Hunter/Twins Reunion. What Are They Thinking?

My initial reaction upon hearing that the Twins and outfielder Torii Hunter had agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract that will put Hunter back in a Twins uniform for 2015 was pretty much the same as my initial reaction when I first heard the two parties had what media types were referring to as, “mutual interest.”

Why?

For the life of me, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Not if I ran the Twins. Not if I was Torii Hunter.

torii_hunter_studio_portrait_photofileSure, the Twins need outfield help. Oswaldo Arcia is going to play a corner outfield spot in 2015 and he’s not going to play it very well, so the Twins need some guys in the other two outfield spots who can cover their own areas and some of Arcia’s, too.

Eight or nine years ago, Hunter would have been a solution, but for the past several years, his outfield play has been one of those rare things in baseball that bring stat-heads and old-school types together. Whether you believe in defensive metrics or the “eye-test,” you probably have pretty much concluded that Hunter’s defensive game has deteriorated to the point where he’s no longer a positive contributor in that area.

Why would the Twins think he’s likely to be part of the solution to their defensive woes in the outfield?

And while we’re at it, why would Hunter want to join the Twins?

He’ll be 40 years old before next season ends. At that age, shouldn’t he be looking for opportunities to sign with a team that enters 2015 with a much better chance of playing ball in to October next year than the Twins have?

I get that new Twins manager Paul Molitor might like to have someone like Hunter in his clubhouse, especially given the reputation said clubhouse has had in recent years for lacking anything resembling a competitive spirit.

I get that the Twins front office might welcome a popular familiar face to include in their advertising, given the expected decline in ticket sales next year.

But I have always felt you have to first prove you’re among the best players on the field before you can lead in the clubhouse and I’m not convinced his young teammates will look at Hunter and see someone who still has the ability to perform at levels that earn their respect.

I also believe that wins will sell more tickets than the return of a popular familiar face.

But if this is what Molitor and the front office want, so be it. It’s just a straight one-year deal, so it won’t block any of the outfield prospects coming up and we all know that there’s no shortage of payroll space in the Twins’ budget right now.

As for Hunter, it’s a little harder to figure out what he’s thinking – but then, hasn’t that pretty much been the case throughout his career?

Still, he must have had other, better, offers. Didin’t he?

The Rangers, Orioles and Mariners all had been rumored to have interest and, with the way some teams have been throwing around money, he seemingly would have been able to get a multi-year deal somewhere. So why take a one-year deal in Minnesota?

There’s really only one reason I can think of.

Hunter may very well think his chances of finishing the season on a legitimate World Series contender are better if he starts the season with the Twins and then gets flipped in July to a contender for prospects, than if he started with a supposed contender.

We’ll call this the “Josh Willingham gambit.”

Why lock himself in to one supposed contender from the start when he may get a chance to join a team with a better shot mid-way through the season?

In the end, this is not a deal I particularly wanted to see. It certainly would not have been high on my wish-list if I were a starting pitcher for the Twins and I doubt it will make any free agent starting pitcher think the Twins are suddenly an attractive option (though their willingness to shell out $10.5 million to Hunter might at least demonstrate that the Twins aren’t shy about over-paying for what they want).

If Hunter discovers the fountain of youth somewhere under the right field overhang in Target Field or if General Manager Terry Ryan can turn Hunter in to some useful prospects at some point, then this deal certainly won’t be a disaster.

At least this is more interesting to discuss than what we’ve had to talk about to this point. Debating the relative pros and cons of base coaches and assistant hitting coaches was getting a little old, wasn’t it?

– JC

 

It’s Official – Paul Molitor Will Manage the Twins

Regardless of whether you believe the Minnesota Twins’ extended search for new manager was thorough or a sham to cover for what was a foregone conclusion all along, the wait is finally over and Paul Molitor is taking over the manager’s office at Target Field.

The Twins announced the hiring Monday morning and will hold a press conference at 10:00 am on Tuesday to introduce Molitor as their new manager, though the decision was leaked to the traditional media types in Minneapolis days earlier.

MolitorKelly

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly and new Twins manager Paul Molitor

Molitor wasn’t my first choice as manager, but I do believe he is qualified and potentially could be a very good choice. In fact, when you boil down all the criticisms of the choice of Molitor, they really come down to two points:

  • He was already employed by the Minnesota Twins.
  • He has never managed at any level of professional baseball.

I get that a certain segment of the Twins fanbase flat out did not want a manager who had any prior connection whatsoever to Twins organization. I understand that position, though I do not agree with it.

