September 30, 2014

Twins fire Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan

Ron Gardenhire will not join Connie Mack and Tom Kelly as just the third manager in baseball history to keep his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons, as the Twins fired him Monday after 13 seasons on the job and nearly three decades in the organization. In a rarity for a fired manager Gardenhire attended the press conference announcing his dismissal and was in relatively good spirits while answering questions, even cracking a few smiles.

Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan seemed to be in agreement that it was time for a change, although last month Ryan said publicly that Gardenhire would return. Yesterday the GM hinted that ownership pushed him to make the move, which apparently may or may not include firing Gardenhire's entire coaching staff depending on whether the new manager wants to keep anyone around.

Gardenhire took over for Kelly in 2002 and had immediate success, winning 94 games and taking the Twins to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. They went on to win six division titles in his first nine seasons at the helm, but the competition in the AL Central was more often than not underwhelming during that time and the Twins went just 6-21 in the playoffs with five straight first-round exits.

His early teams were good but not great in a window of time when that was enough to capture a weak division, but then that window closed and later the team fell apart. They have a grand total of one 90-win season since 2007 and combined over the seven-year span of 2007-2014 the Twins went 613-685 for a .472 winning percentage that ranks 23rd in baseball. Only the Astros have a worse record than the Twins since 2011.

I started writing about the Twins in August of Gardenhire's rookie season as manager in 2002 and to say I've never been a fan would be an understatement, so I certainly don't think he's performed well in recent years. However, for better or worse his impact was hardly enough to be responsible for four straight 90-loss seasons just as it wasn't enough to be responsible for six division titles in nine years.

Because they're the day-to-day face of the team managers receive too much praise when things go well and too much criticism when things go poorly. Collective front office decision-making is far more important to the overall well-being of an organization. Ultimately talent trumps all and while a good manager can certainly help develop that talent and utilize that talent properly, squeezing a few more wins out of a team pales in comparison to building the team in the first place.

To believe differently is to think managers have more value to a team than the very best players even while they're consistently paid less than mediocre middle relievers. Gardenhire's firing was justified, but it has little to do with whether another manager could have avoided four consecutive 90-loss seasons with sub par talent and a lot to do with whether Gardenhire is the manager the Twins want leading them for the next 5-10 years when the talent improves.

And it will improve. This team will be better in 2015 than it was in 2014 and better in 2016 than it was in 2015. They have too much high-end talent in the minor leagues--and some high-end talent already faring well in the major leagues--for that not to happen, so even though the next manager may have to deal with low payrolls and shaky front office decision-making the combination of an impending influx of young talent and minimal expectations should make it an appealing gig.

Basically, there's nowhere to go but up. And after 13 seasons of a .507 winning percentage with almost zero postseason success and historic ineptitude for the past four years it would be hard for even his biggest supporters to argue Gardenhire is the best manager to maximize that ascent. He wasn't the biggest problem, but he was too often part of the problem and is not the best possible option for the solution. Of course, the Twins' ability to identify that best option is another issue.

Ryan has been the Twins' general manager for two stints and 17 total seasons, during which time their combined record is 1,278-1,406 for a .476 winning percentage and one playoff series win. With a GM originally hired in 1994 and numerous long-tenured assistants still at his side--including Bill Smith filling a different role after flopping as GM--the front office responsible for getting the Twins into this mess remains largely intact.

Like the difference between a fresh coat of paint on a car versus overhauling the engine, the front office's performance always outweighs anything a manager does. Now their duties include finding a better manager in addition to putting all the roster pieces together well enough to re-emerge as contenders. Gardenhire's firing was about the future, but there's every bit as much reason to be skeptical that Ryan and his assistants are the best option to lead the Twins there.


For a lengthy discussion and debate about everything related to the Gardenhire firing, check out our emergency "Gleeman and The Geek" episode recorded after the news broke.

  • replacement level GM

    so from here on out we bash Ryan until they fire Ryan, right?

    • Opie Jones

      If that would accelerate that process in any way, absolutely.

