Mackey: Gardenhire is on hot seat, but situation somewhat complicated
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NASHVILLE -- An interesting situation has begun to brew for the Minnesota Twins.
For the first time in more than a decade, manager Ron Gardenhire is on the hot seat.
Following back-to-back 95-plus loss seasons, Gardenhire will enter the final year of his contract in 2013, and he'll need to guide his team to significant improvement if he wants to keep the job he's had for 11 seasons.
"You earn your contracts and you earn your extensions, and as I said this last couple of years, I haven't earned anything," Gardenhire said Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
"We haven't done very well, and you're graded as a manager on how your ball club performs. It doesn't matter whether you had injuries, it doesn't matter whether you were short on players. It doesn't matter. You're still graded on wins and losses. Terry (Ryan, the general manager) told me that, and it didn't offend me at all, didn't bother me at all."
It's an awkward situation for an organization that -- even with several internal changes over the past two years -- has prided itself on loyalty. Though awkward, Gardenhire's status is not the elephant in room.
"Me and him talked about that contract in September and we pretty much came to an agreement," Ryan said. "It was not a one-sided talk. It was me and him on a dialogue. He volunteered that he didn't deserve one and I said I don't think we're going to extend you. It wasn't anything more than that.
"He was man enough to say, 'I don't think I deserve one.' That was after I said, 'I don't think I'm going to offer you one.' It was fair. There wasn't any hidden agenda."
Since taking over for Tom Kelly in 2002, Gardenhire has led his team to more playoff appearances (six) than all but one team (Yankees). Over that stretch, the 2010 American League Manager of the Year owns a 932-851 (.523) record despite the last two disastrous seasons.
But the Twins have been loyal to Gardenhire when other franchises likely would have cut the cord due to his teams' playoff futility. Gardenhire owns a 6-21 postseason record, including an 0-12 stretch dating back to 2004, and the Twins haven't won a playoff series since the 2002 ALDS.
By not offering a contract extension to Gardenhire, Ryan is sending a clear message.
"We had a bad year as an organization, and he's a part of that," Ryan said.
Ryan also acknowledges that many factors have been out of Gardenhire's control -- not even Sparky Anderson could win with the collection of pitchers the Twins trotted out last season. There are several factors that could still be out of Gardenhire's control next year as well.
"I don't want him to be in the awkward spot," Ryan said. "I want me to be in the awkward spot. I'm going to give him the players to play with. I'm putting myself in the awkward spot. Trading (Denard) Span for a kid has put me in the awkward spot, not Gardy. I want to take on that responsibility. ...
"(Gardenhire) is a team guy. He's not throwing his players under the bus. He's not throwing the front office under the bus. He doesn't throw his coaches under the bus, by any means.
"Yeah, I know I didn't extend him, and I put him in a tough spot. I'm the one that's giving him the players. And ultimately, that trade last week -- hell, you're going to have to start looking upstairs, not at him. But I'm willing to take that on. I just did what I thought was right for the organization. And if it works, great, and if it doesn't, OK, we're going to have to try again."
When asked what Gardenhire needs to do in order to earn a contract extension, Ryan listed four items: "Improvement. Hope. Direction. Leadership. Things that he already possesses, of course."
What about wins?
"There's not an amount of games that you say, 'Gardy, if you don't win 86 games or something, you're gone.' That's not realistic," Ryan said. "You have to take all those things into consideration, on whether a manager had a good or bad year or a mediocre year. ... But I'm more a part of that than he is. He can't dictate what his personnel's going to be. I have the ability to do a little bit more of that."
Meanwhile, as it becomes increasingly more clear the Twins won't be making a big financial splash with any top-of-the-rotation free agent starting pitchers -- nor will they trade top prospects to acquire such major league-ready arms -- Gardenhire finds himself in a precarious position.
While managing for his job, Gardenhire could be in charge of a team that is destined to finish among the also-rans, if not worse, while it waits for youthful reinforcements to arrive in late-2013, or perhaps 2014.
"If I don't make it through this year, something happens and I don't make it through this year, I'll be okay," Gardenhire said. "I've had a great opportunity here, I love the Minnesota Twins, I love where I'm at and hopefully I stay there for the rest of my career, however long that may be. We all know what happens in this game, you're held accountable and I'm held accountable. I'm not worried about a contract extension. That's not up to me. That's up to somebody to come to me. ...
"There's no assurances. All's I know is Terry Ryan is taking back over and his goal is to get this organization built from the bottom up and get our organization, our system developing players and all those things. We've talked about it an awful lot, about the needs of this organization, the minor league levels and the major league levels, and really, I think, all you need is an understanding of what we're trying to do here. I have that with Terry on what we're trying to do. I want to win. I want to win now. I understand the process of developing. But it's a lot of fun to shake hands at the major league level. I live with whatever happens here, and we lose good players, we've lost one in Denard Span. I live with it, and hopefully we move forward. But I understand the process. I understand what we have to do."