By firing Paul Molitor, the Twins got rid of a problem they didn’t have

photo of thad levine and derek falvey speaking at a press conference
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Thad Levine and Derek Falvey spoke to reporters at a press conference announcing Paul Molitor’s firing on Tuesday.

They own it now.

From this day forward, the garbage scow commonly known as the Minnesota Twins belongs to Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. That realization likely hit the Twins’ top two baseball officials the moment they decided to fire manager Paul Molitor, one year after Molitor was named the American League manager of the year, and two days after Molitor finished coaxing a glorified Class AAA roster to a 28-28 mark in the final two months of an otherwise wretched season.

Halfway through a televised news conference at Target Field, a tense affair heavy with jargon and convoluted answers, a TV camera light to the left of Falvey and Levine suddenly and silently went dark. It made both flinch, Levine more than Falvey, as if someone set off a firecracker. No one else in the room budged. When you’ve staked your jobs on a decision sure to be unpopular, like cutting loose a Hall of Famer and son of St. Paul who did everything you asked of him, discomfort makes you jumpy.

Arithmetic tells you any manager who goes 305-343 in four seasons, as Molitor did, shouldn’t be surprised to lose his job, especially if he’s working for two guys who didn’t hire him in the first place. Yet Molitor may not have seen this coming. Sunday, in what turned out to be his final postgame press gathering as Twins manager, Molitor was jokingly asked whether we might see a repeat of the emotional fan farewell to Joe Mauer if Mauer decides to keep playing.

“Next year at this time we’ll be planning for our next game, so I don’t think the situation will be the same,” Molitor said, a fanciful reference to a postseason he expected to be around for.

Molitor didn’t lose 50 points of baseball IQ in one year. He embraced analytics, defensive shifting and the “opener” pitching trend more than most 62-year-olds with a lifetime in baseball. He can’t be faulted for the injuries to Miguel Sanó, Byron Buxton and Ervin Santana, or Jorge Polanco’s drug suspension, or the awful pitching staff Falvey and Levine stuck him with.

But it’s clear Falvey and Levine wanted their own manager. They lacked the gumption to make the change last year when Molitor guided the Twins to the playoffs, becoming the first club to qualify after a 100-loss season, something that seems even more miraculous given this year’s debacle. Last year Falvey cited his comfort with Molitor and the relationship they built as reasons for extending Molitor’s contract three years, words rendered meaningless by Tuesday’s events.

“When we made this decision, I can tell you it just wasn’t about wins and losses, right now at this moment,” Falvey said. “It was about where our club is for the present and the future. This wasn’t about our record this year. This is about what we think is best as we continue to grow a young team in the direction toward being a championship contender.”

See what I mean by convoluted? Levine, usually the comedian of the pair, had the good sense to read the room and not to crack any jokes, though he talked in even wider circles than Falvey.

You knew something was up a few days ago when owner Jim Pohlad, who two years ago made retaining Molitor a condition for whoever succeeded former general manager Terry Ryan, declined to say if Molitor would manage in 2019, telling the Star Tribune he was leaving it up to Falvey and Levine. “I understand I have veto power,” Pohlad said Tuesday, “but my personal goal is to accept the well-thought-out decisions of the baseball department.”

photo of jim pohlad speaking to reporters
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
“I understand I have veto power,” Pohlad said Tuesday, “but my personal goal is to accept the well-thought-out decisions of the baseball department.”
No doubt Falvey has a managerial short list — all executives do — one that could expand as they hear from unemployed managers and interested coaches from playoff teams. They prefer someone comfortable with analytics, and managerial experience isn’t required. That leaves it open to promote development coach Jeff Pickler or video advance scout Jeremy Hefner, both Falvey favorites.

With a trend toward younger managers, often with little or no experience — think Aaron Boone in New York — the Twins also could opt for a recently retired player, perhaps bilingual, to better relate to their predominantly Latino young core.

“For any team, there’s always challenges with younger players, veteran players, players in between,” Falvey said. “We just feel like from the standpoint of this team moving forward, a change in voice and potential style with some of those younger players could be a benefit for us. … I think Paul is great with a lot of young players. It just felt like the time to make a transition with those young players for the long-term future.”

Even the most polished Twins managerial hire can’t mask the organization’s biggest problems — a lack of quality pitching in the highest levels, and too many injuries top to bottom. Tuesday the Twins also fired their major league, Class AAA and Class AA strength and conditioning coaches, a systemwide overhaul that was probably overdue. Expect some of Molitor’s coaches to go, too.