I do believe that part of the Twins’ problems has been that, as an organization, it has become a bit too insular. I think that it was important to hire a manager that brings a fresh approach to the manager position and that will be more open to new ideas than Ron Gardenhire appeared to be during his tenure with the Twins.

I just don’t believe that the only way you get that is to hire someone with absolutely no prior ties to the club. I think we’ll quickly notice that a team managed by Molitor is not simply Ron Gardenhire Part 2 (or Tom Kelly Part 3, if you prefer).

It sure appears, based on everything I’ve read and heard from people who know Molitor and have seen him work during his time as a minor league instructor and Major League coach, that he not only genuinely enjoys teaching the intricacies of baseball to young players, but he also continues to strive to learn more about the game, himself.

Many former elite ballplayers come across, as they age, as guys who think they already know all there is to know about the game because they were very, very good at it when they laced up their cleats – as though all knowledge of how to play the game is a finite base of knowledge that can never be improved upon.

Others simply seem to have trouble teaching the game to young players that, in most cases, simply do not have the kind of natural talent that they had during their playing days.

Neither of those factors appear to be the case with Molitor, so while I would be more comfortable with this choice if he did have some managing experience at some level of professional baseball, I don’t necessarily believe it should be considered a disqualifying factor for Molitor.

I don’t believe that General Manager Terry Ryan stretched out the process simply to appease the fan base before making the hire he intended to make all along. I think anyone who does believe that is being extremely cynical.

Of course, the Twins have given their fans plenty to be cynical about lately, so it’s not altogether unrealistic to suspect the worst in this case.

Perhaps I’m just a bigger believer in Terry Ryan than many are, but I trust that he set out to conduct a thorough search for the best candidate and he was not going to announce a hiring until that process was complete.

I also think it is possible – though not probable – that Ryan actually preferred Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo over Molitor, but was overruled by Jim Pohlad, who, by multiple reports, has had a strong relationship with Hall of Famer Molitor for years and strongly favored Molitor since the time Gardenhire was dismissed (if not before).

Honestly, since we’re on the subject of Pohlad’s relationship with Molitor, let me just throw out now, for the record, that I won’t be one bit surprised if, ultimately, Molitor succeeds Ryan as the Twins’ General Manager.

I can envision a scenario where Ryan may have favored Lovullo, but was unable to convince Pohlad that Lovullo was such a better choice than Molitor that Pohlad would be willing to risk seeing Molitor to walk away from the Twins organization altogether..

However, since this choice is likely to determine how Ryan’s legacy as Twins GM is ultimately judged, it is difficult for me to imagine him agreeing to hire a manager he did not personally believe was the right choice to help him turn the club’s fortunes around. I think Ryan is the sort who would resign rather than allow the Twins ownership to impose a manager on him that he did not support in this situation.

If, in fact, Ryan had a slight preference for Lovullo, but not so strong as to resign over Pohlad’s insistence on Molitor (if such was actually the case), then I could only conclude that the GM is very comfortable with Molitor, as well.

In the end, I’m encouraged that Ryan’s top two choices for the job both have reputations for utilizing technology and advanced metrics to prepare their teams for success on the field, something Gardenhire had a reputation (deserved or not) for resisting.

Along with the rest of Twinsville, I’ll be very interested to find out who Molitor and Ryan will decide upon to fill out the Twins’ big league coaching staff (could Molitor really bring in Robin Yount as a bench coach, giving the Twins a pair of Hall of Famers in their dugout?). Naturally, I’ll also be interested to learn the organization’s minor league assignments.

It has certainly been an interesting first few weeks of the offseason for the Twins and it certainly appears it will continue to be the case as we move toward free agency season.

– JC

Arizona Fall League Videos

I’m in Arizona this week catching a few Arizona Fall League games. This afternoon, I shot a couple of videos of Twins prospects Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler.

First, we have Eddie Rosario beating out a swinging bunt, followed by an RBI double.

Ignore the umpire calling Rosario out at second base. The call was overturned on appeal to video.

Here’s Max Kepler beating the Desert Dogs pitcher to 1B to reach on an E3. Kepler had a stand up triple later in the game but I was not shooting video at the time. There’s a picture after the video of his triple swing anyway.

Max Kepler triples for Salt River on October 28, 2014

Max Kepler triples for Salt River on October 28, 2014

Couple of other things.

Salt River won the game 14-2, yet the game was completed in less than three hours. We may not like to admit it, but the speed-of-play rules may be working.

– JC

And Then There Were Three

Immediately after the Minnesota Twins’ 2014 season ended, General Manager Terry Ryan announced that longtime manager Ron Gardenhire would not be returning to his job in 2015.

