plouffe had a breakout season last year.
There are also a lot of promising prospects, headlined by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, whom Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated called the next Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in an extensive feature.
And that’s not all: Oswaldo Arcia has proven he can take the cover off the ball, Aaron Hicks is a legitimate five-tool prospect and Chris Parmelee has shown flashes of power during his major league stints. Even Mike Herrmann could serve to replace Ramos as the hard-hitting backup catcher.
Here is what a potential future lineup looks like: LF Hicks, CF Buxton, C Mauer, 3B Sano, DH Morneau, 1B Plouffe, RF Parmelee, 2B Dozier and SS Florimon. (This is assuming that Morneau comes back, of course, and the rest of the prospects develop correctly.)
The projected rotation looks a little more shaky—Meyer, May, Gibson, Diamond and Albers—but the bullpen is filling out, with Anthony Swarzak in long relief, Caleb Thielbar as a lefty specialist, Jared Burton and Casey Fien in the latter innings and Perkins as the closer.
Plus, once the Twins roster fills out, they should go out and get a top-notch free-agent ace and shortstop to reward the fans for their patience.
Gardenhire had success when he had a talented team from 2002-10, and he should have one in the near future. The seeds have been planted this year, and the Twins will probably go through growing pains again next year, but the team should be back to competitive form after that.
Gardy had success in the past and, without a doubt, he can lead a talented team to the playoffs again.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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