Saluting AL MOY Paul Molitor With a Look Back

Congratulations to Twins Manager Paul Molitor for being honored as the American League Manager of the Year for 2017!

In his honor, I thought this might be a fun time to take a an encore look at this post from June of 2013 when Molitor, who was then a roving minor league instructor for the Twins organization, visited Cedar Rapids and was generous enough to sit with me for an interview.

As a reminder, 2013 was the season when current Twins Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco were wearing Kernels uniforms.

Hope you enjoy this look back. – JC

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor was in Cedar Rapids over the course of most of the past homestand in his capacity with the Twins organization.

Molitor was gracious enough to answer some questions last Thursday, the first day of his stay in Cedar Rapids, as well as a few follow-up questions Monday afternoon after the final game of the Kernels’ homestand.

I used several excerpts from the Thursday interview in an article posted at last week, but there was so much good material that I couldn’t fit in to that article. So, I’m sharing all of Molitor’s comments here.

First off, I asked Molitor to describe his formal role these days with the Twins organization.

Molitor: Titles are overrated a little bit. Technically, part of the player development team. I’m the Minor League Coordinator for Baserunning and Infield Play. It’s an opportunity for me to travel around the system and help try to teach, along with the staff on each club and I do focus on those two areas but invariably get involved with some of the hitting aspects.

Our hitting coordinator for minor leagues does an incredible job, considering you have to try to put a hit plan together for about 200 guys.

One of the things I enjoy, in addition to the teaching is that a lot of these guys are transitioning from wherever their roots have brought them from and it’s a process of evolving from sometimes teenagers in to men and so there’s mentoring involved, too. Just how to help these guys develop an understanding of the professional life style. We try to do what we can to try to help them progress in those areas, too.

Paul Molitor (4) observing Kernels C Jhonatan Arias (23) take batting practice
Paul Molitor (4) observing Kernels C Jhonatan Arias (23) take batting practice

I mentioned that a lot is made about players having to transition to using wood bats and asked Molitor if he thought that was toughest thing about transitioning to the professional game for young players.

Molitor: Some of the collegiate kids have had a chance to play in wood bat leagues in the summer time.

A lot of times it’s a big transition just from maybe never having left home, particularly maybe never left your country and you have to try to claw your way in to professional ball and learn a system that a particular organization teaches.

We don’t try to overwhelm them. We let them play a little bit in the beginning til we kind of get a feel for who they are and what they do, what they do well and what we need to improve on. But the transition can be tough, depending on the guy’s experience.

The college guys are usually better at understanding how to carry themselves and how to go about their business day to day.

Another change is that very few of these kids have played in seasons where there’s 140 games so it’s understanding how to maintain and prepare yourself to withstand the rigors of a professional season.

I asked if playing baseball in the upper midwest in April was difficult for players entering their first season of “full season” professional baseball.

Molitor: The guys from warm climates, whether its Florida, California, Texas or the Dominican or Puerto Rico, you throw them up here in April and it’s not only a culture shock, but the weather is something they really never had to play in those type of conditions.

So that’s a process. We see a lot of guys that haven’t had that experience start a little bit slower, just adapting to the weather itself.

I jokingly pointed out that Byron Buxton is a southern guy that didn’t seem to take long to adjust.

Molitor: He’s just a rare individual with a skill set that’s off the charts.

I saw him last year in instructional ball for a little bit and you could see the rawness of a high school kid, but somehow this winter I think he put a lot of time in to conditioning and preparation. He was much more advanced this spring than I expected him to be and he’s been able to carry it undoubtedly in to the first 9-10 weeks of the season.

You know, he’s got things to work on I’m sure. I’m looking forward to seeing him now compared to even two months ago. Over the next five days. I’ll be watching particularly how he handles himself on the basepaths.

On a professional grading scale of 2-8, he’s an 8 runner and I haven’t for the past three decades seen many players that can compete with him in terms of just raw speed. Now how he can translate that in to base stealing is going to be the key.

Obviously, this year he’s had over 30 attempts. He’s been caught some, but he’s been fairly successful for a young guy and probably in some ways, in this league, he’s been outrunning the ball.

There’s two parts of base stealing: The mechanical, finding the best way to get your body to accelerate from a standstill position; and then there’s the mental side of understanding how they’re trying to slow you down and picking good pitches, good counts, reading pitchers pick-off moves, all those type of things.

