The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 7, 2012

Thoma: Twins coaching shakeup is open to interpretation

— The Great Twins Coaches Purge of 2012 appeared more drastic when it came down on Friday than it does a few days later.

Not that that’s any consolation to the three coaches and head trainer who were dismissed the day after the Twins’ 96-loss season ended. Rick Stelmaszek, Jerry White, Steve Liddle and Rick McWane are still out of work.

But Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra remain on the major league staff, albeit with different duties. The descriptions offered Friday — that Vavra would be in charge of infield instruction and Ullger outfield instruction and baserunning — had suggested to me that they were destined for roving assignments in the minor leagues.

Part of my confusion on that point may lie in the way we think of coaches. Their titles reflect where they are during the games, regardless of what they do before and after the games. White was the “first base coach” — but standing there collecting Joe Mauer’s ankle guard after another single is the merest part of the job.

So Ullger and Vavre stay, as do Ron Gardenhire as manager and Rick Anderson as pitching coach. Gardenhire will be on the last year of his contract in 2013, and as Terry Ryan described it Friday, Gardy was not offered an extension and said he didn’t deserve one.

All of which means the Twins have three coaching vacancies to fill, not five.

And Paul Molitor, who had publicly declared interest in rejoining the coaching staff, will not be one of the additions. Ryan said Molitor isn’t “a fit” “at this time.”

Three men who may will be fits are the three who made up the staff at Triple-A Rochester in 2012 — manager Gene Glynn, pitching coach Bobby Cuellar and hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

Time to start reading between the lines.

Gardenhire is on a short leash. If 2013 is a disaster along the lines of 2011 and 2012, Gardy won’t be back in 2014; he might not make it through 2013.

If Gardenhire’s making his last stand, he gets to make that stand with his two closest lieutenants, Anderson and Ullger, his backup manager. If and when Gardy goes, Anderson and Ullger will, too.

Molitor is not a “fit”  because Ryan is keeping him in reserve. If Gardenhire has to go, Molitor is his likely successor. Keeping Molitor off the staff now means Gardenhire’s not working on a daily basis with the favorite to take his job — and it keeps Molitor’s hands clean of whatever goes wrong.

And if things go well in 2013, Gardenhire stays a while longer.

A couple other points:

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