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American League

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Named A.J. Hinch manager. [9/29]

His communication skills receive constant praise. He carries himself with confidence, yet maintains a growth mindset. He once said, among other bright insights, “Sometimes managers don’t shift because they don’t want to give up a portion of the field. But why not give up a portion of the field if the probability of the ball being hit there is one percent?” He is, by seemingly every measure, the perfect manager for a franchise whose philosophy has been summed as "Extreme Moneyball". He is Bo Porter.

All right, so that gives you an idea how treacherous these first takes can get on a manager's hiring. The truth is, the most important parts go unseen. Hinch is a strong candidate on paper. He's played in the majors, he's worked in front offices and understands the numbers side of the game, he's even spent time on the bench before, back in the day with the Diamondbacks. If we did managerial prospect lists, he would have ranked near or at the top. But given all the Astros PR blunders—P in this case standing for public and players—you can't help to worry about whether Hinch will determine his own fate.

Consider the events of Sunday, the day before Hinch's introduction, an ominous sign. The Astros incited a social-media riot—yes, again—when news broke that Jose Altuve had been benched against his will, so as to protect his batting title. (Extreme Moneyball, indeed.) The decision was soon overturned, and Altuve went on to play and win the title anyway. In a week the entire scene will be forgiven and forgotten, except for one thing: communication failures have been a constant during Jeff Luhnow's tenure as GM. Look at the big blemishes—be it Porter's dismissal, the Brady Aiken fiasco, the Mark Appel bullpen session—they all boil down to management not getting its message through.

Perhaps Hinch is the man to change that. Maybe he gives the Astros a more legitimate face of the franchise, a better talker and manager than Porter; a better fit for the front office, who can jell with Luhnow in ways that Porter clearly couldn't. It would appear all the ingredients for a happy partnership and strong manager are here. The question is whether management will let him cook.

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Announced manager Ron Gardenhire would not return. [9/29]

Score one for Chris Jaffe. In Baseball Prospectus 2014, Jaffe noted that the other three managers to return for a fourth season after losing as many games as Gardenhire had in the previous three all lost their jobs during the fourth year. The kicker? Those three—Casey Stengel with the Mets, Preston Gomez with the Padres, and Darrell Johnson with the Mariners—were managing expansion teams. Gardenhire wasn't, but he was in charge of a team that cracked 70 wins for the first time since 2010.

Know how long Gardenhire had managed the Twins? He was hired almost a year and a half before Moneyball was published. The Twins won six division crowns during the ensuing 13 seasons, finishing with 90 or more wins five times. Those glory days, no matter how good they felt for a franchise engulfed in contraction talk during the start, faded over time. Gardenhire wasn't at fault, not totally—the manager never is during prolonged rebuilds—but Terry Ryan decided it was time for a new voice (or voices, since the fate of the coaching staff has not been determined).

Ryan's decision is uncharacteristic for an organization that embraces continuity. Part of the reason he returned to the GM post had to do with longtime Twins, like Michael Cuddyer, leaving the franchise behind. The Twins view this whole thing as more than a cold, calculating business. Of course, we're a week removed from the Braves dismissing their GM, so these are different times—and, if the Rockies clean house in the next few days, perhaps the end of times. It'll be interesting to see which direction the Twins go in their pursuit of a new manager. The rumored candidate list varies, beginning with fresh-faced Paul Molitor, then veering to anything-but-fresh-faced Ozzie Guillen. Will the Twins seek out an improved tactical mind, or just a stronger, fresher tone to re-instill the Twins Way?

Long known for playing the game the right way, overcoming talent deficiencies with heart and soul and mind and anything else that undersold how good the players were, Minnesota has slipped in recent years. The Twins were still an above-average baserunning club, however, their .685 defensive efficiency was the worst in baseball—an unacceptable mark, given how they finished middle-of-the-pack in True Average. These aren't the Little Piranha Twins.

Whomever takes over, whatever his or her agenda, will have a better chance at success than Gardenhire did in recent years. The promising farm system, built in part through the constant losing, should begin producing more big-league players. Add that to the legitimate talent the Twins already employ in the majors, and there's no reason for them to share space with expansion franchises. No, they won't compete for a postseason berth, not yet, but another top-five pick shouldn't be tolerated.

As for Gardenhire, who reportedly has an outstanding offer to remain with the Twins in another capacity, he ought to land a new managerial gig if he so wishes. Blaming him for the Twins' repeated postseason failures is easy—and valid to a degree—but managers with his track record seldom stay unemployed for long. After all, for as bad the Twins were lately, he still won more than he lost.

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