A lot of times, when you get caught is when you should learn the most. Whether you didn’t get a good jump or you ran on a pitch out or you didn’t anticipate the guy going home or you were tentative. There’s a lot of ways to learn to get better. So it’s a process. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

We’re glad to see he’s out running. At least not having fear in athat area to this point.

Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison
Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison

I asked Molitor for his thoughts on Kernels third baseman Travis Harrison, who is still somewhat learning the position.

Molitor: Ive been around him some, mostly spring traning and instructional ball. I’m sure there’s some adaption for him going on.

He has relatively good hands. I think his footwork is something that needs to be improved. Being so close in proximity to home plate, you don’t have a lot of time to react to get your body in position to catch the ball. The better he can get control of his feet and be in the right spot, his hands are going to be OK.

Throwing, he’s had some issues at times with consistency. He’s a little bit mechanical, but I think he’s learning that if he doesn’t try to guide the ball and throws it, he’s better off.

So those are areas where we expect young kids to make errors and just like the baserunning, when you make mistakes, you figure out why and hopefully you can make adjustments.

I asked for Molitor’s thoughts concerning the defensive progress at third base of Harrison, as compared to Miguel Sano (this was a couple of days prior to Sano’s promotion to AA).

Molitor: I think that’s a fair question.

We’re all hoping that Sano, who’s a little farther along in the organization and in growth, in terms of getting close to the Major Leagues. Not unexpectedly, he made a ton of errors last year, his first year of being a third baseman in a full season and it was a plethora of mistakes.

It was misreading balls, it was rushing balls, it was throwing balls he shouldn’t have thrown. Trying to force an out when it wasn’t there.

But having seen him twice already this year, he’s made maybe a dozen errors so far and a lot of them are similar things.

But he’s been very diligent and asking for extra work and trying to correct mistakes.

I’m hoping his future is as a third baseman.

Travis, it’s a little bit early to see how it pans out. A lot of times, you can play three or four years in the minor leagues and then you get to the Big Leagues and there’s no room in that position and all of a sudden you’ve got to maybe transition. So you kind of hope that you get these guys a little bit more well-rounded. As far as their strength position, you want to try to see them develop that the most.

After the game on Monday, a Kernels win that was broadcast back to the Twin Cities on Fox Sports North, I asked Molitor about his impressions after having spent five days with the Kernels in Cedar Rapids.

Molitor: Well it was good to see them bounce back after three tough losses.

I feel like we got some things accomplished with some of the infielders defensively.

It was good to see (Candido) Pimentel back out there today. He had a better day. He still had one play where he got a little anxious about turning his back to the runner and he didn’t keep his eye on the ball and that’s kind of one of the things he’s got to work on is just catching the ball and understanding the speed of the baserunners on the play.

And then with baserunning, we had some guys out working on their jumps today and they’ve been aggressive trying to steal, so I’m pleased with that.

But yeah, I had a lot of fun seeing these guys and kind of seeing where they’re at at this point in the season and hopefully I’ll get a chance to get back and see them again.

Since Molitor had indicated he would be working with Byron Buxton on his base stealing, I asked if we should blame him for Buxton being picked off first base during Monday’s game (yes, I was kidding).

Molitor: You can blame me for that if you want. The (pitcher) did a nice job of holding the ball. I think he kind of built a little tension. The longer the guy holds it, you really have to concentrate on staying relaxed and he might have given him a little bit of a balk move, but that’s, again, learning time.

A hitter can help your baserunner out when he’s holding the ball. Call a time out, things like that. But that’s how you learn.

I asked for Molitor’s impression of Jorge Polanco, specifically whether he thinks Polanco can stick at shortstop.

Molitor: You know, I’ve seen him a fair amount and his arm’s probably competent at short but I still think he probably profiles a little better at second base in the long run.

Working on his footwork a little bit. He can get a little false step on his breaks to the ball and it seems like balls you think he might have a chance to get he comes up a little bit short. So we’ll try to improve his range a little bit and give him a chance.

At 19, it’s certainly too early to close the book on any one position.

Offensively, he’s just getting a little bit stronger and he’s got nice loose hands at the plate and being a switch hitter is generally to his advantage.

But I keep trying to keep them versatile in the middle of the field and hopefully one of the positions will pan out. But I have a feeling probably second base in the long run.

Since we had discussed third baseman Travis Harrison earlier, I asked if he had any final impressions of Harrison.

Molitor: He’s got a great attitude about work ethic and he wants to get better.

