Terry Ryan

Ryan Firing the Result of Twins’ Lack of Identity

The Twins fired Terry Ryan Monday in a move which surprised the Twin Cities sports media in its timing if not its necessity. The hapless Twins sit at 33-58 going into Tuesday’s play, the worst record in the American League. An organization famed for its loyalty, loyalty to a fault, finally made a move separating the Twins from a direction which has seen them in a slow decline from playoff regulars to AL punchline.

Remarkably, in a sporting landscape where the pressure to win is insurmountable, particularly in larger markets, the Twins commitment to loyalty has led to a stagnancy which has mired the organization in mediocrity. This is the same loyalty that kept Ron Gardenhire in a job long after the Twins needed a new direction. This is the same loyalty that led the Twins to build a farm system around ‘pitch to contact’ and a reticence to embrace analytics in ways that have led other mid-market franchises to great success (see 2015 Royals). Make no mistake, the Twins are behind the times and the buck should not stop with just Terry Ryan.

The Twins have long been accused by their fans of espousing a little too Minnesotan of an attitude to a GM who has brought limited success in recent seasons, particularly in his second spell at the helm. While the Twins enjoyed a consistent playoff berth in the early 2000s, their recent direction has been uninspiring, 2015 breaking a run of 4 straight 90+ loss seasons

Remarkably, it seems as if some may reflect on Ryan’s second spell with the Twins as a success, as David St. Peter mentioned his success in rebuilding the farm system since 2011. This is a baffling statement, given the primary means of restocking a farm system is losing a whole bunch of games and having consistently great draft position. Do the Twins have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball? Significantly improved from 2011? Sure, they better.

Rob Anthony has been tabbed with the interim GM title. The Twins would be wise to ensure this tag does not become permanent. The Twins need a clean break from their ‘within organization’ hiring practices. ‘The organization’ has not worked in quite some time. Alarmingly, Dave St. Peter will take on a significant role in the hiring process as Mackay of ESPN 1500 noted after a round table with the media.

It would be wise for St. Peter to stick with his presidential duties and allow baseball minds to take the lead in hiring a GM who will be critical in establishing the Twins direction for the next decade. The Twins recent woes have been indicative of one simple and undeniable fact, the franchise lacks  an identity. They have over-invested in sub-par free agent pitching (Nolasco, Hughes extension, Santana to an extent) whilst simultaneously stocking their farm system. Every mid-market baseball fan knows that free agency isn’t where its team earns its stripes. Look at the outstanding example provided by Rick Spielman down the street. The Twins have the chance for a clean break and a reshaping, rather than reshuffling of the organization after the dismissal of Ryan. The assertion of Pohlad that the new GM is beholden to Paul Molitor for the 2017 season is worrying. Not because Molitor isn’t well suited for the job, it sets a dangerous Jerry Jones-esque meddlesome precedent muddying the waters between organizational and personnel affairs. If the Twins want to start fresh, that begins with empowering their next, out of organization GM.

Gardenhire out in MN – A Long Time Coming?

by JDCam 10.04.14

The Twins released long time manager Ron Gardenhire on Monday bringing his 13 year tenure with the Twins to a disappointing conclusion. The uber-loyal Twins will now be looking for only their third manager since the 1986 season. In his career with the Twins, Gardy won the AL Central 6 times. He struggled more recently however, posting 90+ losses in each of the last four seasons. For the Twins part their managerial change is, I feel, not at all about personnel and pleasingly for Twins fans, much more about the culture of the franchise.

ESPN guru Tim Kurkjian reported the story quoting Gardenhire as ‘fiery’ and described him as an ‘affable everyman who turned the perennial AL doormat into a six time division champion.’ Those sentiments ring of truth but also gnaw at Twins fans who have seen the exit for Gardy coming for some time.

Gardenhire certainly did have his share of success with the Twins building his teams on a solid generation of minor league talent including Tori Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer and having the bonus of acquiring cornerstones by trade including Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano and outstanding organizational additions like rule 5 pickup And two time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. Gardenhire however was never able to replicate the regular season success in post season. In his 6 post-season appearances Gardy’s Twins managed just one series win, in 2002 before losing to the eventual World Series champion Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were called that year). In those 6 series losses the Twins only won 3 games! To be fair the Twins faced several of the great Yankee teams of the early 2000s. The gulf in class was unfortunately matched by a gulf in belonging.

