Forgive me, I know that you're reading and hearing a lot about Papa Smurf's sudden, but long-in-coming ouster right now. Dex wrote that Gardy was out of a job. Jesse wrote about other guys who might be up for his job. And I've written about why he was fired for the main MLB page. But please, indulge me one more article before we probably write a dozen more, because while we are all focused on who will be the manager, we haven't talked all that much about what we want in whoever gets hired.
Now, nobody ever asks for my opinion...well, nobody who works for the Minnesota Twins anyway. That, as you've come to learn, has never stopped me before. So here are the traits I'd most like to see out of the third Twins manager in 28 years:
Willingness to learn
One of my biggest complaints about Ron Gardenhire, and about the Twins organization in general, is that it has become too set in their ways. They have become convinced that, for the most part, they have this game figured out and what worked in 2002 will work in 2014. That, quite simply, is not true. In the last dozen years, the game has changed somewhat, as offense has dropped and speed and defense become more and more important. We understand far better now the power that strikeouts have for pitchers. The game may not be different at its core, but the way it is played has indeed evolved greatly.
Now, the Twins have numbers guys who work for them, trying to help the organization with its decision making through the power of analytics. What isn't clear, however, is how often these voices are respected. Sure, Ron Gardenhire might have hit Joe Mauer second for a while, but he always went right back to the normal lineup constructions. Likewise, while other clubs have adjusted their defense to better reflect where batters hit the ball, the Twins have lagged behind on that research as well. And god knows their ability to separate pitching from defense has been difficult to appreciate. Worse, the Twins have been more interested in making players fit into their definitions of what players should be and do than they have been at maximizing the potential contributions of players like JJ Hardy and Francisco Liriano.
I don't need the Twins to have a manager as plugged into analytics as Joe Maddon or Terry Francona. I do think a Twins manager should be open to that kind of information, however. Four years ago, when the Pirates hired Clint Hurdle, they were roundly (and probably correctly) mocked. Hurdle had largely flopped in seven and a half years in Colorado. But, according to Ben Lindburgh, the great thing about Hurdle is how willing he has been to work with a sabermetrically inclined front office. He has been willing to learn more, receptive to new ideas, and even proactive in engaging the Pirates' numbers guys. His mixture of old school leadership with intellectual curiosity for new math has helped put the Pirates in the playoffs for the last two years.
The red ass
From the outside, it seems like the Minnesota Twins have gotten very complacent as a franchise. Aside from his battles with umpires, Gardenhire seemed to prefer laying back and preferred to passive-aggressively criticize his players in the media rather than address their shortcomings directly. As the last four seasons reached their final stages, his clubs essentially seemed to quit, playing out the string with the energy of a koala in a eucalyptus tree. The club has been listless.
In general, I value Ron Gardenhire's ability to maintain a happy and steady clubhouse atmosphere. That's tremendously valuable when a team is successful, and it can help entice free agents to sign or re-sign at a place where everyone is pretty happy. But losing creates its own problems with retaining talent, and historically we have seen fire-breathing managers can get short-term improvements out of clubs when they follow an entrenched player's manager.
We have also seen how Gardenhire's complacency created a culture where players were responsible for their own health issues. Gardenhire didn't know enough about Joe Mauer's injury problems because nobody came to him. Mike Pelfrey, Ricky Nolasco, Jared Burton, and Glen Perkins all tried to gut through injuries without telling anyone. The Twins need someone who will be actively involved with the training staff and who will set a clear tone that hiding injuries will not be tolerated. Twins players simply have not proven that they can be trusted. The next manager needs to angrily remind his club that they are not medical professionals, so they need to report everything and let the actual doctors and trainers decide what is serious and what isn't. We don't need anyone abusive, and certainly that manager should value his players' health above all things, but someone to call players on their B.S. would be entirely welcome, at least for the next couple years until his act wears thin.
Good with kids
While the Twins have a lot of veterans still on their roster, there's little doubt that there is significant roster turnover happening now and more on the horizon. Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Josmil Pinto, Kyle Gibson, and Trevor May are already here. Alex Meyer, Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Nick Burdi should all arrive in 2015. Eddie Rosario may show up some day soon, as might Lewis Thorpe, Kohl Stewart, Chih-Wei Hu and Stuart Turner. The Twins need someone who is both communicative with young players and who respects their learning curve. They need someone who can teach the kids and motivate them, and sees them as potential resources, rather than potential disappointments.
That, frankly, seems like a lot to ask for. I don't know if a candidate who embodies these traits exists or not. But I'm left hoping that the Twins shake off whatever lingering hesitancy they have about reaching outside the organization and simply hire the right candidate, rather than just plucking the next Gardenhire from a long list of potential imitators.