I think the main thing for him is going to continue to work on his footwork so his range is competent to stay over there, too. But his throwing’s improved. He’s a lot more accurate. I think he’s comfortable over there.

He’s still feeling for positioning a little bit. Sometimes I catch him maybe not quite in the right spot. There’s a reason you are where you are on every pitch and I think he’s learning that and trying to take some pride in it.

It was a pleasure to talk a little baseball with Paul Molitor and I appreciate him taking the time to answer questions. I think the thought he put in to his comments clearly demonstrates just how seriously he takes his work with the Twins’ young players and how much he enjoys doing what he’s doing. – JC

Twins Need A Memorable Offseason

Been a while.

I’m not sure why I couldn’t bring myself to write over the past couple of months. Certainly, it wasn’t for a lack of Twins-related stuff to hash over, right? Since my last post, the Twins and Kernels BOTH qualified for their respective leagues’ postseasons. Not bad, right?

Byron Buxton launched this home run in spring training and went on to lead the Twins to a postseason appearance.

Neither of them lasted as long as we would have liked, with the Kernels winning their first round series over Kane County, but dropping two games out of three to Quad Cities in the Midwest League’s Western Division championship series and the Twins falling to the Evil Empire in the American League Wild Card game, but still, they capped off successful seasons.

Now we’re into baseball’s offseason. You remember the offseason? I know, if you’re a Twins fan, it’s understandable if you have no idea what that is. After all, the Twins haven’t historically done much but go into hibernation from November until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in February.

Already, this offseason, though, the Twins front office has: let go of Fort Myers Miracle manager (and fan-favorite former Twins first baseman) Doug Mientkiewicz, announced a three year extension for manager Paul Molitor, released their major league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator and hired John Manuel, the editor of Baseball America, into their pro scouting organization.

Of interest to Kernels fans (at least it should be), the Twins also promoted farm director Brad Steil to the director of professional scouting and hired a new director of minor league operations, Jeremy Zoll, out of the Dodgers organization.

That may not sound like a lot to some people, but for the Twins, that’s a lot of decisions coming down the pipeline before the World Series even gets started!

It seemed to me, though, that it was the Mientkiewicz news that got the biggest reaction out of Twinsville. He had been, after all, reported to have been a candidate for the Twins’ managerial job before Molitor was eventually given the gig. And it’s pretty hard, I think, to find a player that spent any time on one of his teams in Fort Myers or Chattanooga who didn’t speak highly of him.

But, from everything I’ve heard from former players and media, Dougie Baseball was a bit of a dinosaur, when it comes to his approach to managing a baseball team. He also had a history of, arguably, stretching pitch counts for some of his young pitchers.

If any of that is true, then his chances of ever landing a coaching spot (much less the manager’s seat) at the MLB level in a Twins organization run by Thad Levine and Derek Falvey were virtually nil. He’s better off looking for a better philosophical fit. His problem is going to be trying to find a front office that still values his way of thinking above more modern analytical approaches.

Modern analytics are no longer just theory. In fact, they are no longer just being applied to the Major League levels. Minor league managers and coaches, all the way down through the lower levels, are being provided the tools necessary to record and mine advanced data on their own players, as well as their opponents’. And this Twins front office is not going to accept any coach or manager who doesn’t embrace and utilize those tools.

From where I sat in Cedar Rapids this summer, manager Tommy Watkins and his coaches (Brian Dinkelman and JP Martinez) did embrace this new world. They and their players spent more time with video, they applied the data at their fingertips related to everything from lineup construction to defensive shifts and were very careful not to overwork the young arms they were responsible for developing.

And they did all that while also winning baseball games!

I have no first-hand knowledge of whether other managing/coaching staff members in the organization were as on board as the Kernels’ staff with those obvious changes from past practices, but if any of them dragged their feet, they really can’t be too surprised if the front office decides to find replacements who would be more enthusiastic about implementing their bosses’ philosophies.

Apparently, Molitor demonstrated well enough that he was capable of implementing the front office’s system to warrant being kept around.

Then again, we all know that Molitor is a favorite not only with a significant segment of the fan base but, more importantly, with owner Jim Pohlad.

Pohlad made retaining his manager for at least a year a prerequisite for anyone applying to replace former General Manager Terry Ryan, so his feelings about Molitor are obvious.

Reports indicated that Pohlad did not order his front office to offer an extension to the manager after this past season, but that, if they decided they wanted to go another way, he wanted to be involved in a conversation before any announcement was made. That conversation was never necessary, of course, but one can imagine how it might have gone if the brass had decided they wanted to move in another direction.