  • Joel Thingvall

    Well, you have to find a manager that wants to come into this environment. And although it would be nice to see changes in thr front office, unless you do a complete overhaul, there is no one in the wings I would advance. So maybe ownership will step forth and say we can spend $100+ million on payroll, we will bring the best 25 (40-man roster be damned) to the Twin Cities, and do everything possible to win, with a new field staff getting to know the Twins Way and/or players. Or, they can promote from within, keep payroll as low as possible and let the prospects get a feel for the majors, and maybe 2017/2018, if the prospects pan out, they might still have 1.5 million fans coming to the games and can sign a modest free agent to supplement the hope and dreams. Again, who wants to come here? That is the big question. Do they have a say, or do they have to practice what the front office wishes to preach.

    • D-Luxxx

      I hate to ruin your narrative, but the Pohlad’s said Ryan could spend more money and he didn’t. That’s not on the owners. The Twins also signed their 2 largest free agent contracts in the history of the organization this last off-season. The money is there if they want to spend it. THAT’s part of why Aaron questions Terry Ryan’s ability to lead this organization.

  • Darin McGilvra

    If the Twins have too much high-end talent for improvement the next two years not to happen, then why would you be skeptical that TR and his assistants are the best option to lead the Twins?

    • GagneWithASpoon

      This. The Twins have the best farm system in baseball, even if you don’t count the September call-ups as part of the farm system anymore. It seems like we should make a distinction between the scouting side and the player development side of the Twins’ management structure. The Twins have brought in talent; then they have seen some of their best players flourish elsewhere. David Ortiz, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Gomez, Francisco Liriano, and Vance Worley all bear mentioning.

      Another thing these guys have in common: They were let go for nothing or traded away for a song. Add in Wilson Ramos, and the problem seems to be twofold: The Twins have a problem developing their talent, and they have a problem properly valuing it when their talented players reach the major leagues. (Or maybe they have a problem putting it effectively to use; these seem like two sides of the same coin.)

      Maybe the issue is that the Twins have good amateur scouting and poor pro scouting and coaching?

  • blindeke

    Annoying Gardy traits aside (3 catchers, ignoring platoon splits, ‘toughing it out’ through injuries), I felt he was increasingly out of touch with his young players. Watching him interact with Arcia was painful, and relating to young talent is exactly the skill the Twins will need in the next few years. Good decision by the Twins. I hope they hire Dougie for the job.

  • Always right

    Gardy lives FOREVER!
    –bring back GARDY
    BRING BACK GARDY!!!

  • Mark Zwolenski

    Little birdie told me that Gardy could have stayed but Andy had to go. Gardy fell on his sword!! He was loyal to a fault.

  • Tony O

    I agree with Gardenhire’s dismissal, but I wouldn’t say that the Central Division was full of patsies. Chicago won a title and Detroit made it to the series during that time. It was mainly because the Twins had to play the Yankees several of the series that the Twins had a 6-21 mark in the playoffs during the Gardenhire years.

  • Brad

    “And after 13 seasons of a .507 winning percentage with almost zero
    postseason success and historic ineptitude for the past four years it
    would be hard for even his biggest supporters to argue Gardenhire is the
    best manager to maximize that ascent.”

    This after saying that managers don’t have a big effect. Which is it? These manager write-ups need to stay focused on manager-type things: use of pitchers and relievers, platooning, player development. In these areas Gardenhire’s record was bad.

    It’s especially better to leave out post-season discussions during his era, since the Twins never really had a roster to succeed.

  • AndyW

    I’m happy to see some change (for a… change). However, if we are going to keep doing things the same way with a different manager, we’re going to get similar results. We have better players on the horizon, so we should get better as a result but ML guys have to improve too… that’s on the coaching staff (Arcia is a great example, he has not improved at all since last year). In a nutshell, I’m more interested in changing the process, so if we do that, then I’ll be excited… otherwise it feels like we’re just changing outfits.

  • Gleeman is SO pathetic in his views that he even conspires with other Hardball Talk writers to get people he doesn’t agree with suspended from Twitter. How pathetic is that? And he is a writer in Minnesota?

    Hasn’t Gleeman already had a good run? Time to get rid of Gleeman as clearly he insults we the readers and has proven to be intolerant in his efforts to protect his whiny weasel image from being exposed.

    Getting my insights from Gleeman is like getting my peace proposals from Netanyahu.