As a Twins fan, the team always seemed to have a ‘happy to be here’ attitude. Their first post-season opponent always seemed like the logical last stop, the Twins an annoying irritation along the way, the most obvious discrepancy between the teams the massive gulf in class in starting pitching. While Gardenhire himself WAS a fiery character, always going to bat for his team and receiving more than his fair share of ejections, he failed to instill that same passion and heart in his players. The Twins never seemed like they thought or believed they would beat the Yankees in those early 2000s, they just seemed to be making up numbers. I wanted to see the same passion from the players that Gardy always seemed to exhibit, something like this;

OK, that was an exaggeration but still. Gardy’s Twins always seemed to somehow take on and embody that most famous of North Star state idiosyncrasies, ‘Minnesota Nice’. Too nice to take the series too far or make it too competitive turned the Twins became the underachieving also-rans of the early 2000s playoffs.

Santana

Johan Santana has been the only true ace Twins fans have enjoyed since the early 2000s.

Gardenhire’s own reaction to his dismissal is perhaps the MOST astounding part of this whole story. When speaking at the Twins press conference he stated that he was ‘completely fine with this’. Gardenhire is even quoted as saying ‘I think this is the right thing’. If ever there was an indication that a change in voice was needed, this was it! If you don’t think you should still have your job Gardy, why should I? Is this the voice and message of the manager whose job it was to get his team prepared, particularly mentally to face a Yankee franchise year after year that at worst could be described as dominant and at best dynastic? No wonder we got waxed every year! OK, maybe a little far but come on?! Despite a number of players expressing their displeasure and disappointment at the axing of Gardy, it may be a case of having never heard another voice as young pieces like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have known no other as their manager.

Looking once again at those 6 playoff efforts the Twins obvious issue was their lack of depth at starting pitching. Now at the beginning of the 2014 playoffs every self-respecting sport blog and website immediately begins ranking contenders various pieces, up first, starting pitching. You DO NOT win in the post season with poor starting pitching. Looking at the two years the Twins had their strongest team pitching, 2004 (27.6 combined WAR) and 2006 (23 combined WAR). In both years the Twins had a bonafide ace in Santana (who incidentally contributed (between ¼ to 1/3 of the team WAR alone). In ’04 after Santana took game one in New York, the Twins went to reliable number 2 Brad Radke before turning to Carlos Silva in game 3. In ’06 Twins again began with Santana before turning to Boof Bonser of the famous porn-stache in game two (yikes). Did Terry Ryan and the mega rich Pohlad family truly set up Gardy for a solid post-season run with a truly deep and competitive rotation? I don’t think so.

Terry Ryan

GM Terry Ryan never gave Gardenhire enough starting pitching to make a meaningful post-season run

Simply put, even with their best pitching the Twins rotation was never enough. After Santana was traded to the Mets the Twins struggled to their moderate successes in spite of their pitching. With the exception of Francisco Liriano, whose incredible rookie season was lost to Tommy John in 2006 and left Twins asking what might have been, the Twins got by with a number of pitch to contact ground ball specialists such as Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and the most successful of the bunch, Carl Pavano. This is where the Twins spiral into mediocrity and subsequently woefulness really began.

Timing has not been on Gardenhire’s side in the last few years. The Twins have quietly amassed one of the best farms systems in baseball over the last few years (both through drafting and trades), more recently balancing out their typically outfield heavy prospect family with a slew of high end arms, untypically high velocity, high strikeout arms including Alex Meyer, JJ Berrios, Kohl Stewart and September debutant Trevor May as well as bullpen arms like Nick Burdi. Combined with uber-prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as well as emergent rookies like Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana the future looks much rosier in Minnesota, unfortunately for Gardenhire he won’t be the one steering the ship anymore. While Gardenhire certainly has a legacy to be proud of in Minnesota, Tom Kelly set Twins fans up with almost impossibly lofty expectations for post-season achievement. While the Twins organization has a ton to thank Ron Gardenhire for, he never quite hit the lofty heights of his predecessor. 6 AL Central championships was an impressive achievement, but one that will forever be slightly marred in the eyes of Twins fans by the uncompetitive nature of their team in the post season, as well as the last four seasons of stagnantly low quality baseball.