Friday, September 11, 2015

Gardy The Great Flipping Sides

It was inevitable right? I mean after all, how long could the 57 year-old Gardenhire sit down in Florida puffing on stogies? Eventually, the former Minnesota Twins manager was going to find a new job, and it would be much to the chagrin of Twins Territory. What might have been unexpected is that said new job would come within the AL Central and have Gardy staring into the Twins dugout from the other side.

That scenario looks very much like it will come to fruition at this point.

It was reported by the Detroit Free Press this morning that Detroit Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus was managing his final few games. Compiling a 143-127 record across just under two seasons, Ausmus has drawn the ire of Tigers owner Mike Illitch. The Little Caesar's entrepreneurial mogul has decided that former team President Dave Dombrowski isn't the only one needing to go in 2015. Ausmus is set to be relieved of his duties following the season.

With the managerial opening for the Tigers being announced this morning, information has been relatively fluid. One of the first names brought up as a potential successor was Gardenhire's. Then reports began to surface that the former Twins skipper was not only the front-runner, but likely the already decided upon choice.

Gardenhire took the 2015 season off after being replaced by Paul Molitor following the end of a fourth straight 90 loss season in 2014. Despite showing up at Twins spring training this season, Gardenhire has laid low and flown under the radar. Linked to the Miami Marlins job following the firing of Mike Redmond, Gardenhire stayed put. Now with the American League opening presented to him, and in the Central division nonetheless, it may be time to return to the dugout.

There was never any doubt that Gardenhire would once again manage, but a National League team always seemed to be an odd connection. The Marlins job was never one coveted by many (the franchise is notably poorly run), and Gardenhire may be in over his head. Managing for 13 years in the American League, a guy not known as an innovator would have to adjust to a completely different game in the NL.

Should he become the Tigers eventual choice, the fit would seem to make a lot of sense. Gardenhire has compiled a 1068-1039 record across 13 years in the AL Central. Of the major league franchises, the Tigers would be one of the few Gardenhire would find himself relatively familiar with. Detroit also is not far from his roots established in Minnesota and would provide another layer of comfort when getting back into the business.

The biggest question may be in regards to what Illitch and the Tigers believe they are getting in the longtime Twins manager. Ausmus is no doubt being fired for failed expectations. Given premium pieces to make World Series runs, he is 0-3 in his lone postseason appearance, and will miss them in 2015. While given a less than impressive bullpen a season ago, Ausmus no doubt did less with more. What's curious, is that the same could be said about Ron Gardenhire.

Despite a 2010 Manager of the Year award, and six AL Central Division titles (compared to just four for the Tigers in his tenure), Gardenhire's playoff ability has plenty of unanswered questions. The Twins advanced to the ALCS just once under Gardenhire (losing 4-1 to the Angels), and were swept three times in the ALDS (twice by the Yankees, and once by the Athletics). As a whole, Gardenhire's playoff record stands at just 6-21 (good enough for a .222 win percentage). Added up, it would appear the Tigers may be fixing a question with somewhat of another one.

Manager's are somewhat of a fickle beast, and we've seen that this season more than ever. Matt Williams, the Washington Nationals manager with just 2014 as his previous experience, has fallen flat on his face. Williams took a star-studded team and effectively ended their playoff hopes with his own inability. Then there's Dan Jennings (who took over in Miami for Redmond), coming in having never managed or played at any level, who's compiled a 39-57 record (or virtually the same as his predecessor in Redmond). What we have learned over the course of 2015 is that often, major league franchises perception of managers becomes reality.

If Illitch and the Tigers do intend on hiring Ron Gardenhire to take over in 2016, it will be because their perception trumps documented reality. Gardenhire is a very good manager, but he's had many of the same shortcomings (albeit in a larger dose) than Ausmus. Detroit has changed their culture to be deep playoff runs or bust, and Gardenhire could get them there, but he also couldn't. If the Tigers don't address their lackluster farm, poor relief help, and spending habits, it won't matter who's in the dugout.

Ron Gardenhire deserves another chance at managing. It's going to be odd for Twins fans to see it come in Detroit. He could succeed there, but it may not have much to do with his own accord.

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