That was three and a half weeks ago and we still don’t know who will be guiding the Twins on the field next season.

But we’re getting closer.

Lovullo

Torey Lovullo (AP Photo)

After considering, by my count, at least seven or eight candidates during the first two weeks of the offseason, Ryan set aside the managerial search while he holed up in Fort Myers with his staff for their annual week of postseason organizational meetings (though reports are that he did find time for a second interview with Doug Mientkiewicz while in Fort Myers).

Coming out of those meetings, media reports indicate that several candidates have been informed they are no longer being considered and, while the Twins are characteristically tight-lipped on the subject, it appears that the list of potential skippers has been whittled down to three: Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz and Torey Lovullo.

Looking at them, it would appear that there isn’t a lot of difference. All three are white, middle-aged men. Mientkiewicz is the youngest, at 40; Molitor the oldest at 58. Lovullo splits the difference at 49.

There’s not a lot of “diversity” readily apparent by looking at them, so if Ryan is going to make good on his pledge to add more of a Latin presence on the staff, it will need to come from among the coaches that he and the eventual manager hire.

But when you dig deeper, you see that there are plenty of differences between these three gentlemen and if you’re the Twins, you have an opportunity to make a statement with this hire concerning what traits are most important to you, as an organization. The question is, what kind of statement are you looking to make?

Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor (Knuckleballs Photo)

If you’re looking to say, “We have a youth movement brewing and we are going to do what we did when we hired Tom Kelly – hire a manager that has already spent time watching, evaluating and coaching the young players who will form the core of the next generation of Twins players,” then your first choice is Mientkiewicz. He has had two successful seasons in Fort Myers while managing Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and the rest of a very talented “class” of minor leaguers currently rising up through the ranks.

Paul Molitor gets a few points in this category, too, however. He spent time as a roving minor league instructor prior to his one season on the Twins’ major league bench, so he also has a lot of familiarity with these rising stars.

If the statement the Twins want to make is, “We want the most qualified man for the job of managing a Major League baseball team,” the decision becomes a bit murkier.

Molitor does not have a single day of experience as a manager at any level of professional baseball. If managing only involved the work required between the time you fill out a line-up card and the final pitch of the game, I don’t think experience would be an issue for Molitor. It’s hard to imagine any circumstance arising that he has not prepared for during his Hall of Fame playing career and his time on coaching staffs at various levels. Anyone who has had even a short conversation with him about baseball will likely tell you that his baseball IQ level is off the charts. Also (and this is important), he apparently understands that he can always learn more and is open to doing so.

But game management is not all a manager has to do. There’s media relations and public relations and front office communication and clubhouse relations… and… and…

It’s a big job and while I don’t think it’s impossible for someone who has never managed at any level before to be successful, I do think that having some amount of experience in a managerial position is helpful. Without it, Molitor would very much be “learning on the job” when it comes to off-the-field aspects of the position for a year or two.

For whatever reasons, family or otherwise, Molitor has chosen not to take opportunities to get that experience by managing at the minor league levels. Should that disqualify him from consideration? Absolutely not. Should he get a free pass on this factor if other qualified candidates have emerged who HAVE that experience? No. He made the decision not to take that route and if that turns out to be a determining factor in him not getting the job this time, so be it.

If the Twins had narrowed their choices down to Mientkiewicz and Molitor, I would not consider the former’s two years in the Fort Myers dugout to be much, if any, of an advantage. Other managers in the Twins organization, such as Gene Glynn (AAA), Jeff Smith (AA), Jake Mauer (low A) and Ray Smith (rookie) all have far more minor league managerial experience than Mientkiewicz.

Yes, Mientkiewicz has had successful teams both years in Fort Myers, but take a look at his rosters those two years. If you can’t win a few games with those guys, you really are in the wrong line of work.

Personality-wise, you have very different men. Molitor seems to bring a cerebral intensity to the game, while Mientkiewicz is all about the fire and he doesn’t even pretend to contain it.

Both would bring a familiarity with the Twins organization to the job, without the baggage of being one of “Gardy’s boys.” There are various reports and rumors out there concerning how well (or not well) these guys got along with the Twins’ former manager, but it’s probably safe to say neither would be prone to adopting any approach to managing simply because that was the way Ron Gardenhire would have done it.

So, depending on what he decides is the most important quality in a manager, Terry Ryan has an acceptable internal choice in either Molitor or Mientkiewicz.

Want someone who will get in the face of players and umpires? Doug’s your guy.

