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Updated: October 4th, 2012 11:23pm
Zulgad: Firing coaches is only start of busy offseason for Twins GM

Zulgad: Firing coaches is only start of busy offseason for Twins GM

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins surprised many early last November when they hastily called a press conference at Target Field to announce Bill Smith was being relieved of his duties as general manager and Terry Ryan was taking over the job he had given up after the 2007 season.

The move was the result of a 99-loss season that followed nine winning seasons in a 10-year span and six American League Central titles.

In baseball circles, removing a general manager from power isn't that big of deal. In Twins' circles, this qualified as a move of major significance. The Twins had not fired a general manager or manager since 1986 and now Smith was taking the fall for what franchise officials hoped was a one-year blip.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Ryan said on the day he assumed responsibility for the on-the-field product at Target Field.

Nearly a year later, one has to wonder if Ryan knew exactly how much work he faced when he agreed to become interim GM. (That interim tag is expected to be removed this week.)

The Twins did not lose 99 games again this season, but that total only deceased by three after they finished the season on Wednesday night with a loss at Toronto.

This time there was no month gap between the time the season ended and when changes were made. Instead, it took less than 24 hours. 

Ryan had seen enough in his 11 months back on the job to know that it was time to start sweeping things clean in the dugout.

Ron Gardenhire, with one-year left on his contract, remains the Twins manager. However, many of Gardenhire's coaches will be looking for work.

The Twins announced that third base coach Steve Liddle, bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek and first base coach Jerry White would not be offered contracts for 2013. Bench coach Scott Ullger and hitting coach Joe Vavra were reassigned to oversee outfield and infield instruction, respectively.

Rick McWane, the Twins head athletic trainer for the past eight years, also was told he would not be back.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson survived the purge but that was it, and there appears to be a good chance Triple-A pitching coach Bobby Cuellar will be in the big-league bullpen next year offering his opinions to the guys Anderson oversees.

Ryan is a baseball-lifer and rebuilt the Twins from a team that fell off the map for most of the 1990s into one that competed on a yearly basis from 2001 to 2010. He is smart enough to know after watching this ballclub in 2012 that Thursday's moves were only a start.

Think of it this way.

There will be some fans very happy that the coaching staff was shaken up. There will be others who will be indignant that Gardenhire wasn't shown the door, too.

But the Twins' situation remains this: Right now, the best thing they have to market to potential and current season-ticket holders - and there is little doubt that list is dwindling - has nothing to do with the team.

It's the fact that buying season tickets will get you priority to buy tickets to the 2014 All-Star Game in their downtown Minneapolis Stadium. It will be a surprise, not to mention disappointing, if that is still the primary sales pitch for the folks who sell tickets come January.

The next thing Ryan was must do is explore ways to add at least two starting pitchers to this staff. Taking another gamble on a washed-out Jason Marquis type isn't going to cut it.

The Twins entered spring training last February with questions about their starting staff. Instead of seeing Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano overachieve, or even come close to reaching expectations, the staff completely imploded through injuries or ineptitude.

The working theory is that the Twins aren't going to pursue a big-time free agent such as Zack Greinke. If that is the case, then the Twins next option becomes the trade market and that is going to mean dealing Denard Span or Justin Morneau or possibly both.

Ryan has talked about exploring all means to add starting pitching, but it's clear everyone's patience is wearing thin after back-to-back seasons that featured 195 losses.

When talking about the pitching staff, it's easy to think Scott Diamond is the only current starter who deserves a spot in next year's five-man rotation. But that's probably not realistic. What is realistic is that Ryan must add one front-line ace to anchor the rotation and a competent No. 2 guy.

That means that suddenly pitchers who struggled with their roles can fall into slots three through five and be put in a position to succeed.

In less than a full offseason last winter, Ryan improved the bullpen and added Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll and Josh Willingham to the lineup. All three contributed, although Ryan appears intent on upgrading the offense even more.

Ryan knows he owes it to Gardenhire to put him in a position to succeed. Ryan was responsible for promoting Gardenhire to manager in 2002 after Tom Kelly retired. He knows that given the right tools Gardenhire can look smart again.

There is little doubt that telling several of Gardenhire's coaches they weren't being brought back was difficult. Stelmaszek spent 32 years in the organization and in his first year as a big-league coach the Twins were playing outdoors - in Bloomington.

But Ryan also knows the Twins can't go on this way for the long term. He witnessed the slide that occurred from 1993 to 2000 and realizes that can't happen again. Not in a new ballpark, where keeping revenues high is of the utmost importance.

That's why the stability that once surrounded this franchise took another significant but necessary hit on Thursday.

It's also why if the changes that are made this fall and winter don't work, Ryan is certain to be looking for a new manager a year from now.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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