Falvey, remember, is supposed to be a pitching specialist. But the Twins finished 78-84 because their pitching was unreliable, and the parade of unimpressive Class AAA arms we saw through Target Field the last two months suggests help isn’t close. Maybe Falvey and Levine will get lucky and sign a bunch of free agents for next season who significantly outpitch this year’s group, but that’s not a winning strategy long-term.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Molitor embraced analytics, defensive shifting and the “opener” pitching trend more than most 62-year-olds with a lifetime in baseball.
To succeed in today’s game, the Twins need to remake themselves from a hitting organization that produces a few serviceable arms to a deep pitching organization. That’s not easy to do. It takes better scouting, better instruction, and leadership from the veteran pitchers you will need to acquire to mentor that first wave of young arms. There’s a reason Ryan Pressly, despite dominant stuff, struggled here but succeeded when he joined the Houston Astros, an organization that knows how to develop pitching.

The managerial change may not affect Joe Mauer’s decision to retire or play on, though quite a few fans suggested hiring him as the next manager. There may be a time and place for that if he’s interested (see: Lindsay Whalen), but this isn’t the time. There’s too much work for Falvey and Levine to do, and the next manager may be fired before it’s complete.

That is, if Falvey and Levine are still here. This is their scow now, and any future stench attaches to them.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by William Lindeke on 10/03/2018 - 10:31 am.

    In 2018, the pitching was vastly improved over the past seasons. The reason this season went south wasn’t about the pitchers, but about the offense disappearing, for a whole host of reasons.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/03/2018 - 10:59 am.

    Molitor never demonstrated the kind of gross incompetence that Tom Thibodeau (the guy I wanted to see fired) did. But he made a lot of dumb decisions. And while he “embraced” analytics, which should be a given for a manager these days, he wasn’t an analytics guy. More importantly, he wasn’t Falvey and Levine’s guy.

  3. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 10/03/2018 - 11:10 am.

    The Twins won 78 games because they were playing in a division that had three teams even worse than they were. Outside of those three teams, they were 45-60, which is a 69-win clip. I tend to subscribe to the Gleeman view here. Yes, Molitor wasn’t given the best hand to play this year, but it also doesn’t mean that he’s a good manager.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 10/03/2018 - 01:21 pm.

      but it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t ether and I’d say that he wasn’t “given the best hand” is a bit of an understatement. Falvey and Levine gave him nothing to work with and as the article point out, it wasn’t Molitor’s fault that Sano couldn’t put down his fork, Buxton and Santana are fragile and Palonco misses half the season for taking PED’s.

      • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 10/04/2018 - 11:58 am.

        What are Molitor’s strengths as a manager? Serious question, because to these eyes, I don’t see a lot of areas where he excels. His bullpen management is questionable. As someone else pointed out, he tends to rely on low-ceiling veterans. Unless Buxton is in the lineup, they’re consistently below-average defensively. Young player development has been shaky. Probably the biggest change I’ve seen in the team from a managerial/coaching standpoint is improved baserunning, which completely fell apart in the later Gardy years.

        • Submitted by ian wade on 10/04/2018 - 02:44 pm.

          I guess I’ll let Ozzy Guillen answer your question for me, Sean….

          “I don’t believe in good managers. If you don’t have the players…..the horses…..you can’t win the Kentucky Derby without the horses.”

        • Submitted by Will Young on 10/04/2018 - 03:02 pm.

          Improved baserunning? I’ve never seen a team have more players picked off bases.

          • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 10/04/2018 - 03:38 pm.

            Pickoffs have been a problem, but they’ve been better at outs on the bases (although that was one area that got worse as the season went along).

  4. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 10/03/2018 - 11:54 am.

    I didn’t like to see Molitor fired and it’s difficult to understand why some refer to some of his decisions as dumb as he had so little to work with. Had he better pitching and players and then they failed…perhaps then I’d agree.
    But…the real truth is…is that this management team has failed us. Their first year…everyone…just everyone knew…they needed pitching…and they did nothing. For this year…they added pitchers…but almost everyone of them were failures.
    I gave up watching them when they destroyed the team in the middle of the season. I guess if they become more watchable…I might…might…come back…but I’m not sold on this management team…not at all…but the worst is Thibs. He makes the Wolves unwatchable…and basketball is my favorite sport.

  5. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/03/2018 - 12:00 pm.

    Year after year the Twins have exhibited one glaring problem that has not been addressed by this decision. Poor pitching is the primary source of the Twins problems. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine only used the firing of a well liked and well respected Paul Molitor as their “shiney coin” to distract attention away from the inconsistent Twins pitching staff.

  6. Submitted by John Evans on 10/03/2018 - 12:00 pm.

    So now it’s a garbage scow? I’m puzzled by the your emotional reaction, and your attachment to Molitor as manager.

    The pitching is still maybe a bit below average, but that’s a vast improvement over 2016, when their staff was by far the absolute worst that the sport had seen for years. Sure, they had no place to go but up, but, I think management has made some smart low-priced pickups, in contrast to the previous decade of pitching additions that ranged from merely lousy to disastrous. Things are looking up for this pitching staff. They need a manager who will use them correctly, in conjunction with a coherent development plan, and Molitor wasn’t that guy. His bullpen management often seemed incoherent, like he was flying by the seat of his pants in a fog.

