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Updated: October 1st, 2013 6:26pm
Zulgad: Ron Gardenhire's extension should be final patience exhibition

Zulgad: Ron Gardenhire's extension should be final patience exhibition

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins have been here before and dug themselves out.

That was the point that general manager Terry Ryan attempted to make Monday during the press conference announcing that manager Ron Gardenhire would receive a two-year contract extension despite a third consecutive 90-plus loss season.

Ryan's history lesson is correct.

From 1993 through 2000, the Twins never finished above .500 and meanwhile they suffered through five seasons of 90-plus losses, including four in a row from 1997 through 2000.

Those years of futility occurred with the low-revenue Twins playing in the Metrodome and unable to compete financially with the teams that were getting new stadiums and adding revenue streams.

This served as an often convenient, but also accurate excuse for the Twins' struggles.

But the Twins' move across downtown Minneapolis in 2010 from the Metrodome to Target Field eliminated the team's ability to play the "woe is us" card. The Twins no longer had to take a seat at the kids' table when Thanksgiving dinner was served to big-league clubs.

Yet, since securing the American League Central in 2010, the Twins have lost 99, 96 and 96 games the past three years and have an overall 195-291 mark during that time.

Considering the reputation the Twins worked so hard to build in winning six division titles from 2002 through 2010, being 96 games under .500 the past three years is not only unacceptable it's embarrassing.

And it has to stop.

Ryan, who has acknowledged he didn't give Gardenhire enough to work with this season, is confident he can halt this slide but the question remains when will that happen? The answer needs to come from ownership and it's very simple.

Gardenhire got a two-year extension. That should be the internal and unspoken timetable for this franchise to get its act together or else everyone with any power is shown the door at Target Field.

One can admire the patience of the Pohlad family, but at what point does that patience become a form of neglect and an insult to a fan base that would fill one of the best stadium's in baseball if given a reason?

We are getting closer to the answer with each lost season.

There is no denying Ryan is an outstanding baseball man, but ownership also needs to give him a blueprint for this offseason and not simply accept what they are told.

Here's the best approach: Ryan should be informed he needs to come up with two plans.

One that will at least attempt to make this team competitive in 2014 and another that will continue with the long-term plan for 2015 and beyond when the majority of the top prospects, such as third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, will arrive.

The short-term goal will fulfill what the Twins already say they will do this offseason and make them a player in free agency. If Ryan really thinks the three-year, $21 million investment made in Josh Willingham meant the outfielder received a substantial contract, then he's going to have to change his mind set and understand there is a significant price to being competitive.

This doesn't mean the Twins are supposed to be stupid with their money, but it does mean the days of attempting to pick over free agency like it's the last day of a garage sale are finished. And before anyone gets upset, no one is saying this team should build through free agency. What they are saying is, like with everything in life, there is a happy medium.

Plus, if the Twins front office and scouting department are as good as we're told, then Ryan has to have confidence that mistakes won't be made.

Ryan also needs to allow for the fact that as tough as it might be, a prospect could have to be moved for starting pitching. We're not talking Buxton or Sano but there are other players (second baseman Eddie Rosario, for instance) who could be included in a package.

This might not be the way that Ryan wants to do things, but going to spring training with a collection of players destined for another 90-plus losses shouldn't be the way the Pohlads or anyone else want to do things, either.

Eventually the pattern has to stop and if ownership is wise there will be an expiration date put on this stink or the time for loyalty will be passed.

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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