NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins parting ways?
Say it ain't so!
OK, it ain't so. At least not yet. Gardenhire has been a fixture with the Twins since taking over for Tom Kelly in 2002. His teams have finished first six times. And there are few personalities in the majors as engaging and amusing as Gardenhire, who provided a great foil for Ozzie Guillen in the good ol' days of the AL Central.
But, as reporter Phil Mackey of ESPN Twin Cities notes from the winter meetings, a parting certainly could happen if the Twins turn in a 60-something victory season for a third straight year. It would be understandable. They're not called the Conjoined Twins, after all. Twins GM Terry Ryan says contract extension negotiations with Gardenhire have been ... blunt:
It's an awkward situation for an organization that -- even with several internal changes over the past two years -- has prided itself on loyalty. Though awkward, Gardenhire's status is not the elephant in room.
"Me and him talked about that contract in September and we pretty much came to an agreement," Ryan said. "It was not a one-sided talk. It was me and him on a dialogue. He volunteered that he didn't deserve one and I said I don't think we're going to extend you. It wasn't anything more than that."
Now that's some Upper Midwest Straight Talk! It's kind of refreshing to hear honesty (or what sounds like it) in an age where obfuscation has become paramount. And people lie so much. Lies and snitches. And yet, it's seen as being uncomfortable for managers to be lame ducks. Respect can be marginalized. Authority undermined. Shenanigans can ensue. But even if that happens in Minnesota, the Twins have far deeper issues that concern them.
Such as, not being as talented as they used to be. The team made a huge financial commitment to Joe Mauer, and he'll probably be worth it as long as he's mostly a catcher and not a first baseman or DH. After that, the Twinkies are unsettled at best.
The starting pitching is disastrous right now, regardless that they just traded Denard Span for top prospect Alex Meyer. They won't get any offense from the middle of the infield and Ben Revere — while awesome in center — hasn't shown he can hit as well as Span. Justin Morneau is some of the way back after his concussion nightmares, but he's 31 years old, a free agent in 2014 and a natural trade candidate. And which Trevor Plouffe, first or second half, is the real guy?
This is unlikely to add up to a roster that will challenge for the playoffs in the AL Central. Now, Ryan says that it's unfair to judge Gardenhire strictly on won-loss record, and he also recognizes he's the guy who seeds the roster with talent. That's all good for Gardenhire. If the GM and Gardenhire can get the Twins to overachieve into mediocrity, then there's a chance he'll be staying at Target Field. But the Twins still have a chance to be terrible again in 2013. Which, by the sound of things, means there will be a new manager in 2014.