Gardenhire will be back with the Minnesota Twins next season, a team official with knowledge of the decision said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Twins had not made an official announcement ahead of an afternoon news conference.
Gardenhire is in the final year of his contract and his 12 years with the Twins make him the second-longest tenured manager in the big leagues.
With three straight seasons of at least 93 losses, Gardenhire's job was considered to be in jeopardy. The highly respected manager figured to have other suitors waiting for him if he became a free agent, but the Twins made sure that didn't happen, keeping with their longstanding preference for stability at the top.
Gardenhire took over for the retired Tom Kelly in 2002, just when the young Twins were poised to make their move after years of miserable rebuilding. He led the team to the division title in his first three seasons, took them to the ALCS in his first year and was named AL manager of the year in 2010.
Once one of the most popular figures in town thanks to a gregarious personality and impressive run of six ALCS titles in nine years, Gardenhire started to hear some grumbling from the Twins fan base in recent seasons. The Twins have been swept out of their last three appearances in the ALDS and have been nowhere close to competing over the last three years. But even after spending this season as a lame-duck manager, Gardenhire made it clear he wanted to return.
"I like where I'm at," Gardenhire said before the Twins' final game of the season Sunday. "I'd rather be here."
Gardenhire met with GM Terry Ryan on Sunday to discuss the direction of the team and the state of the organization in general as the two of them often do during a season. Gardenhire is 998-947 in his 12 seasons, but just 195-291 over the last three years. In bringing him back, Ryan is sending a message that the problem lies much more with the talent on the field, and particularly on the mound, than in the dugout.
"We have struggled. I'm the one who has given him the players, and I understand that," Ryan said last week. "We've got to have the talent for any manager or coach to succeed. But we know where we are and I think we've got a pretty good idea of where we are going, and I'm trying to take a lot of responsibility for what's going on with this record. I'm not pretending that he's got the most talented roster we have ever seen him have, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us."
Many of the key players in the clubhouse seem to agree.
"I don't think there's anyone else we want leading the team," closer Glen Perkins said Sunday. "There's no better guy to run this team, and I've said it once and will say it a thousand times, it's not his fault. He's doing the best he can with what he's given, and Terry's doing his best to give him more. I don't think that will stop. I think (Ryan) knows where we're deficient and will do what he can to rectify that."
All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, who missed the last 41 games of the season with a concussion, has never played for another manager in the big leagues, and he didn't want that to change.
"I don't think, really, whoever was managing would have made much of a difference," Mauer said. "Gardy's a great manager. He's managed some great teams here. He's a great leader and I hope to see him back here."
The Pohlad family prides itself on stability in the leadership positions, and the Twins have had only two managers since 1986. They rarely bow to public pressure, whether it's to fire an employee, make a trade or splurge on a free agent.
Now the hard work begins. Ryan has to address a starting rotation that was by far the worst in the big leagues while also trying to fill in several holes in the lineup. Justin Morneau was traded in August, rookies Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia went through horrible slumps after being rushed to the big club and veterans Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit took massive steps backward after impressive seasons in 2012.
The Twins do have two prized prospects in third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton that are projected to be All-Star caliber players once they reach the majors. But the most likely scenarios don't have either player becoming everyday players for the Twins until 2015 at the earliest. And neither one of them can pitch, which only makes Ryan's job of upgrading the roster Gardenhire has to work with that much more of a challenge.
"He's going to try to figure things out and see how this team can get headed back in the right direction," Gardenhire said of Ryan. "We have a few nice players, some good, young prospects on their way, but there's a lot of things that have to happen."
One of the final disappointments in a season full of them came during the final week of the season when the Twins lost their last six games and missed a chance to get Gardenhire career victory No. 1,000.
"He's over the years been as much a part of this as the farm director and the general manager," Perkins said. "He's always had a voice. He's been a part of the winning and been a part of the losing and a lot of managers don't get that because you don't have that security. He's had that over the years and he's earned that. It's rare. For a manager to stick around as long as he has, you have to have good teams and you have to do a good job."
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