Pohlad’s purse strings could choke Kelly

At the same time baseball’s magical postseason starts, three of baseball’s consolation winners have already fired their managers: Jack McKeon in Cincinnati, Gene Lamont in Pittsburgh and Terry Francona in Philadelphia.
The most notable of these is McKeon, who received Ken Griffey Jr. before the season started and returned all of last year’s team that lost a one-game playoff with the New York Mets. This led all of baseball to believe the Reds were a lock for the World Series.
You’ll notice Cincinnati is not one of the eight teams still playing America’s pastime. When expectations fall considerably short, no matter what the reason(s), you-know-who gets the shaft.
The skipper.
The 69-93 Minnesota Twins, champions of the cellar battle in the American League yet again, are facing a similar dilemma with their manager, Tom Kelly — less of course a .500 record, let alone a spot on the October stage.
A ninth consecutive season of pitiful baseball inside a pitiful baseball facility notwithstanding, owner Carl Pohlad is expected to meet with Kelly today to discuss his future with the team.
Kelly’s boss, general manager Terry Ryan, is also without a contract. Ryan has nothing more to show Mr. Pohlad since his arrival in 1994 than Kelly does since 1992’s runner-up finish.
Let it also be known that both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kelly’s efforts have been in spite of Mr. Pohlad’s effort to not spend money. Pohlad is expected to budget next year’s team at between $27 million and $30 million dollars, or nearly twice as much as this year’s payroll.
Poor Ryan and Kelly. You can’t shop Neiman-Marcus with a Wal-Mart budget.
CEO Chris Clouser was brought in by Pohlad to fill in more bureaucracy in the organization. Clouser was instrumental in keeping — via overpaying — No. 1 starter Brad Radke. He also helped lock up shortstop Christian Guzman for another four seasons.
At the very least, these two transactions indicate a willingness by the organization to preserve it’s potentially valuable youngsters.
At the very most, the complications begin now.
Over the next two seasons, the Twins need to lock up at least six more potentials. These are Matt Lawton, Torii Hunter, Eric Milton, Corey Koskie, David Ortiz and Jacque Jones.
That would force Pohlad to pull out his checkbook. Several times. Maybe too many times for his anticipated budget, or for the Twinkies to make a couple of desperately-needed additions.
With the exception of Radke, these seven players have shown improvement under the tooling of Kelly the past two seasons. Given their potential, it would probably be in the team’s best interest to keep these players around for a few more years.
Several players have complained about Kelly’s relationship with young players and his refusal to let “power” hitters focus on yanking balls over the fence. These hall-of-fame whiners include Todd Walker, Marty Cordova and Doug Mientkiewicz.
After a fantastic stint with the Olympic team, Mientkiewicz returned, and has cleared some of the air with Kelly.
Walker is one of a few to outwardly voice his displeasure, which got him a ticket to Colorado. Walker was the most heralded prospect to come out of the farm system in several years.
So far, Walker and Cordova’s careers have been marked with absolutely nothing of significance since leaving here. With the possible exception of Denny Neagle, this is a common trait among former Minnesota dwellers.
These trends make it awfully difficult for Kelly-bashers to put too much stock in their own hot air. Kelly’s maddening approach to individual matchups and playing the percentages is an eyesore, especially since he’s had nothing to lose for nearly a decade. Of course, what else are you going to do when Matthew LeCroy’s .174 batting average is weighed against Marcus Jensen’s ballooning .182 average off the bench?
Here is where Ryan can keep his job: 1) Clamp down as many of the aforementioned players as possible, 2) Find any kind of power hitter and 3) Find another competent starting pitcher.
This would imply that Ryan is still around next season. It only took nine years, the sudden retirement of the Twins’ best player in history, a fraudulent threat to move the team, Pohlad’s own ownership in question and a sleep-inducing stadium fiasco.
That’s all that was required to show a grain of potential.
We’ll see if the loyalty-happy Pohlad makes Kelly departed manager number four.

Mark Heller is the associate sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]