Pohlad: Let me get this straight. Molitor led our team to the most dramatic turnaround, record-wise, in our history. He did this after you guys gave up on the season and got rid of his closer and the starting pitcher you traded FOR just a week earlier. Now, you want to fire him? Why?

“Falvine”: We just want our own guy in that position.

Pohlad, after a long pause to consider whether he would rather keep Molitor or these two new guys he still hasn’t learned to tell apart: OK. You lived up to your end of the deal. You kept Paul for one year. But gentlemen, you’d better be right or a year from now, your choice for a manager will be back on the street… and he’ll have company.

No, they weren’t going to let Molitor go. The only question in my mind was whether, after a year of spreadsheets and exit velocities, he felt comfortable continuing to manage in the new baseball world.

It’s not like he needed the gig, right? But I suspect that the promise of what this team could become over the next three years was enough to make him want to be around for that ride and I think he has some genuine affinity for and with this group of players which refused to roll over even after their front office gave up on them.

Now Falvine can focus on getting some pitching.

If there’s one thing that watching the teams that are still alive in the postseason drives home to you, it’s the difference between the quality of the pitching staffs, in particular the starting rotations, between these teams and the Twins.

I will say that the Twins’ rotation has improved. Whenever Santana, Berrios and even Gibson took the mound to start a game in August and September, I felt like the Twins had a chance to win.

But teams like the Astros, Indians, Dodgers, Cubs and even the Yankees don’t just feel they have a chance to win when their top three (and sometimes more) starters are on the mound, they EXPECT to win those games.

That is a huge difference and the task of the Twins’ front office is to make that kind of thing happen in Minnesota and do it fast.

Jorge Polanco has the shortstop job now. But Nick Gordon is on his way. Could one of them bring a top starting pitcher in a trade?

The window for winning with this current group of position players is now opening and those windows only last so long.

The Twins can’t afford to wait two or three or four years to develop a postseason-worth rotation. It has to happen sooner than that and it has to start in the next two months.

It has been a while since I felt inclined to support potentially trading top prospects for immediate help at the big league level, but I’m there now.

If it takes a couple of the organization’s top position player prospects to get legitimate starting pitching help (and not just #3 or #4 level arms), then get it done. Face it, there’s not a lot of room in this lineup right now for the guys coming up anyway and those guys might be better served to go somewhere that they aren’t blocked by guys like Buxton, Sano, Kepler and maybe even Polanco.

And the Twins can’t wait around to get pitching. Yes, let’s find out how good the top starting pitching prospects can be, but don’t let that stop you from getting pitchers that you can honestly EXPECT to win behind, not just have a chance to do so.

This should be the most interesting Twins offseason in the past couple of decades. If it’s not, then Levine and Falvey aren’t doing their jobs.

Twins Brass Setting Molitor Up to Fail?

With the 2017 Minnesota Twins season set to open up on Monday, it’s finally time to try to predict what this team will do over the next 162 games.

Looking at the Opening Day roster and comparing it to what we saw a year ago, making a prediction that doesn’t have the Twins once again at least flirting with 100 losses takes a combination of considerable imagination and pure hope.

Twins GM That Levine

A 103-loss team a year ago, it’s pretty hard to see obvious reasons to project a significant improvement in that record.  The primary change (in fact, perhaps the only significant change) in the organization came in the front office and, no matter what you think of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the new Twins brass won’t pitch or hit the team to more wins.

This is a roster that cried out for pitching upgrades and I defy anyone to look at the Opening Day pitching staff and point out where significant improvement is going to come from. The decision-makers have determined that manager Paul Molitor will have 13 pitchers to choose from. I don’t think volume is going to automatically make the staff better, though.

What this roster does have, thanks to the extra pitching being carried, is a total lack of offense available off the bench. When Molitor looks down his bench for a pinch hitter, he’s going to be looking at Chris Gimenez, Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana.

The only way he’ll see a viable pinch hitter in that dugout is if he has started Escobar at shortstop, leaving Jorge Polanco available.

Gimenez, the backup catcher, is also supposedly the backup first baseman behind Joe Mauer. That’s not ideal. I have to wonder if we won’t see Max Kepler at first base with some frequency. I don’t doubt he can handle the position (he did well enough there in Cedar Rapids back in 2013), but it’s a waste to put a guy with his range in the outfield at first base. It just makes you worse as a team, defensively, at both positions.