Want a brilliant baseball mind? I doubt you could do better than Molitor.

Want someone open to utilizing more advanced analytics? Molitor appears so inclined, though there are indications Mientkiewicz is more of a “gut feel” kind of guy (though, to be fair, the amount of detailed analytics available to minor league managers is limited and their job is more to develop talent than to win games).

Want someone who has the credentials as a player to garner respect among the troups? Molitor’s a Hall of Famer and Mientkiewicz has a World Series ring and sufficient MLB experience to give him plenty of credibility.

If you want someone familiar with the players who are moving up through the organization and are preparing to arrive at Target Field over the next two or three years, both men have that familiarity, though in somewhat different amounts.

The only thing neither man has would be the, “fresh set of eyes,” that some would consider helpful, if not critical, to this organization.

Which brings us to the third finalist for the Twins managerial job, Torey Lovullo.

Lovullo has nine years of experience managing in the minor leagues, including time at both the AA and AAA levels, which neither internal candidate can say. There is little doubt that, of the three, he would be the most prepared to handle all aspects of the job on the first day he’s in the position.

Lovullo has experience as a “second-in-command” bench coach at the big league level. Molitor was part of Tom Kelly’s bench staff for a time and was a hitting coach for the Mariners for one year. All of that experience is at least a decade old, however. He was on Gardenhire’s bench this past season. Mientkiewicz has not held a field manager/coach job above Class A.

From all accounts, Lovullo has a baseball mind and eye for detail that may not be quite on par with Molitor’s, but isn’t all that far behind it.

He not only is “open” to new ideas, he has a history of actively seeking them out.

Based strictly on a managerial/coaching résumé, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that Lovullo is more qualified, right now, to be a big league manager.

But we all know this choice doesn’t just come down to that factor. We knew it when Terry Ryan told the media that he would be looking at both internal and external candidates, that what was important was finding the “right” person, but that, “ideally,” that choice would come from inside the organization. We’ve known it all along.

Here is what Lovullo does not have:

  • Experience as a Major League manager
  • Significant successful Major League playing experience (Lovullo was, in today’s parlance, a “replacement level player,” who saw big league time as a utility infielder in eight seasons, but played in over 100 games just once, putting up a .224 career batting average)
  • Direct experience within the Twins organization

The first two points are really not factors at all. None of this group of finalists has big league manager experience and I think history has pretty much borne out that experience as a player in the majors is not predictive of success as a manager. He successfully climbed the ladder and reached “the Show.” That should be all the credibility he needs with a group of young players who have been doing the exact same thing.

But then there is the final bullet point.

And really, that’s what we knew it would come down to all along, isn’t it?

An objective look at the qualifications of these three guys (albeit an outsider’s look, given that we aren’t privy to information in background checks or reference checks, etc.) would seem to tell us Torey Lovullo is the most qualified of the group to manage in the Major Leagues.

But will Terry Ryan and the rest of the Twins’ leadership really be comfortable turning over the manager’s office to an outsider – someone who they have absolutely zero experience dealing with outside of a job interview that reportedly went extremely well?

If Mientkiewicz doesn’t get the job, he’ll almost certainly remain in the organization, either back in Fort Myers or in Chattanooga, most likely.

But if Molitor doesn’t get the gig, there is probably some serious doubt as to whether he would remain in the Twins organization at all. Make no mistake, he has been a valuable resource in the roles he’s played with the Twins, whether as a roving minor league instructor or a coach with the Twins. Passing him over may cost the organization that resource, altogether.

Given the competition he’s up against, I don’t see Mientkiewicz getting this job. I think it’s down to Molitor and Lovullo.

When it comes right down to making that decision, I don’t think Ryan and Jim Pohlad will give the position to even a highly qualified outsider. I think we’ll be seeing Paul Molitor named the manager within the next week or so.

If that’s the case, I’m fine with it. I like Molitor and I think he could be successful in the role, given the right coaching staff and resources (both in terms of players and technology) to compete.

Choosing Lovullo, on the other hand, would not only surprise me, but give me a little extra optimism that things at One Twins Way are actually changing and while I already have considerable respect for Terry Ryan, making this sort of choice will significantly raise that level of respect.

It would be an uncharacteristic choice. It would be a bold choice.

It also, I am coming around to believing, would be the right choice.

– JC

Twins Organizational Meeting To-Do’s: Players

This is Part 2 of 2, concerning the work to be done this week by the Minnesota Twins staff at their “organizational meetings” in Fort Myers this week.

Reports have estimated that as many as 100 members of the Twins staff may participate in the meetings this week. That’s a lot of people, but then it’s a big job.

