Five thoughts on Ron Gardenhire's return

Hannah Foslien

The Twins manager will return for two more years, and that's neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

1. I still believe that what Ron Gardenhire really wants, more than anything, is to go out the same way Tom Kelly did. He wants to right this ship and then step aside, like Kelly after 2001; he does not want to leave the campsite worse than he found it.

We all speculated about whether Gardy would be tired of the losing, tired of the terrible teams he was given, and just generally too tired to come back, but I think he's far, far too competitive for that. He cannot leave now and have his legacy be of the man who left the ship foundering on the 90-loss shoals.

2. It is tempting to see all contracts, in sports, as either bonus or fine. We speak of good players and good coaches being "rewarded" with contract extensions, while we call for bad players to be released or traded and bad coaches to be fired.

Much of the talk about Ron Gardenhire has centered on whether he "deserved" a contract extension, as if the Twins were Santa Claus, handing out presents at the end of the year to all the good little boys and coaches. I think it's a mistake to see the Twins' rehiring of Gardenhire as a reward, because it's clearly not; even the Twins aren't handing out bonuses for 90-loss seasons.

3. That said, the Twins were certainly happy to stay within their comfort zone. The "Twins Way" brought the team a pile of AL Central titles, and the franchise is determined to recapture that magic. From re-hiring Terry Ryan, to sticking with Gardenhire and the current coaching staff, the Pohlads are doubling down on their bet on the magic still being with this team.

That feels troubling, of course. The same minor-league system that produced Brad Radke has yet to produce another, despite the constant chorus of be-like-Brad voices, and it's this failing - to develop anything resembling a major-league starting pitcher, despite the many draft picks flung in that direction - that has killed the franchise, more than anything else. Yet the same conductors are pulling the same levers on the same tracks; it's hard to see where new success comes from.

4. It is also beginning to feel like the game has passed the Twins by, that their particular skill of minor-league talent selection has been overtaken by other organizations learning to value their own players correctly. If it happened today, I don't think the Twins could extract Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski. They've stopped pulling rabbits like Jason Bartlett and J.C. Romero out of their trade hats, and started getting guys like Jim Hoey and Alex Presley.

One of the less-emphasized lessons of "Moneyball" is that prospects matter, and years under team control matter. It wasn't so long ago that, had the Royals traded Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields, we all would have criticized the Rays for getting fleeced, not the other way around.

That front-office magic, for years, was trade-related sorcery. And it seems like that magic is gone.

5. All of this, of course, has very little to do with Gardenhire specifically. He'll be tasked with developing young players, and while he's often criticized for his approach to dealing with rookies, I don't really see evidence that he's any better or worse at coaching young guys than anybody else. Kelly was similarly criticized, but he not only nurtured the nucleus of the 1987 and 1991 World Series winners, he laid the foundation for the team's comeback in the last decade. I think the truth is that some players thrive and some don't - and sometimes, as in the case of Brian Dozier, the same player can thrive or not thrive in different years.

Gardenhire is the manager that developed Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan and a whole host of others; it's impossible to say that he cannot coach young players, just because Aaron Hicks was terrible last year, or whatever other argument you'd like to use.

I guess what I'm trying to answer here is the question: should the Twins have brought Ron Gardenhire back? And the answer I have is, short of changing how the entire franchise approaches running a baseball team, from the front office on down through the minor leagues, my answer is: Sure, why not?

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