I don’t envy Molitor the task he has before him this season.

Owner Jim Pohlad made it clear at the end of 2016 that, regardless of who he hired to run his baseball operations, they were going to keep Molitor as their manager in 2017.

So Falvey and Levine knew they wouldn’t be able to hire the manager of their choice until the 2018 season.

But it’s almost as if they collectively decided that they weren’t going to go out of their way during the 2016-2017 offseason to improve the Twins’ roster and risk giving Molitor any chance to win enough games to make replacing him an unpopular thing to do, either with fans or with an owner who clearly likes the Hall-of-Famer, after his lame-duck season wraps up.

Molitor has certainly not set the world on fir in his first two seasons as a manager. In this interview with the Pioneer Press’ Brian Murphy, Molitor even admits that, “Learning to run the bullpen has been a work in progress.”

He’ll get no argument from most Twins fans on that point.

Molitor also conceded that his ability to produce more wins may be taken out of his hands as this season unfolds. After trying, and failing, to get what they considered fair market trade value out of veterans like Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana during the offseason, you have to assume that the Twins new front office would be quick to pull the trigger on mid-season trades of such players if they get off to good starts, driving up their trade values

With a front office so obviously focused on the future, such moves would have significant negative effects on the chances of Molitor leading his team to enough wins to save his job.

To his credit, it’s clear from the comments he made to Murphy that Molitor, while being aware of these circumstances, isn’t particularly concerned about them. Or at least he’s classy enough not to express any such concerns publicly.

Make no mistake, however, any ultimate failure of the 2017 Twins to substantially improve the results that fans see on the field would be a shared responsibility.

I won’t argue that Molitor would be blameless for a lack of success, but his front office did him no favors with its inactivity all offseason long. They had an obvious task – improve the pitching, both the rotation and the bullpen. They did almost nothing to address that need and that, in my view, would make them primarily responsible if a lack of pitching talent leads to another bad season.

I’m hoping that another year of development will mean significant improvements on the field from guys such as Kepler, Polanco, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.

I’m hoping Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson have good years and that whatever mix is in that bullpen turns out able to do its job well.

I’m hoping that some of the organization’s young pitchers develop quickly enough to provide upgrades during the course of the season.

As a fan, hoping is all I have the ability to do.

Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen, heard and read about the new Twins front office indicates that they’re just hoping all those things happen, too.

Falvey and Levine, however, walked into their offices at Target Field with the absolute authority to reshape their roster and they did virtually nothing to give Molitor – and Twins fans – anything of substance to hang our hopes on for this season.

There I Go, Turn the Page

Paul Molitor
Paul Molitor (Photo: SD Buhr)

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star(s) again
There I go
Turn the page

It has got to be lonely being Paul Molitor these days. About the only thing separating him from the tortured Bob Seger that penned “Turn the Page” back in 1972 is that he isn’t subjected to riding a bus somewhere east of Omaha with locals at truck stops making snide remarks about his long hair.

I’m not sure what he envisioned his life would be like as the manager of the Minnesota Twins when he signed on for the gig after Ron Gardenhire was let go following the 2014 season, but I’d bet every cent I have that he wasn’t expecting this. After all, his Twins are on pace to finish with one of the worst records in Major League Baseball history. Not Twins history, not franchise history, not American League history, but in all of MLB history.

This is taking place after a season, in 2015, that many people thought saw the Twins, under Molitor in his first season as a manager at any level, take a significant step forward in terms of competitiveness.

Sure, everyone knew there were candidates for regression on the club’s roster and nobody knew what to expect of their imported Korean designated hitter, but there were also players that we felt had reasonable chances to improve their performance levels over what we saw in 2015. Even the most pessimistic among us could not have reasonably expected this to happen.

But it has happened. The Twins are 15-37 as they return home to face the Tampa Bay Rays, themselves sitting at the bottom of the American League East standings at the moment.

There has been plenty written in the Twins community about what’s gone wrong and what should be done about it. Some of the suggestions have been reasonable, many have not.

You can’t trade players for whom there is no market and you can’t really flat out release most of them, either.

Most teams won’t fire their manager and/or their general manager during the first two months of the season, especially when that manager is only in his second season at the helm and the general manager has been around forever and is credited with rebuilding a farm system that is acknowledged to be among the best in the game.

Typically, you give the guys you left spring training with a couple of months to come around before you go about making significant changes. Your options are limited in April and May, anyway, because few teams are going to be interested in adding noteworthy pieces to their rosters that early, even if you are ready to turn the page sooner than that.