In Part 1, we covered the manager and coaching staffing issues. In Part 2, we look at roster matters at the Major League and minor league levels.

As indicated in Part 1, over the coming days, weeks and months, the Twins need to

  • Hire a new manager for the first time in over a decade.
  • Work with said new manager to assemble a seven-person big league level coaching staff.
  • Assign manager and coaching duties to every level of minor league affiliate.
  • Determine which, if any, of their minor league free agents to attempt to retain.
  • Determine at which minor league level to place a significant number of their top young prospects to start 2015.
  • Determine whether to offer arbitration to a few members of their current big league roster.
  • Identify potential MLB level free agents and/or trade targets to pursue once the World Series is completed.

ToDo ListSome of the items on that to-do list are not common tasks for this organization, but even for some of those that are on the list every postseason, the stakes this year have risen significantly.

Concurrently with their efforts to identify and put in place big league and farm system managers and coaches, the Twins also have some work to do on the player front.

Filling out the roster(s)

When the subject of filling out the 2015 roster comes up among most Twins fans, the discussion generally focuses on which of the current Twins will/should be back with the club and who potential acquisitions might be that Terry Ryan should seek in the free agent and/or trade market.

Granted, those are important considerations.

But, given that 2015 is looking more like a bridge to the next era of competitive baseball at Target Field than it is a destination itself, the make-up of the organization’s minor league rosters may be equally important to that of the big league roster, if not more so.

For the past couple of years, as the farm system has been being restocked, even the most optimistic fans of the organization have conceded that most of the Twins’ most promising prospects have been in the low minors, multiple years away from being of any help to the parent club.

Sure, it was fun to watch Byron Buxton put on a show for the Fox Sports North audience in 2013 when the cable network televised one of Buxton’s Cedar Rapids Kernels games. But while the distance between Cedar Rapids and Target Field can be traversed in less than five hours, the time it takes for a prospect to progress from the Class A Kernels to the Twins is much longer – frustratingly so, in some cases.

The 2012 Elizabethton Twins won the Appalachian League championship. In 2013, many of those same players made up a Cedar Rapids Kernels playoff team that went 88-50. This past season, largely the same crop of prospects contributed to Fort Myers’ Florida State League championship team.

In 2015, that group should largely fill out the roster for the first season of the Twins’ new AA affiliation with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

No problem, right? Move them up there. Challenge them. A player who masters Class AA is generally considered a candidate to skip AAA and move up to the Big Club if a need for someone at his position presents itself and that player is deemed to be a more promising solution than whoever fills that position in Rochester.

The thing is, you don’t have to stretch your imagination far to find 30 or more players who, arguably, should be starting their season at AA. That’s a problem when you’re only allowed 25 players on the Lookouts’ roster.

Jeremy Nygaard maintains an excellent database at Twins Daily that includes a variety of important information concerning every player in the Twins organization. For example, did you know that the Twins also have 23 minor leaguers in their system eligible for free agency this offseason – or that 21 of them are already at Class AA or higher?

They also have a similar number of players eligible to be selected by another organization in the Rule 5 draft if they aren’t added to the Twins’ 40-man MLB roster by December.

Granted, few of those potential free agents would be viewed as potential lynchpins on future Twins teams and even fewer of the Rule 5 eligibles are likely to be lost in that draft, but with the promising class set to move up to Chattanooga, the front office does have its work cut out for it this week when they sit down to fill out preliminary rosters for their AAA and AA clubs.

Finally, there’s the minor little project to assemble a Major League roster.

And, by “Major League roster,” I mean a roster of players who have either demonstrated that they possess a talent level worthy of being on a Major League roster or, at least, have shown potential to be elite big leaguers in the not-so-distant future.

Of course, this topic can (and certainly will) warrant entire articles devoted to it all on its own. For purposes of brevity here, suffice to say that the Twins need to identify big league talent to fill the following positions:

  • A starting pitcher worthy of being a #1 or #2 starter for a competitive big league team.
  • Multiple bullpen spots.
  • A Major League center fielder.
  • A Major League left fielder.
  • Any other position that may open up due to trades.

That’s a pretty substantial shopping list. Some of these needs may be filled from within the organization, some via trade and some via free agency. What they all have in common is that, at the end of 2014, the Twins did not have an incumbent that you would definitively declare to be a legitimate everyday Major League talent.

When you consider all the work to be accomplished this week – paring down the manager options, looking at coaching candidates for both big league and minor league positions, and assembling rosters at multiple organizational levels, not the least of which is for the Twins team itself, I’m not sure 100 people in Fort Myers is going to be enough.

