LIVE › 12-4 a.m. Sports Center All Night
NEXT › 2 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
2 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
3 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
4 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
4:05 a.m. SportsCenter AM
5 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
Updated: July 16th, 2012 2:47pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Twins president says Ron Gardenhire part of solution

Zulgad's Roundup: Twins president says Ron Gardenhire part of solution

SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!
by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins entered Monday night's game against the Baltimore Orioles having lost five in row and with an American League-worst record of 36-52. This comes after the team lost 99 games last season.

But Twins president Dave St. Peter said during an appearance on "Sunday SportsTalk" with Tom Pelissero and Jim Souhan that manager Ron Gardenhire is part of the solution and not part of the problem. In other words, Gardenhire is in no jeopardy of being fired.

"I think when you assess employees at any level, whether it be a field manager or somebody within your front office, you have to take a look at the entire body of work," St. Peter said. "Certainly when we look at Gardy, we look first of all at somebody who has been a part of this organization for two-plus decades and really is an organization-first guy.

"I don't think there's any doubt if you talk to people around the league that Ron Gardenhire is one of the more respected managers in baseball. I've seen it in every poll that's been done by players, what have you. We see what he does every single day."

St. Peter credited Gardenhire with having made adjustments in his managing style in recent years.

"He knows that he needed to adjust some things relative to his own work in terms of the makeup of our roster, of where we are today compared to maybe where we were two years ago," St. Peter said. "What I see with Gardy, is I see a guy who is committed to getting us back to the level of play that he was accustomed to through his first eight or nine years.

"To be honest with you, as I said the other day, I really believe he's part of the solution, he's not the problem. It's our job ultimately as an organization to work together to try to give him maybe some additional tools that he can work his magic with. But there's no doubt that Ron Gardenhire is in good shape with our organization. I think if you were to ask people around the league, they would tell you that was a smart decision."

Asked for specific examples of adjustments that Gardenhire has made, St. Peter pointed to the work that has been done with rookie shortstop Brian Dozier and shortstop-turned-third baseman Trevor Plouffe. "Gardy spends a lot of time with those guys. That's part of it," St. Peter said.

The Twins president also said it has benefitted Gardenhire to have less to do with things such as the day-to-day medical updates for players. The team made a change in that approach after having so many injuries in 2011.

"We really kind of took that out of Gardy's lap, which I think he appreciated to be honest with you," St. Peter said. "I think we've tried to look at just the way we operate and ultimately try to put him in a situation where he can focus on the things that are most important in terms of getting our team ready to play every night."

Exploring all avenues

It's no secret that many of the Twins' problems are the result of a starting pitching staff that has dealt with injuries and ineptitude.

Scott Diamond took a 7-3 record and 2.62 earned-run average into Monday night's game. That makes the lefthander the ace of the staff, despite the fact he began the season at Triple-A Rochester.

St. Peter is well aware that the Twins are going to need to acquire starting pitching this offseason and he isn't dismissing the free-agent market as a possible place to get that help. Although he will be expensive, one pitcher who might make sense is Milwaukee Brewers righthander Zach Greinke, who is 9-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts this season.

"Obviously, Scott Diamond has stepped up," St. Peter said. "But unfortunately we just have not had the consistency out of our starting pitching. No excuses. We need to do a better job ultimately in terms of those guys that are on the mound and as an organization it's clearly an area that we need to continue to address.

"I think that offensively this team has been good enough. Certainly the year that Joe Mauer has been having is another strong bright spot. The emergence of Trevor Plouffe. So there is a lot more that I think you can work with today than maybe you would have said a year ago.

"That's the encouraging thing for us and I think it is for fans as well. But we have our work cut out for us relative to starting pitching. It just isn't as strong, the level of depth, in Rochester in terms of those guys who are going to be innings eaters. That's why we're going to have to look at every possible vehicle, whether it be free agency, Rule V draft or, of course, trades, waiver claims in terms of trying to improve this club from a starting pitching perspective prior to spring training of next year."

Asked about the potential of over-spending in order to secure starting pitching, St. Peter admitted the Twins organization is in a different spot now than it was a few years ago. That should be good news for Terry Ryan, who returned as the team's general manager last November.

"We've had a lot of discussions internally about where we are going to go. One of the things that Terry Ryan is a master at is reminding us that there are no shortcuts to this thing. As you know, Terry was brought back into this organization to get us back to where we want to go. He believes in an old-school philosophy in terms of player development. That said, I think the balance we're trying to find in our front office is we're a different spot than we were when Terry was the GM the last time (when the payroll as much smaller).

"We should have and we will have and we do have additional resources. I do expect us to look at all channels in terms of our ability to get better. I'm not sure what that means relative to the free-agent market. But there's no doubt that's going to need to be a source of players for us going forward.

"It's never going to replace the bread-and-butter of developing our team and hopefully we get a Kyle Gibson back, which would be the biggest advantage I think we could have going into next year. But ultimately, I don't think there's any doubt that we're going to need to look at other ways to improve this team and some of those are going to require investments."

Gibson, the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2009, has started pitching again after having ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow last November.

Mauer not the problem

Shortly after Joe Mauer drew criticism on Twitter from some fans following his selection to the All-Star Game, St. Peter (@TwinsPrez) took to that form of social media to defend the team's $23 million per year player.

