For the first time in his tenure as manager, Ron Gardenhire will enter the 2013 season without a contract extension in place that carries him beyond the coming year. Lacking job security, Gardenhire spoke openly last week about the possibility of moving on
"If I don't make it through this year, I'll be OK," Gardenhire told reporters during the Winter Meetings. "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."
For his part, Terry Ryan has tried to steer the microscope away from Gardy
, stating that responsibility for the product on the field falls more onto his shoulders than the manager's. Still, one can't ignore the realities of a disenchanted fan base that will grow all the more irate if forced to sit through another non-competitive season in this young ballpark, and it's obvious that Gardenhire is ahead of Ryan on the chopping block.
If the Twins are truly prepared to evaluate the long-time skipper based on the upcoming season and make a change if things don't improve significantly – a respectable stance given that the club has sunken to the bottom of the American League under his watch – it's starting to look like they might be setting him up for failure.
I want to believe Ryan's claims that the team isn't ready to punt in 2013
, but players like Kevin Correia won't help much and with the Royals emphatically making their push by acquiring a legit ace in James Shields, the division gets that much tougher. Ryan has balked at the market for legitimate free agents and his recent trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere for young pitching, along with statements that he's willing to listen on Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau, suggest that the true aim is to field a contending club in 2014 at the earliest.
That's dandy for the long-term health of the franchise, but it's not so dandy for the manager whose job is on the line in the short-term. If Gardenhire enters the 2013 campaign with a roster that closely resembles this year's -- plus a few mediocre starting pitchers and minus a couple quality outfielders -- it'd be tough to expect much improvement in the W/L column. And another 90-loss season would almost certainly spell the end for Gardy, right? Even if the Twins are internally committed to a rebuild, managers just don't survive three consecutive last-place finishes often.
In his live chat here at Twins Daily last week
, ESPN 1500's well-connected Doogie Wolfson said he's been getting the sense that the team is prepared to go through another down year and then make a managerial switch. He brought up Paul Molitor's name, which would help explain Gardenhire's reluctance to add Molitor to the staff this season.
All in all, it seems like a raw deal for Gardy. Barring an unforeseen spending spree to add immediate impact talent, the manager will need to pull off the improbable by making this rebuilding roster competitive or quite possibly lose his job.
It's no wonder he grumpily complained
to reporters during the Winter Meetings that the front office was "trading my whole damn team." Even if he believes that these moves are for the betterment of the franchise in the long haul, they do him very little good.