But we’re into June now and while most teams still won’t be prepared to make many deals at least until later in the month, it’s time to start initiating those discussions.

It is also time to start looking at what you want your roster to look like on Opening Day 2017. If there’s a silver lining to a miserable start like this, it’s that you don’t have to wait until spring training next March to start evaluating your options. You don’t even have to wait until the traditional “September call up” portion of the season. You’ve got a full four months to look at what you’ve got before you have to make decisions about which positions you will need to fill from outside your organization during the offseason.

The Twins are likely to lose over 100 games this season. It could be more. It could be a few less, but not a lot less.

It’s time to turn the page.

Listen, I like Trevor Plouffe. He has, in my view, turned himself into a more-than-adequate third baseman after nearly playing himself out of baseball at shortstop. He also hits enough that there’s nothing wrong with him being a regular in a Major League lineup.

I like Brian Dozier even more. He came to Cedar Rapids in January, 2013, with the first Twins Caravan after the Twins announced they would be affiliating with the local Kernels Class A team and did a great job on the dais. With the personality he showed that night, it came as no surprise to me that he eventually became a fan favorite in the Twin Cities. Like Plouffe, he turned out not to be the answer for the Twins at shortstop, but he transitioned to second base where he has done an excellent job.

When Joe Nathan departed, many of us were nervous about whether the Twins would find someone capable of holding down the closer role out of the bullpen. Enter Glen Perkins and the problem was solved.

Joe Mauer’s situation would command a full article itself, but his contract and no-trade rights make it a waste of time to even discuss his future with the team for the next couple of seasons.

These players, along with a few others perhaps, have had good rides as members of the Twins and they have earned every bit of fan loyalty they get. But the hard truth is that few, if any, of them are going to be part of the next run of winning seasons at Target Field.

Already this season, injuries have created opportunities to look at some young players. In most cases, those opportunities were wasted as players like Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler rode the pine during their time filling in for banged up regulars.

Byron Buxton (Photo: SD Buhr)
Byron Buxton (Photo: SD Buhr)

Maybe “playin’ stars again” was defensible early in the season when you were still trying to make something of your season, but no longer. It’s time to turn the page.

As Ted over at Off the Baggy pointed out this week, with Kepler being promoted again (this time to fill in for the injured Miguel Sano), it’s time to plug Kepler and the also-recently-recalled Byron Buxton into the lineup and let them run.

Sano’s hamstring will eventually heal and he’ll return. I find myself agreeing with Howard Sinker of the Star-Tribune who tweeted earlier this week, “Friends, I was less skeptical on it than most of you, but it’s time for the Sano-in-right field thing to end. Make something work, #MNTwins.”

I really had no issue with putting Sano in the outfield. He’s athletic enough that he should be able to play a passable right field and he has improved out there. But I’ve pulled a hamstring before and I know that, once you do that, it’s pretty easy to do it again. I don’t think putting him back out there when he comes back makes a lot of sense when it’s pretty obvious that it is not going to be his position long-term (and by long-term, we are probably now including 2017).

The Twins need to decide where they envision Sano fitting in. Wherever that is, whether it’s third base, first base or simply as their full-time designated hitter, I would just plug him in there when he gets back and move on to the next decision.

Bouncing Buxton, Kepler and Polanco up and down between Minneapolis and Rochester should end. Buxton is your center fielder, Kepler is in a corner and Polanco is in the middle of your infield somewhere.

I’ve seen others opine that Byung Ho Park should be sent down to Rochester, perhaps to make room for Sano when he comes back. I disagree, unless the Twins are prematurely giving up on him. He will hit AAA pitching, just as he hit Korean pro ball pitching. He needs to learn to hit MLB pitching and if the Twins plan on keeping him, he should stay in the Twins’ lineup until he proves that he can (or can’t).

I don’t know if Oswaldo Arcia will be in the Twins outfield for the next few years, but I know Danny Santana and Eduardo Nunez won’t, so Arcia should get more time out there with Buxton and Kepler (unless the Twins decide someone like Adam Bret Walker should get a long look).

The same situation exists behind the plate. Kurt Suzuki’s time with the Twins is nearing an end. I don’t know who will take over, but now is the time for the Twins to get extended looks at their internal candidates.

You could make similar cases for an overhaul of the pitching staff, but I’d be more patient with promoting the young pitchers, unless you get good offers for some of your existing staff members. I just see less urgency there.

