MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins may be more loyal than any other franchise in baseball, sometimes to a fault. But on Monday that loyalty led to the Twins giving manager Ron Gardenhire a contract extension fresh off the heels of a third straight losing season.
Minnesota signed Gardenhire, 55, to a two-year extension, meaning he’ll be on board to lead the troops through 2015. Gardenhire’s entire coaching staff will also be back for the 2014 season, and there’s a good chance Minnesota adds a seventh coach to the staff.
On the same day the Chicago Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum after two losing seasons, the Twins extended their manager after his third, believing Gardenhire is the man for the job as they attempt to turn things around at Target Field.
“Nobody’s pretending that everything has gone well the last three years, frankly,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Monday. “We need to clean it up and we think we have the right man in-house to do that and I’m very happy he’s decided to come back.”
With a loss Sunday to Cleveland, Minnesota finished 66-96 for the second straight year. In 2011, the Twins went 63-99 under Gardenhire’s watch. Plenty of blame was placed on Gardenhire for the 96-loss season, but Ryan has admitted that he is also to blame for the losses, as he was the one giving Gardenhire the players.
Of course, Gardenhire had the option to leave the organization after enduring three years of losing. But the Twins are the only organization he’s known as a coach and, for the last 12 seasons, as a manager. He said Sunday that he hadn’t entertained the thought of looking at other managerial openings — including the Cubs — and preferred to stay in Minnesota.
The loyalty between the Twins and Gardenhire has certainly been a two-way street.
“I was taught a long time ago, being brought up in an Army family, that it’s easy to walk away from tough times,” Gardenhire said. “My father was a military guy and said the easy thing to do was walk. The hard thing to do was stay and try to make it better. That’s what I’m going to try to do here. I want to make it better.”
But how do the Twins go about making things better? The 2013 roster was filled with plenty of young and inexperienced players who often appeared overmatched at the major league level. There were also several veteran players who underperformed and failed to match their performances of previous years. Injures played a small role in the Twins’ failures, but Minnesota wasn’t using that as an excuse this year.
There were some bright spots, sure, but not enough to make most fans believe that 2014 will be a complete turnaround. The Twins’ front office and Gardenhire acknowledged that some help will have to come from outside the organization during free agency this year.
“We can get better in a hurry. Did you see us play this year?” Gardenhire said. “We’ve talked about a lot of different things and what worked and what won’t work and we went over the team that we have on the field right now and now we have to make it better. We don’t have enough young people to do these things, the young pitchers. It’s going to be some looking outside our organization. That’s something we’re going to sit down and really talk about.”
Twins CEO Jim Pohlad joked that Minnesota gave Gardenhire a two-year extension because “we’re pretty sure that somewhere in those two years we can get Gardy’s 1,000th victory.” But that second year was also important to show Gardenhire that the Twins have confidence in him and will give him a bit more time to turn things around. The 2014 season may likely still be a part of the rebuilding process before a hopeful return to relevancy in 2015.
In the meantime, the Twins are aware that remaining status quo with the manager may draw the ire of some fans who have grown tired of watching three straight losing seasons.
“We understand that. We get it. At the end of the day, that’s the reality of the world we live in,” said Twins president Dave St. Peter. “It shouldn’t deter us from trying to do what we can to not only build a winning team but build a team that can sustain over the course of a decade. That’s the goal. It isn’t just to get back to being competitive. It’s trying to get back to being competitive year in and year out.”
When the season concluded Sunday, Minnesota’s players continued to throw their support Gardenhire’s way. For many of them, Gardenhire was the only manager they’ve ever played for. He’s always been known as a player’s manager, and that was evident in the clubhouse. Even during losing seasons, Gardenhire tried to keep the mood light in the locker room.
Reliever Brian Duensing — who has played for Gardenhire since making his debut in 2009 — said he didn’t find out the news until Monday morning when he saw it on Twitter but was thrilled to hear Gardenhire would be back.
“I’m excited. I’m glad to see he’s coming back,” Duensing said. “I feel like when teams are losing like we had last year, that’s on us. We’re not getting the job done. Our job at this level is to win. If Gardy’s putting us out there to do the job and we’re not doing it, it’s not his fault.”
Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002 and won three straight American League Central titles in his first three seasons. He and the Twins won the division again in 2006, 2009 and 2010. Gardenhire ended the season with a record of 998-947. While the last three years have been a far cry from the days of division titles, Gardenhire believes this team can be back there soon.
So, too, do Ryan, Pohlad and St. Peter, which is why the Twins organization once again showed just how loyal it is.
“I’ve been through winning. I know how to win and Terry knows how to win,” Gardenhire said. “I think both of us getting together on this thing and putting together a ball club out there, teaching some young kids and mixing in some veterans with it, we believe we can do those things. So I’m happy.”