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Friday, August 19, 2011

Gardy's Role: "Field Manager" Only?

Did you think Gardy looked a little more red in the face than usual last night (even before he was tossed for arguing the Morneau HR)? Do you think he took half a bottle of Tums or Rolaids when he found out that Luke Hughes had gone to the wrong gate and, accordingly, missed his flight to Minneapolis? As I have said before, between the quantity and severity of injuries, and the lackluster play by most healthy players, this has been a tough season for Gardy. Don't get me wrong - - I think Gardy deserves a portion of the blame. For example, we've seen recently that Glen Perkins is running out of gas. Maybe he needs a couple days off? But the manager continues to trot Perkins out there in high-stress situations. My question today, though, is not so much about the on-the-field decisions as it is the off-the-field construction and management of the team.

I was listening to Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN radio during my morning commute the other day, and they were interviewing a current or former NFL head coach. I didn't catch who it was. As always, it was a great discussion on the show. What stuck with me, though, were comments the coach made about the importance of the "coach" role in the NFL. This coach mentioned that, although he of course did not have the authority to directly sign players and work out extensions and such, he was very heavily involved in signing decisions and roster moves. As an example, he mentioned that the front office would approach him with the details of a suggested contract to lure a star player, the caveat being that the coach would have to decide if having this 1 particular star player, at this high salary, was "worth it," because it meant that the coach would have to give up 2 or 3 other, lesser players. From the radio discussion, it wasn't implied that the decision rested 100% with the coach, but it was clear that the coach played a very significant role in crafting the team's roster, and even had input in payroll decisions.

Of course, the NFL and MLB are not very similar in terms of operation, perhaps most significantly because of the existence of a salary cap in the NFL, and the lack thereof in MLB. And we all know that the luxury tax in baseball is really just a cost of doing business for some teams, like the Yankees. With the salary cap in the NFL, paying extra to retain 1 particular player could indeed directly impact the financial ability of the team to retain multiple other players. In baseball, not so much; though most teams, like the Twins, do have a soft "cap" of their own -- a level at which they are comfortable operating, feel that they can field a competitive team, and make a profit at the end of the day.

All of this brings me back to Gardy. We know he is respected by the front office and seems to be given a fair amount of discretion to make baseball decisions on the field. Unlike the Yankees' front office, I don't ever recall a Twins manager being called out publicly for game decisions. I'm curious, however, whether Gardy's discretion extends to the financial side of things at all? I'm sure that he is consulted on trades and free agent signings before they occur to get his opinion on the club's needs, but does it end there? If Gardy does have a significant vote in retaining players, how the heck did his darling Nick Punto end up in St. Louis making only $750,000? Further, what role does Gardy have in determining the September call-ups? I'm sure he keeps track generally of how the prospects are doing, but does he really have the time to know enough about the Twins' farm system to make educated choices on all the call-ups? Perhaps. On the Twins' website, Gardy is titled "Field Manager." This almost implies that his role is restricted to on-the-field decisions only, but we know there's more to it than that. I know there's an entire staff focused on player development, scouting and the like, but I think it would be interesting to find out how much, or little, Ron Gardenhire has to do with off-the-field organizational activities.

I give Gardy some of the blame for this year, and a lot of the credit for the few things that have gone right. I'm happy that, presumably, Gardy was finally able to get through to Joe Mauer that he couldn't only catch. We saw him play a decent right field last night, and he has been solid at first base, which is encouraging for the future. The 2011 Twins trotted out dozens of awful lineups at many stages of the season. That's not as much Gardy's fault as it is the product of a season lost to injuries. As we start to examine off-season cases like Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, I'm curious how much our "Field Manager" will have to say.

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