Twins extend Gardenhire through 2011
Minnesota tacks on two years for skipper, coaching staff
MINNEAPOLIS -- Back in September, when discussing the plans for Target Field, the Twins' new ballpark that is set to open in 2010, manager Ron Gardenhire made sure to carefully correct anyone that asked him about his office at the new field.It's the manager's office, he would say with a smile, while reminding them that he was currently only under contract through 2009. That office now officially belongs to Gardenhire, at least for the first two years of the new ballpark. The Twins announced on Thursday that they had signed Gardenhire to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2011 season. "Getting this extension and knowing that you are going to be there, especially that first year, that's really cool," Gardenhire said when reached at his home in Minnesota on Thursday. "We've been watching it come together and looking at the plans, talking about what works and what we like from other ballparks. ... It's exciting to be a part of it." Gardenhire will also be joined for that first year in the new stadium by his entire coaching staff, as they all were given two-year contracts. Pitching coach Rick Anderson, bench coach Steve Liddle, third-base coach Scott Ullger, hitting coach Joe Vavra, first-base coach Jerry White and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek are now signed through 2010, along with trainers Rick McWane and Dave Pruemer and strength and conditioning coach Perry Castellano. "The entire coaching staff has done a tremendous over the last seven years that Gardy has managed the club, and most of them have been here that entire time," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "And with Gardy, it was pretty simple. We wanted to send the message that he's our manager and he's going to continue to be our manager." Gardenhire, 51, has posted a 622-512 record in his seven years since being named the Twins manager on Jan. 4, 2002. He's led the Twins to an American League Central title in four of those seven seasons and finished with a winning record six times. In 2008, Gardenhire faced perhaps his most difficult challenge yet, after the Twins said goodbye to Torii Hunter and Johan Santana before the start of the season. But Gardenhire helped lead his team to an 88-75 record, nearly making the playoffs after falling in a one-game tiebreaker to the White Sox for the division title.
Gardenhire's efforts in '08 earned him a second-place finish in the AL Manager of the Year voting on Wednesday. It's the fourth time in his career that he's been runner-up for the award."I think 2008 was probably his finest job," Smith said of Gardenhire. "He and the staff all worked together. We had a lot of new players and a lot of young players. It was a constantly changing group, too, as we had a lot of injuries to deal with. They kept that club in contention right until the 163rd game of the season." Despite the disappointment of watching his team fall just short of yet another playoff berth, Gardenhire said on Thursday that he was proud of his team's efforts in 2008 and he's excited about the team that will return next season. "We've got a good baseball team here," Gardenhire said. "A very young baseball team, but it's a good one." Smith has repeatedly expressed that the two areas the Twins need to address this offseason are the infield and the bullpen. Gardenhire said he'd like to see left-hander Dennys Reyes and infielder Nick Punto, both free agents, return to the club. But whether or not the two players come back, Gardenhire agrees that adding depth at both spots is a priority. "The bullpen is definitely an area we need to address with [Pat] Neshek going down," Gardenhire said. "We had that hole last year. Jose Mijares came up at the end and threw really well, so that's a guy we can look at a little bit. But still, we need some late-inning depth out there. And because of the Neshek situation, I'm sure Billy is going to address that. "And the infield situation will depend on Nicky, because shortstop right now is up in the air. If there is a bat out there that can help us out offensively and can play the corner position, I'm sure we'd go after him. But it's all been addressed. We've talked about who is available and what you can and can't do. That is what the winter is all about." Gardenhire is already starting to look ahead to 2009 and how his club might change, but right now he's happy to know that there will at least be continuity in his staff for the next two seasons. "We all know how many changes there are in sports in general," Gardenhire said. "With the Twins, we've been very lucky here. This organization doesn't like to make a lot of changes. We like to kind of keep things going and keep the people around. They reward you for working your tail off and that's why you love this organization."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.