Saturday, September 12, 2009
This season has been disappointing for Twins fans, to say the least. Naturally, whenever a team fails to live up to expectations, the manager and the coaching staff are the first ones to get the blame, even if those expectations may have been somewhat unreasonable to begin with (more on that in a minute). Not surprisingly, there is a growing contingent of Twins fans who feel that Gardy and his staff should be fired. Which is kind of funny because so many people were quick to praise him and his staff when the same team exceeded expectations last year.
I don't think the Twins' lackluster performance this season is all Gardy's fault. Or Andy's fault. Or Joe Vavra's fault (Especially since offense hasn't really been a problem this year. At least somebody on the staff is doing his job, right?). I don't think American League managers really have that much influence over the outcome of the game. Oh, I think there are a few great managers who are certainly hall-of-fame bound once they decide to retire, and maybe those managers really do win ballgames. I mean, if you can win so goddamn much while bouncing from organization to organization over the years, you must be doing something right. But in the grand scheme of things, Billy Beane is probably right. Most AL managers tend to be pretty average, not really brilliant strategists but not incompetent enough to cost their team many wins, and Gardy certainly fits in that category. Perhaps the role of the modern AL manager is simply to manage all of the different personalities in the clubhouse, and Gardy seems to do a pretty good job in that respect.
That isn't to say that Gardy is without fault. We all know how he loves scrappy, light-hitting middle infielders who play hard but don't have much in the way of actual talent. He will always find a way to work these guys in the lineup (usually batting second, one of the most important spots in the lineup *sigh*), while a more capable player (especially a young player) rots on the bench. And that's another thing: his distrust (dislike?) of young players. Whenever a young player makes a mistake (which they inevitably will), Gardy banishes him to the doghouse and bashes him in the press, while a veteran player gets free reign to screw up as much as he wants and Gardy will vigorously defend him. I realize that a lot of managers are like that, but this organization tends to depend heavily on the contributions of young players. In that context, maybe Gardy isn't the best man for the job. It's definitely something the front office will have to think about during the offseason.
As for the season being a disappointment, I guess that's kind of true. This is a weak division, and the Twins do have some very good players, so it is disappointing that they just can't reach out and take it. But, to be honest, this team didn't look like anything to get excited about before the season started. This is essentially the same team the Twins trotted out last year, and while they came within a game of winning the division, that team was clearly playing above its head (and benefiting from an extremely weak division). Projection systems such as PECOTA aren't always right (most of them picked the Red Sox to win the AL East), but most picked the Twins to finish 79-83. And that looks about right, though the Twins might actually exceed those expectations and finish 81-81, so it isn't as though they've underperformed based on their level of talent. Obviously, fans should expect a lot from their teams and shouldn't have to settle for mediocrity, but a mediocre team just isn't going to be anything more than that no matter who is at the helm.
If anyone deserves the blame for the outcome of the season, it is the front office. Bill Smith had opportunities during the offseason to upgrade the middle infield and the bullpen on the cheap, and he repeatedly failed to do either. Instead, he decided to spend $8.5 million on Nick Punto (a decision that actually didn't seem so horrible at the time, considering what Orlando Cabrera was asking and Punto was coming off a decent year offensively). He gambled that the starting rotation would either improve or at least perform to the same level it did last year, and lost. When it became clear that the team wouldn't compete the way it was currently constructed, he spent a lot in resources to provide modest upgrades. Carl Pavano has pitched competently, and I wouldn't mind bringing him back if the price is right, but is he worth Yohan Pino? Is Jon Rauch worth Kevin Mulvey? The Twins better hope that Tyler Ladendorf doesn't turn into anything special, either (ugh, they won't even get any draft picks when Cabrera signs elsewhere). Smith traded away a couple of major-league ready pitchers and middle infield prospect, areas in which the Twins have the greatest need, for a few mid-season rentals that aren't going to put them over the top (at least Rauch will be back next year). I do have to give Smith some credit for addressing the third-base problem by signing Joe Crede, and I do think the signing has been a good one, despite Crede's lingering health issues. And he locked up Scott Baker and Jason Kubel in contract extensions that look to be bargains so far. Still, it doesn't take a genius to realize that it's in the best interest of an organization to lock up its young talent on the cheap, and Smith's other moves don't exactly inspire a lot of confidence.