    In the second half of the season, when they were out of it, Molitor preferred to play guys who had no upside, but whom he trusted, rather than fielding some younger players for development and evaluation, with an eye on next season.

    The Twins have a deep problem with the way they handle injuries. This team has suffered to an extraordinary degree with injuries that go untreated or recur because player was rushed back into service. It’s been consistent over the years, and it’s stupid. They need a top-to-bottom rethinking of how they handle injuries. Molitor wasn’t the root of that problem, but he’s not the guy to lead that change, either.

    I wouldn’t say he’s a bad manager, exactly, but he’s not what the Twins need now.

  7. Submitted by Nick Foreman on 10/03/2018 - 12:18 pm.

    The twinkies and the queens will be surpassed by soccer shortly.

  8. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/03/2018 - 12:31 pm.

    Can someone please tell us for Falvene, cause they apparently can’t:

    Paul Molitor was fired because he failed to meet our expectations regarding:

    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.

    And we anticipate our next manager to have superior long term success because he/she will:

    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/03/2018 - 12:57 pm.

    Much of the glee or dismay over Molitor’s firing is misplaced. Managers don’t play the game. They may have in the past, and Molitor played it very well, indeed, but they’re not doing it while they’re managing, for the most part. The few that try usually abandon the dual roles as soon as they can. All a manager can do is put the people out on the field that he believes will give the team the best chance to win the game. It’s easy to vilify the manager when those people don’t produce as predicted, but the criticism is often misplaced.

    I’d also mention that, while the value of analytics is pretty much impossible to question, it’s not everything. The Rockies won their Wild Card game against the Cubs with three consecutive singles, the game-winner coming from a .170 hitter that no one would have predicted as a baseball hero.

  10. Submitted by Howard Miller on 10/03/2018 - 02:03 pm.

    This line shouts at me:

    “They lacked the gumption to make the change last year when Molitor guided the Twins to the playoffs, becoming the first club to qualify after a 100-loss season, something that seems even more miraculous given this year’s debacle.”

    Any manager who can lead a turn-around of that magnitude is NOT the problem with the team. Molitor – like Mauer, Dave Winfield – is a favorite son of the Twin Cities.

    They can get a different manager for next year. But that manager won’t pitch even one pitch, nor take any swings at the plate.

    If we don’t get better starting pitching, including a healthy Santana … other changes just won’t matter.

    Baseball empires – Boston, NY Yankees seem to have figured out how to repeat as contenders. Maybe Twins management should study their management methods, import those to the Twins organizations. Is that something the Twins have tried yet?

    Doubt Joe Mauer will return for another rebuilding year, with Molitor gone.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/03/2018 - 09:11 pm.

      The Twins do not want Joe Mauer back. He had a great career, but at this point he is completely worthless as a player.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/04/2018 - 03:29 pm.

        And the end of the season, when they went 28 and 28, other than Rosario he was their best player. “Worthless” is a little bit of hate + hype. They have plenty of holes to fill next year and the money to do it: we’ll see whether they want Joe and vice versa.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/04/2018 - 06:14 pm.

          A 36-year old, oft-injured first basemen with no power and declining skills is the definition of worthless. The Twins have been looking forward to the end of Mauer’s albatross of a contract for years. He was a great player early in his career and a decent one for awhile after. But now he is just in the way.

          • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/05/2018 - 08:59 am.

            “But now he is just in the way”

            And that is the problem. He is not in the way of anyone because they have developed no one. Check out their AAA and AA first basemen

            Are you calling for more Logan Morrision?

            Kennys Vargas?

            How about a free agent?

            2019 Free Agents: First basemen
            Steve Pearce (36 years old, 1.3 WAR)
            Joe Mauer (36, 0.9)
            Matt Adams (30, 0.8)
            Mark Reynolds (35, 0.4)
            Lucas Duda (32, 0.0)
            Hanley Ramirez (35, -0.2)

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/04/2018 - 07:48 am.

      “Making the playoffs” has become a lower bar than it once was. I don’t consider a play-in game “making the playoffs,” any more than paying in a game 163 making the playoffs. But then lots of standards in society have been watered down.

  11. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 10/03/2018 - 06:05 pm.

    If Falvey and Levine produce a winner, this firing will be forgotten. If not, they, too, will be gone. As long as a team wins, sports fans don’t really care too much about the people who are at the helm.

  12. Submitted by Tom Smith on 10/04/2018 - 07:32 am.

    Paul never seemed to be enjoying his time in the dugout. Maybe being dismissed is a relief for him and his family. Does he really need the money? I doubt it and more time with family, why not.

    For the fans (remember us) how about a new mgr with some outward character – like Gardy.

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