The Detroit Tigers are going through a rebuild, and need a manager who has experience with youngsters. They found their man Thursday, reportedly hiring former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to guide them through the next couple seasons.
While the Tigers have picked Gardenhire as the team’s next manager, the deal isn’t completed just yet. The two sides still have to work out the specifics of Gardenhire’s contract, according to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic.
The 59-year-old Gardenhire oversaw the Twins for 13 straight seasons beginning in 2002. Under his watch, the team made the postseason six times in his first nine years at the helm. The team cratered in 2011, and struggled the last four years Gardenhire was in charge. The club topped out at 70 wins over this period. Gardenhire was fired after the 2014 season.
He took a year off from baseball, and then re-joined the Twins as a special assistant. Last November, he was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks as the club’s bench coach. Gardenhire missed time early after recovering from prostate surgery, but returned to the team in May.
The Tigers were reportedly looking for a manager with previous experience, according to Rosenthal. Gardenhire brings that to the table. In his 13 seasons with the Twins, he led them to a 1068-1039 record — good for a .507 winning percentage. The postseason hasn’t been kind to him, though. Gardenhire’s Twins went just 6-21 in the playoffs.
With the Tigers committing to a rebuild, they may have wanted a manager who has experience helping prospects adjust to the majors. Gardenhire did just that with the Twins. He oversaw the promotions of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span to the majors. On the pitching side, both Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker came up under his watch, and Johan Santana experienced his first full season in the majors with Gardenhire.
Some of those players didn’t turn into stars with the Twins, but Gardenhire does have experience breaking prospects into the majors. On top of that, his lengthy career should command the respect of veterans in the clubhouse, like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
If there’s a knock on Gardenhire, it’s that he was far too traditional with the Twins. Gardenhire didn’t utilize platoons, was late to adopting defensive shifts and often used weak-hitting infielders in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He had a reputation of refusing to embrace statistical analysis, though Twins general manager Terry Ryan defended Gardenhire during his tenure with the team.
The game has changed drastically since Gardenhire last managed in 2014, and he’ll have to prove he can adapt. It’s certainly possible, as we’ve seen other traditional managers like Clint Hurdle accept new-age stats in recent years. We won’t know if that’s the case until he starts penciling in his lineups next spring.
That may wind up being the key to whether Gardenhire lasts through the rebuild. All the stuff he does away from the field may benefit the team in the short-term. But if Gardenhire is still around as expectations rise, he’ll need to show that his on-field tactics aren’t negatively impacting the club.
If he can do that, it’s a great hire for Detroit. If not, then Gardenhire might not last long enough to manage the club the next time the Tigers are contenders.
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