Of course, I have some vacation time coming if Terry Ryan would like me to come down and offer some ideas. I’m just a phone call, email or Tweet away.

– JC

Twins Organizational Meeting To-Do’s: Management

The Minnesota Twins are holding their annual “organizational meetings” in Fort Myers this week. As newsworthy baseball stories go, that bit of information ranks quite a bit below the MLB postseason games and their seemingly nightly extra-inning games and walk-off finishes.

What exactly are the organizational meetings? Well, in Hollywood’s version of Moneyball, you may remember seeing Brad Pitt as Oakland General Manager Billy Beane gathering a few guys around a table in a room and tossing out names of players they might want to pursue acquiring for the following season. That may have fit screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s needs, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of a real life professional baseball organization.

ToDoListReports have estimated that as many as 100 members of the Twins staff may participate in the meetings this week. That may seem like a lot of people, but the Twins have a lot of work to do.

The Twins hold these meetings every October, but this year’s gathering could be the most critical such gathering in years.

Over the coming days, weeks and months, the Twins need to

  • Hire a new manager for the first time in over a decade.
  • Work with said new manager to assemble a seven-person big league level coaching staff.
  • Assign manager and coaching duties to every level of minor league affiliate.
  • Determine which, if any, of their minor league free agents to attempt to retain.
  • Determine at which minor league level to place a significant number of their top young prospects to start 2015.
  • Determine whether to offer arbitration to a few members of their current big league roster.
  • Identify potential MLB level free agents and/or trade targets to pursue once the World Series is completed.

Some of the items on that to-do list are not common tasks for this organization, but even for some of those that are on the list every postseason, the stakes this year have risen significantly.

First order of business: Identify and hire a new manager

When it comes to deciding who should manage the Twins in 2015 and beyond, a seeming significant majority of fans agreed on one thing – it shouldn’t be Ron Gardenhire. OK, that group (which included me) got their wish. Gardenhire will not manage the Twins going forward.

There is far less of a consensus concerning who SHOULD manage the Twins and, obviously, that’s a far more important question than simply coming to an agreement on who should not.

A fair number of fans seem to feel that anyone the Twins could pick would be better than Gardy. I beg to differ.

Say what you will about the man who managed the Twins for the past 13 years, every year there were MLB managers who were worse at their job than was Ron Gardenhire. Some of those managers were newly hired by their organization. Some were getting their first opportunity to manage at the big league level.

Of all of the confirmed candidates, both internal and external to the Twins organization, that have been identified by the media, exactly one of them would not be making his MLB managing debut on Opening Day 2015 if he is hired by the Twins.

The Twins have had just two managers since Ronald Reagan second term as the US President wrapped up. That can lead fans to feel a certain level of complacency, as if it’s unlikely or even impossible for the Twins to make a bad hire. But they can and they have. Ray Miller, who preceded Tom Kelly in the job, managed just 239 games for the Twins before being axed.

As was the case when Miller was hired back in 1985, the Twins are widely viewed as being on the cusp of a new era of competitiveness, with a number of highly touted young prospects nearing completion of their minor league apprenticeships. Making a bad hire could dangerously impede the club’s reemergence in to relevancy in the American League Central Division.

I agree with Terry Ryan. It’s not important if the new manager comes from within the organization or from the outside; whether he has prior experience or not; whether he is multi-lingual or struggles just to speak coherent English.

What matters is that the choice is the right choice. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know with certainty whether that’s the case immediately (though I think we can pretty much be certain that a significant – and vocal – segment of the fan base will think it is not the right choice, regardless of the final decision).

Assembling a big league coaching staff

While not as highly visible as their selection of a manager, the final make-up of the Twins’ MLB coaching staff is arguably as important. The manager has to run the clubhouse and make out the line-up card and deal with the media and be the public face of the team. But it’s his coaching staff that will spend far more time working with directly with the next generation of Twins players.

When you look at the names of the players likely to wear Twins uniforms for the next several years, it’s not hard to project that as many as one-third of them in any given year will be Latin American natives. Some of them speak passable English. Many do not. It’s easy to say, “they should be learning English,” and – over time – they will. But even above the obvious need for coaches who can communicate with these players in their own language, it’s equally important to have coaches familiar with the culture from which those players have come.

I hope the next Twins manager is more open to using advanced metrics in his game-day decisions (or at the very least, is far less openly dismissive of the idea). But let’s be honest, no manager has the time to pour over all of the information that’s going to be available to him and determine which is helpful how to apply it every day.

