Gardy's love of veterans


It's no secret: Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire loves veteran players. We get that. But sometimes he uses youth and inexperience as an excuse to play veterans long after a younger, better player is ready to help his team win. He's at it again with his preference for Mike Redmond over Jose Morales. This trait is Gardenhire's Achilles heel. Unless he can change his ways, this team is unlikely to get over the hump.

I could cite chapter and verse of cases where Gardy had two options and preferred the slower, less talented veteran over the faster, more talented youngster. The paradigm case is Jason Bartlett. The kid had several years of 400+ OBPs in AAA. He had excellent range and a strong arm. He worked very hard. But, in 2006, Gardy preferred the veteran Juan Castro over Bartlett. Only after Castro stunk up the joint in his first starting opportunity in a 10-year career did the GM intervene and insist that Bartlett become the starter.

The Bartlett case didn't turn out too well, as is painfully obvious. Gardy's loathing for the kid filtered up to the front office (with a new GM), which deemed him expendable in the Delmon Young trade. Now he's the shortstop this team desperately needs. He's third in the league in hitting, leads all shortstops in OPS and is on the verge of winning a gold glove. He also has 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts. In short, he would be the perfect number two hitter to sandwich between Denard Span and Joe Mauer. He'd be the perfect complement to an organizational pitching philosophy  that favors sinker balling control specialists. And he's making about $2 million in his first arbitration year.

His absence has created a huge hole up the middle for this team. To fill the hole, the Twins tried Adam Everett, Nick Punto, and Orlando Cabrera, all at a cost of $14 million over three years and the team's 2008 second-round draft choice. And there's nothing on the horizon in the organization to replace Cabrera, who's age is showing ever more every day. If they re-sign him, which I'm sure Gardy will argue for, it will be in the $6 million range per season, raising the cost of the shortstop position in 2010 to $10 million when you include Nick Punto's guaranteed salary. And nobody in their right mind would say Cabrera is anywhere near the hitter or fielder that Bartlett is, nor is he expected to be at the ripe old age of 36.

The Bartlett case is just the most obvious in a string of decisions Gardy makes that favor veterans. He seems to ignore veteran mistakes or lack of ability while simultaneously fixating on small deficiencies in the play of the younger, more talented players. The most obvious case right now is at catcher. Mike Redmond is really struggling and all Gardy can talk about is how Jose Morales needs to go to the Instructional League to work on his catching skills.

Here's an excerpt from the story by Kelsie Smith in the Pioneer Press, which demonstrates Gardy's loathing for youth:

"On Wednesday, the latest topic to whip Gardenhire into a mild frenzy was instructional league.

Asked if he'd like to see Jose Morales head to instructional league after the season is over to work on his catching (Morales, after all, did have a passed ball on a pitch-out this season), Gardenhire said of course, but that it's not likely to happen.

"I've argued that from Todd Walker to (Matt) Moses to all the way up, that if we could get these guys to learn how to play defense, go to instructional league like we used to ..." Gardenhire said. "It just doesn't happen. It's Arizona Fall League; it's a feather in the cap for the organization."

Reading between the lines, Gardy doesn't want to play Morales because he made a mistake in June, so he'd rather play Redmond, who makes mistakes every night. Never mind the fact that Morales started several games in April and didn't have a single passed ball the whole time, including a game when he caught knuckle baller R.A. Dickey's only start. Yesterday's mistakes by Redmond cost the Twins the game, and Gardy's still fixated on how Jose Morales made a mistake in June and so he can't trust him to start at catcher. This is reminiscent of the fateful spring training when Bartlett was hitting .500 and playing great. Then he lost one pop-up in the sun and got sent down for two months while Juan Castro played horribly.

The thing is, young guys make mistakes, old guys make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. Young guys tend to make more mistakes for two reasons: They still have a lot to learn and their skills put them in a position to make more plays, so the percentages dictate more mistakes for more talented guys. A shortstop who can't get to a ball can't make a mistake. A catcher who can't hit can't get caught in a rundown. Gardy's blind spot is to cut old guys slack for making mistakes and to fixate on every little mistake young guys make. A more balanced approach would be to look at the whole picture: Balance the mistakes against the contributions a guy makes to winning. Suppose Morales went 2-4 the night he had that passed ball. Perhaps he contributed two runs to the offense but gave up one run on defense. That's a positive contribution. Gardy's flaw is he allows mistakes to wipe out any contribution.

He also pays almost no attention to numbers when he evaluates young players against veterans. I don't have to remind this crowd that Morales' OPS is .834 while Redmond's is .623. Also, Redmond hasn't had an OPS over .700 in two years. Morales hit very well last year in AAA. with an OPS of .774. And of course, the elephant in the living room is that Redmond is 38 at a position when guys retire at 36. For any other manager, this would be an easy thing. Redmond becomes the cheer leader and Morales becomes the back-up, giving the Twins the option to play Jason Kubel in left and DH Mauer more often. The way Morales is hitting, he could be the primary DH with Kubel in left and Mauer catching.

This is a fatal flaw for a manager in this day and age. You have to develop young guys, be patient, accentuate the positive, work on the negative. A manager must help an organization develop its young talent. At the very least, he should not get in the way of young talent as it becomes available. In this case, it's high time Gardy start developing Morales for next year. And he just might find it helps him win a few ball games this year as well. This is a test to see if Gardy is the right manager for this team, which relies on a steady flow of young talent to win. If Gardy fails this test, I see years of being just competitive enough to draw fans without winning championships with Gardy at the helm.

 

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