The Twins pride themselves on consistency. They promote from within and consider themselves a family. Nowhere is this publicly epitomized more than the role of Manager, which has seen Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire as the only two men to hold that position since 1986. No other team can match that number, and Bobby Cox managed the Braves for 20 years.
So standing by and watching them blow up the coaching staff is something of a pleasant surprise. We've talked before about the benefits and necessity for new blood to flow through a system, but because of the pride the organization has held in their consistency it was difficult to envision that necessary change happening. With a culture of "If its broke, don't fix it", ownership and the front office probably needed two bad years in a row to tell them that what they were doing wasn't working. One terrible season could be seen as bad luck, but two terrible seasons in a row is impossible to shrug off.
To be clear, in spite of what we've said earlier and in spite of what any number of outlets may have reported, nobody was fired today. If a coach isn't returning, it's because his contract expired and they were notified today that the organization would not be bringing them back. Here's the final run down.
Contracts Not Renewed
Rick McWane, Head Trainer
Rick Stelmaszek, Bullpen Coach
Jerry White, First Base Coach
Steve Liddle, Third Base Coach
Scott Ullger, from Bench Coach to Outfield Instruction
Joe Vavra, from Hitting Coach to Infield Instruction
Among the contracts which weren't renewed, the only surprise is White. McWane, as Head Trainer, is more or less taking the bullet for all of the terrible luck, terrible decisions, and terrible diagnosis we've seen from the medical staff the last few years. Liddle, after taking over as third base coach from Ullger, was somehow doing the job worse. Stelmaszek, whose name I can now spell without double checking, was in charge of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but was still guilty by association.
White, on the other hand, had been with the team for 34 years and held the first base coach job since 1998. It's difficult to know exactly what he could have done or not done for the Twins to let him go.
Sometimes change just needs to happen for change's sake though, and that could be the case here. The fortunes of the Twins the last couple seasons weren't any more Ron Gardenhire's fault than the lack of bullpen talent was Rick Stelmaszek's fault. The end of Jerry White's tenure may have less to do with what happened than the fact that something wasn't working inside the organization and change just needed to occur.
Why not Gardy and Anderson? Why do Ullger and Vavra still have jobs?
If the Twins had wanted to jettison their Manager and Pitching Coach, they certainly had reason to do so. We've established that the failures of this team aren't fully their responsibility, but in a scenario where the team wanted to institute change a sector of fans would have loved to see Gardy and Anderson get the heave-ho first.
Keeping Gardy and Anderson could be seen as an issue of practicality. Their presence means familiarity for players who have been here for a while, and means that players won't be coming into an entirely new environment next season. Similarly, keeping Ullger and Vavra in "instructor" positions means it's not just Gardy and Anderson sitting around as lonely hold-overs among an entirely turned over support staff.
An issue like familiarity, of being able to know what you can expect, is a matter of comfort. Not only does it allow the team to maintain a semblance of control as they move into 2013, but it also goes back to consistency. It can have an impact on the players in their relationship with the coaching staff and vice versa, and in that respect I think that how the Twins structured their changes is actually pretty smart.
And before anyone says something like "the last thing these guys/coaches need is to feel comfortable", trust me, they're not. What happened today is the biggest shakeup this organization has seen in 30 years. Gardy's contract is up after 2013. Nobody is comfortable. There's a difference.
Who will step in?
There's been speculation on this front all day, which we touched on a bit earlier. Pretty much every option is internal and comes from the Rochester Red Wings, but there's also a baseball icon who has expressed some level of interest in coaching.
Bobby Cuellar, the Triple-A pitching coach, is expected to take over for Stelmaszek as the Twins' bullpen coach. Former Twin and Red Wings' hitting coach Tom Brunansky is expected to take over as the Hitting Coach. Gene Glynn, Rochester's coach, is the top candidate to get the third base coach job because of his extensive experience at that position.
All of which leaves the first base coach job open. The icon who expressed interest in interviewing for a coaching position is Paul Molitor. Would he be interested in the first base job?
As I said earlier, we can't pretend that these moves today will solve all of the Twins' issues. The front office still needs to do a better job at evaluating talent, from the draft through free agency, and that can't happen just with the significant but superficial moves which were made today. There needs to be a paradigm shift, a change in philosophy at some level, that brings the team forward.
But this was a very good first step. If ownership, Terry Ryan, and the rest of the front office wanted to deliver a message today, I'm pretty sure they did it as effectively as they could. Let's see if their vision for the rest of the winter is just as bold.