"We want the team concept here. If you become good team player here, do the little things that help us win, you'll have your foot in the door. That's all we preach, grab an oar and row the boat."
But this year that philosophy has been tested. The team has faced an inordinate number of injuries to key players, including Joe Nathan, Nick Punto, Jose Mijares, Ron Mahay, Kevin Slowey and Justin Morneau.
Those spots had to be filled quickly, some by players outside the organization. How can the team be certain a new guy fits the old mold? How do they avoid upsetting the team chemistry?
"We do pretty good research on players and their makeup," Gardenhire said. "We don't miss too many times on the makeup part. We ask a lot of questions from a lot of people. We do pretty diligent work as far as background, what kind of player they are and what kind of person they are. That's very important for us."
Just this week, two new players arrived: lefty Randy Flores, picked up on waivers from Colorado, and left-hander Brian Fuentes, in a trade with the Angels. A month ago, the team picked up closer Matt Capps in a trade with Washington to transform the bullpen.
Fuentes could have been a gamble. He's a closer. He loves to close. How would he accept the setup role? Would he become disgruntled?
"That's the first thing I asked [general manager] Bill [Smith], let him know that [he wouldn't be the closer]. I wanted him to know that right away, before we claimed him," Gardenhire said.
"Then, when I brought him in here, he was everything they told me he was: a class act, a great team player. He wants to win. I told him what I wanted him to do here, and he said exactly what I expected him to say, 'Whatever you need, Skip.' "
There's also the other side. What does Capps expect his role will be? Will he expect Fuentes eventually to take over as closer? In fact, in the first game, Fuentes faced the final batter in the ninth and eared the save.
"I said to Capps after the game, 'In that situation, you have the next guy,'" Gardenhire said. "And he told me, 'Gardy, whatever it takes to win, I don't care.'"
Those are the kind of team players that Gardenhire and Smith want to populate the clubhouse. That's the formula they've tried to stick with for most of the decade.
"It's important that character plays a big part. People we go after over winter, we want to make sure they would fit here," Gardenhire added.