Mauer has heard boos this season at Target Field and seems to be a favorite target (no pun intended) of criticism because of the Twins' struggles.

Mauer, though, entered Monday hitting a team-leading .327 with a .414 on-base percentage and .444 slugging percentage.

His 41 RBI are second to Josh Willingham's 65. The issue for some is that Mauer has only five home runs. He has only 17 homers over the past three seasons after hitting a career-high 28 in 2009, but the reality is that Mauer is not going to hit for power at Target Field.

"It's always tough to assess what the Twitter world is compared to the general public," St. Peter said. "I think you do certainly get a great sense that Joe Mauer is held to an incredibly high standard, as he should be. Certainly the money is part of that, the status. His past play is part of that.

"There's no doubt in my mind if you were to ask the average baseball fan to assess realistically what (Mauer's) numbers are this year and really take a look at them, this guy is having a very, very good season, bordering on a great season.

"There have been some issues with our club this year in terms of why we haven't performed. Joe Mauer is not one of them. I think that's just kind of his reality playing in this market now, and I know it's frustrating to Joe, but I can't say enough good things about what he's tried to do in terms of going into this season with a different approach.

"I'm really happy to see him being rewarded. I know he feels good about it. I know he's really disappointed with where the team is at, but at the end of the day this is a good person who wants to see this team win and he's willing to do whatever is necessary to put us in the best possible position to do that. That's why I'm really, really proud to have him on our ballclub."

Granlund brings versatility

Mikael Granlund is expected to end up centering the second line for the Minnesota Wild this coming season, but the organization's top prospect could see some time at wing as well.

"We still don't have a set plan on that yet," coach Mike Yeo told "Judd & Phunn" last week on 1500 ESPN. "I know that first day of camp he will be starting at center. But having said that, there's a good chance that he may bounce around during the course of the season next year.

"So are we better to give him an opportunity to play a little bit of both? I don't know. But I do know from day one of training camp next year I want to give him a chance at center. He's playing center (at the recently completed prospects camp).

"I think he looks really good there, especially when he's carrying the puck through the middle of the ice. On the big ice, he looks really good. His ability to distribute the puck to either side. To get the puck to a guy like Devin Setoguchi or Matt Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard and give them an opportunity to create something off that is really intriguing.

"I also think it gives him the best chance to succeed. (Center is) his natural position, he's used to playing on the bigger ice surface so get him in little bit more of an open ice situation and I think it gives him his best opportunity."

End game

• Yeo, whose team recently signed top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, on the possibility of the NHL having a lockout when the collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15: "I don't really want to think about that to be honest with you. I have bad dreams about that right now because we are just that fired up. I think that's a challenge for us all.

"We can't plan for that to happen. We have to make sure that players are committed and make sure that they are 100 percent ready for training camp. If (the lockout) happens, then so be it, we'll adjust from there. Likewise with us, we'll make sure that we plan properly for day one of training camp and if (the lockout) happens then we'll be obviously devastated. But we'll plan accordingly and have to adjust from there."

• Yeo said Bouchard is "doing a lot better" as he again tries to return from a concussion issue.

"He looking good, he's training hard and he's put on some weight," Yeo said. "He seems like he's actually very excited for next year. One way I was looking at it the other day is if he comes back and he can play a full season for us, it's almost like we signed three free agents. Three really high end free agents. This guy has the ability to be a game-changer. I don't think it's an accident when we were playing our best hockey last year he was in the lineup and he was playing his best hockey. That's what he can do for your team."

• St. Peter expects the Twins attendance at Target Field to end up around 2.7 or 2.8 million fans for this season.

"From an organizational perspective, to be honest with you, that's not where we want to be this year from an attendance perspective," he said. "But I've been at this long enough that you have to have some level of perspective. Our internal expectations have changed in terms of attendance.

"If you would have told me in the Metrodome we were ever going to draw 2.8 million fans, I would have told you that you were crazy. I think, realistically speaking, there's been a lot of focus on who is not at the games. Frankly, the thing that I think is amazing is as challenged as we've been on the field, our in-house crowds have been very strong. Our no-show rate has been running at about 11 to 12 percent. The league average is well north of 20 percent.

"Frankly, I think there needs to be more focus on the fans that are there. Ultimately that's why we need to do a better job of putting a team on the field that's going to win games because the fan base here is there. It's very passionate and it's very invested in this team. Frankly, they deserve a team that is competing for not only a division championship but probably to go deeper in the postseason."

• A nice summer day might be good for beer sales, but St. Peter said the type of hot and humid weather that the Twin Cities has gotten in recent days actually hurts beer sales. "When it gets really, really hot like this you don't sell as much as you probably would think," he said. "The sweet spot on beer sales is about 75 to 85 degrees. It's not bad but it's not perfect."

• Center Nick Bjugstad of the Gophers men's hockey team said his decision to return for his junior season and not sign with the Florida Panthers took some pressure off him from friends who wanted him to stay at Minnesota for another season. "I was getting that a little bit," Bjugstad said. "It's kind of good to get the decision over with because people are asking stuff like that. It's a weight off my back so now I can just train with the guys during the summer and have fun with my teammates."

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
5107