Finally, there’s the Molitor question and that is tethered to the Terry Ryan question. Will either, or both, be back in 2017 and beyond?

Molitor will be entering the final year of his existing contract in 2017. Typically, no manager likes being a “lame duck” manager. He wants an extension in place before the start of the final year of his deal or he risks losing his clubhouse as players begin to tune his message out as they assume he won’t be around long.

Say what you will about the infamous Jim Pohlad patience with his front office, but I think Ryan would have a tough time convincing even Pohlad that Molitor should be rewarded for his work in 2016 with an extension.

Of course, that assumes that Ryan will even be around to make that pitch to Pohlad.

It’s almost impossible for me to envision Pohlad announcing publicly that he has dismissed Terry Ryan. It is not difficult at all, however, for me to envision an announcement that Terry Ryan has decided that, as the person responsible for assembling the roster, he is ultimately responsible for the results and that he is holding himself accountable and stepping down as GM of the Twins.

That public announcement would be identical, by the way, regardless of whether the decision truly is Ryan’s or whether Pohlad makes the decision that it’s time for a change. If you’re looking for public executions, you’re going to be disappointed.

If Ryan is contemplating that this may be his last season in the GM chair, he’s not likely to make a managerial change during the season. If he’s planning on being around a while longer, then yes, he could (and should) be considering whether there’s someone besides Molitor in the organization that he  now believes would be a better fit to manage the new group of young players coming up.

If indeed Ryan is replaced as the General Manager, it would be much more likely that Molitor also would be replaced following the end of this season. The new GM would want, and should get, his own man to run the team he assembles.

Whether these changes in management are made or not should depend solely on whether ownership envisions the current leadership being the right people to guide the team through the next era of competitiveness.

Regardless, it is time to begin turning the page. Some of the changes can wait as things play out over the rest of this season and the subsequent offseason, but seeing names like Buxton, Kepler and Polanco consistently in the Twins’ lineup should start now.

Episode 108: Mikton Troutshaw Wins the MVP

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.
On the one-hundred and eighth episode of Talk to Contact, the boys were joined by Nick Nelson (@NNelson9) from TwinsDaily to talk about the movement of bloggers from their mothers’ basements to the mainstream in the past several years. We also talk about Paul Molitor‘s coaching staff, and what we think about Gene Glynn at third base and Rudy Hernandez as the assistant hitting coach.
Of course our hosts are drinking beer, and they spend the last segment on the podcast discussing Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw winning the AL and NL MVP awards. We even wonder who would win the MLB MVP award if we had to combine things all into one.
Thanks for listening and enjoy our show.

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Episode 107: Paul Molitor

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 the boys discuss Paul Molitor and what his hiring means for the future of the Minnesota Twins. We’re also joined by Bill Parker (@Bill_TPA) to talk about the Twins’ roster and some potential free agent targets to help fill in the 2015 roster.


As always, we chat about beer, baseball, and the news. I forgot to ask Bill on air what he was drinking, be he assures me it was a Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, so there’s that!

Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.

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 can span the gulf between generations.

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.

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

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.

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

Episode 102: Adios Ron Gardenhire! Hello Paul Molitor?

You had to know it was coming, we spend about 30 minutes talking about Ron Gardenhire’s firing and who we want to replace him, and also who we think will replace him.

Todd Tichenor, Ron Gardenhire
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.

We talk about Terry Ryan’s future, too. Not to be just nagging on the Twins for another 90+ loss season, we spend some time chatting about the best Twins hitter, pitcher, and fielder of 2014 before talking beer, baseball, and the news.

Go Twins!

Enjoy the show.

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Twins Manager Search: Update No. 1

Yesterday, in the hours following Ron Gardenhire’s ouster as manager of the Twins, I put up a post briefly discussing each of what I considered possible internal candidates to replace Gardy.

Shortly after that post went up, Gardenhire and Twins General Manager Terry Ryan held a press conference where some additional information was shared concerning the thought process that went in to the decision and the envisioned process for identifying and hiring a replacement.

Much has been written/said about the possible candidates in the meantime and there appears to be some small amount of clarity taking shape.

First, Ryan indicated that the search for a replacement would include both internal and external candidates. This is good.

He also indicated that “diversity” would be a factor in the decision making process, not only for the manager, but also for the subsequent decisions regarding the rest of the big league coaching staff. This is very good news.