That makes it just as critical to have coaches who have experience doing exactly that and, where they don’t have such experience, they have minds open to learning and applying new things.

Finally, Tom Brunansky certainly appears to have done a good job as hitting coach and if the Twins don’t move quickly to retain him, I think they risk losing him to another organization. I would hate to see that happen.

Minor league assignments

For the past few years, the Twins have pretty much nibbled at the edges when it comes to making adjustments to their staff of minor league managers and coaches. They’ve moved a couple guys around every year, but largely there has been a fair amount of consistency at every level, from non-complex rookie ball at Elizabethton through AAA in Rochester.

That’s normal when you have stability among the big league staff and, given the highly acclaimed status of the Twins minor league organization, you would perhaps like to see such stability continue.

But when there are eight spots at the big league level open, it’s hard to imagine we won’t see some of those openings filled from within the current minor league managing/coaching ranks.

Ray Smith has been managing at rookie level Elizabethton for 13 consecutive years (21 years overall) and is likely to continue there, but it would not be hard to imagine Gene Glynn (AAA), Jeff Smith (AA), Doug Mientkiewicz (hi-A) or Jake Mauer (A) in the Twins dugout next season. Two of them, Glynn and Mientkiewicz, have interviewed for the manager vacancy, an indication of how highly the Twins think of both men, while Smith and Mauer have each been managing in the Twins organization for longer than Glynn and Mientkiewicz, combined.

If the Twins hire a manager from outside the organization, that manager is likely to bring in a few additional outsiders with him. If the Twins hire from inside the organization, one might hope that they similarly insist that the new manager include some outside blood among his staff.

But in any event, given the Twins’ history of rewarding loyalty, it is almost impossible to imagine a Twins big league coaching staff without the presence of some number of coaches from within. That may well include one or more current minor league manager or coach, especially considering that they all will be familiar faces and voices to most of the Twins prospects due to arrive in the big leagues over the next couple of years.

By and large, most of the field managers and coaches in the minor league organization look to advance up the organizational ladder, just like the players do. When there are wholesale coaching changes made at the big league level, it would be at least mildly surprising if there were not similar adjustments to the minor league assignments.

Just as is the case with players, some of the staff may move up, some may look at the new landscape and decide their paths to the big leagues might be more open in another organization and, unfortunately, some will not be retained by the Twins, as minor league hitting coordinator Bill Springman and Fort Myers pitching coach Gary Lucas have already found out.

Some fans have become so disgruntled with the Twins’ lack of success at the big league level that they will be satisfied with nothing less than a clean sweep of every manager and coach in the Twins’ system.

That’s not going to happen, nor should it.

The Twins may indeed have become too insular and every organization benefits from adding quality people from the outside. Organizations also benefit from identifying and promoting quality people from within.

The Twins are in a unique situation this offseason in that they have room in the organization to do both.

– JC

Episode 103: Twins Notes, Seth, Jeremy, and the 40-man Roster

A guest-a-palooza episode. 95 minutes of baseball chatter with updates on the Twins managerial search, what to do (and not to do) with Miguel Sano, and how the Twins can salvage the 2015 season before it goes south.

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You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
This week we’re joined by Bradley Swanson from Twins Notes to talk about his podcast and the special guests they’re having on this week. We are then joined by Seth Stohs and Jeremy Nygaard from Twins Hangouts to talk all about the 40-man roster and who makes the cut this winter.

Then more of the regular with beer, baseball and the news.

Go Twins!

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help Cody fight the cold in the middle of winter while he lives in the hellscape that is North Dakota.

Buxton and Sano: Maybe the Time is Now

It’s the offseason, so that means we are already deep in thought and discussion concerning 2015 roster construction for the Minnesota Twins.

I reserve the right to change my mind, of course, but my preliminary thought on the subject has resulted in a conclusion I wasn’t expecting.

Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano should both be Minnesota Twins on Opening Day 2015.

True, General Manager Terry Ryan has some time before he has to give much thought to such an un-Twins-like idea.

Ryan can spend October finding a manager, gathering with his staff for organizational meetings in Florida and putting together a minor league field management organization.

But when the final out is made in this year’s World Series, it’s time to get serious about this roster. When he does, maybe Buxton and Sano should part of his plan.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

My thoughts aren’t firmly in place yet, but it occurs to me that, if we’re all so certain that the Twins’ GM needs to think a bit differently than he has in the past when it comes to hiring a manager and coaching staff, maybe it’s time to think a bit differently about how he treats his future superstars, too.

