The paradox of being a major league manager on a losing team, Tom Kelly says, is that by the time a new season starts, nobody knows better the level of talent assembled on the roster. And nobody is more willing to believe that this assessment is wrong.

"When you're a manager, the glass is always half-full. I got on my wife about that the other day -- you've got to try to see how things can get better," the former Twins manager joked. "You've got to be willing to let your players surprise you, because each day you go to work to make them better. And it happens all the time -- some of them get better."

That's one of the secrets to surviving a few rough seasons, as Kelly did in the late 1990s, when the transition from a championship team to a next-generation contender crash-landed with eight straight last-place or next-to-last finishes. And it's a mindset, Kelly says, for which his successor, Ron Gardenhire, is particularly suited.

"I don't worry about Ronnie, because he looks forward to the challenge. He enjoys them," Kelly said. "He thrives on challenges."