Ryan also indicated that he was not overly concerned about the age of potential candidates. He isn’t looking only at “young” potential managers, nor only at veteran managers. I think this is good AND it may give a clue as to Ryan’s thinking going in to the process.

The GM also may have slightly tipped his hand when he first indicated that there was a “preference” for an internal replacement, then backtracked and said something along the lines of how the preference is for the “right” candidate, regardless of internal or external, but that ideally he would come from inside the organization. It’s splitting hairs, I know, but I think it does indicate some level of preference for an internal replacement, so long as that person can also be defended as being the “right” person for the job.

As a result, I’m already prepared to revise my list of most likely candidates.

Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison in 2013
Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison in 2013

Yesterday, I said I thought Terry Steinbach and Doug Mientkiewicz were likely the top couple of internal candidates. I kept Paul Molitor off that list for two reasons.

First, I thought Ryan would, “go younger,” and Molitor is roughly the same age as Gardenhire. Second, I felt Molitor, given his longer history of employment with the Twins than either Steinbach or Mientkiewicz, would be considered too much of a Twins insider to satisfy everyone, inside and outside the organization, that his hiring would not simply be a continuation of the Gardenhire regime with a different figurehead.

A number of stories have since popped up from writers/columnists with connections to the team’s front office pointing out that Molitor was (1) forced on Gardenhire a year ago, and (2) pretty much ostracized by the manager and his inner circle during the season.

One does have to wonder why the same writers weren’t all over that part of the story DURING the season and one conclusion might be that they are just now finding this information out. “From whom?,” you may ask.

We could speculate that the information is coming from sources inside the front office who may have an interest in softening the ground for the ultimate naming of Molitor as the new Twins manager.

What’s more, as various media sources have pointed out, the Milwaukee Brewers may well be considering a change in the manager’s chair. If so, one would expect Molitor to be on a list of likely candidates for that job.

It certainly would not look good to a lot of Molitor supporters to see the Hall of Famer stolen away by the Brewers while the Twins go another direction.

Of course, you could say pretty much the same thing about the chances Steinbach could be hired by Arizona while the Twins go through a more thorough process of screening applicants.

Whatever the reason, there already seems to be a groundswell of support and speculation focused on Molitor that goes beyond, even, what existed previously. In this case, I choose to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and Molitor may well already be Ryan’s preferred choice IF Molitor wants the gig.

I add that condition because we probably can’t totally discount the possibility that he would prefer to get the Brewers’ job, for example. Though, given his in-depth knowledge of the talent coming up through the Twins’ farm system, this would seem unlikely, to me.

I’d be fine with a Molitor choice. I had the opportunity to interview him during June of the 2013 Cedar Rapids Kernels season and “impressed” doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I came away with.

(You can read that interview by clicking here.)

Molitor is one of those guys that anyone with a mind for baseball would just love to get the opportunity to sit and talk with for an hour. I felt genuinely fortunate to get 20 minutes of his time over the course of a couple of days.

He doesn’t have the folksy charm of Ron Gardenhire. But, I found him to be friendly and open during our discussions, and his love for the nuances of the game and teaching young players the right way to play it certainly came through.

In any event, I do believe Ryan will conduct interviews with several internal and external candidates, including Steinbach and Mientkiewicz. (A number of external candidates have been tossed around, but my favorite is Rays coach Dave Martinez.)

In the end, however, Molitor looks like the leading candidate today.

We’ll see how long that indication holds.

What about Jake Mauer?

I mentioned Kernels manager Jake Mauer as a possible internal candidate, along with some thoughts as to why he probably would not be considered at this time.

Let me just say that, selfishly, I’d love to see Mauer return to Cedar Rapids, along with his coaches Tommy Watkins and Ivan Arteaga. That said, if I were to predict Mauer’s 2015 assignment (which obviously I’m about to do), I’d say look for him to be named the manager of AA Chattanooga.

It was Mauer that the Twins tabbed to be the first manager in Cedar Rapids when that affiliation was getting off the ground. He is a hard worker with his players, great with the front office, great with fans and great with media. In other words, the perfect manager to make sure a new affiliation gets off to the best start possible.

He could easily be given the same assignment in Chattanooga, where the Twins are moving their AA team in 2015. Mauer would also then be reunited with many of the players he managed in Cedar Rapids during 2013-14.

It would also be one step closer to a big league coaching assignment for Mauer and he’s more than deserving of being considered for that opportunity in the near future.

If that move opened up an opportunity for Watkins to get the manager job in Cedar Rapids, that would be a good thing, too.

– JC