So, even if you think I’ve lost my mind (and I may ultimately conclude the same thing), hear me out for a moment.

I think most Twins fans would like to see improvement in two specific areas next season.

First, as seems to always be the case, we want another top-tier starting pitcher. Maybe Ricky Nolasco will bounce back or maybe he won’t. If he doesn’t, Phil Hughes is going to need help at the top of the rotation. Even if Nolasco does rebound, I’d love to have him as my #3 starter rather than my #2, if I could land a bigger fish in the offseason.

The second area of relative consensus is that the outfield must improve.

The Twins scored enough runs in 2014 to be a competitive baseball team. They simply didn’t keep opponents from crossing the plate nearly enough. If the starting pitching was problem number 1A, the outfield defense was certainly 1B.

Fixing the starting pitching is easy enough. You shell out the money to lure one of the top free agent starters. If you’re not willing to do that, you might reach for another Phil Hughes-type, but I’m not enthused about that approach. I think you go for the top guys or you just load up Trevor May and Alex Meyer to go with Hughes, Nolasco and Kyle Gibson and get Jose Berrios ready for an early call-up when it becomes necessary.

As tired as we all are of losing 90 games, making a managerial changes takes a little bit of pressure off in terms of the 2015 season. For the first time in about three years, you don’t enter the season with the staff coaching for their professional lives.

So, if you can’t (or won’t) add a true difference-maker to your rotation, you can simply accelerate the advancement of those minor leaguers that you feel are closest to being ready.

Which brings us to the outfield dilemma.

The outfield situation is only a dilemma because of Byron Buxton. Without his presence looming, you could address the outfield just like you do the starting pitching – go out and get the best guy you can buy or trade for on the market.

But Buxton’s presence means (a) the Twins won’t add someone on a high-dollar long-term deal that would “block” Buxton, and (b) no centerfielder on the free agent market with designs on a long-term deal is going to want to come to Minnesota, anyway.

That appears to leave the Twins with two options. Either they identify a short-term solution they can sign/trade for or they keep the status quo, using Jordan Schafer or Danny Santana until Buxton is deemed ready for prime time.

With expectations dampened and a new manager in the dugout, however, maybe it’s time to just say, “screw development,” and throw Byron Buxton out there right from the start.

And while you’re at it, do the same thing with Miguel Sano.

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

These two guys are going to be the cornerstones of the Twins for years to come, so why not just get them in the game right now? Sure, they’ll struggle. But if they don’t arrive until 2016, you have to assume they’ll struggle some, then, too.

Okay, I know, we can think of a number of reasons NOT to do this. They both essentially lost their entire 2014 seasons to injury and there is no assurance either player is really ready to face Major League pitching.

The specter of Aaron Hicks’ two years of near-abject failure, after being pushed up to the big leagues prematurely, looms over the organization. And he came up after spending almost twice as much time as Sano at AA, a level Buxton hasn’t technically completed a full game at, much less a season.

You certainly wouldn’t want to damage the psyches of Buxton or Sano by having them fail miserably.

But you know what? From what I’ve seen of these two guys, I don’t think we have to worry about their psyches. Both players know what their destinies are and they aren’t going to let a little bit of a learning curve keep them from getting where they know they belong in this game.

We have seen how they address new challenges.

They see. They learn. They adjust.

Then they dominate.

So, maybe the Twins should just skip the whole, “what do we do to improve the outfield until Buxton gets here,” era and put the guy in centerfield.

Maybe you take them aside and say, “Guys, if you’re healthy in April, you’re going to be Minnesota Twins. You may perform like Kennys Vargas or you may look more like Aaron Hicks, but you’re going to stay in Minnesota. You will not be sent back to the minors. From this point forward, you are Major League baseball players. Now get to work and act like it.”

The thing is, you can’t wait until spring training to make this decision. It wouldn’t be fair to Trevor Plouffe.

If Sano is going to step in as your primary third baseman, Plouffe needs to spend some time this winter learning to play left field. Maybe he and Joe Mauer could learn together.

For that matter, I’d tell Sano to go out there and shag some fly balls, too, because I’m not convinced the Twins won’t discover they’re better off defensively with Sano in the outfield and Plouffe at the hot corner.

But one way or another, maybe Buxton and Sano should be in the Opening Day line up.

Imagine for a moment:

Buxton CF
Dozier 2B
Mauer 1B
Vargas DH
Sano LF/3B
Arcia RF
Plouffe 3B/LF
Escobar/Santana SS
Suzuki C

I’d buy tickets to see that line up, no matter who the starting pitcher is. I bet a few other people would, too.

-JC