When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were chosen as the chief baseball officer and general manager of the Minnesota Twins in the offseason, popular sentiment was that the young executives would fire the remnants of the Terry Ryan regime in order to bring in people who were more aligned with their vision.
Ryan was a former scout who was able to identify talent in the later rounds and fill out his team with players like Doug Mientkiewicz (5th round) Brad Radke (8th round) and Corey Koskie (26th round). Falvey and Levine are Sabermetricians that helped the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, respectively, become two of the best teams in the American League.
The change in philosophy inevitably was going to lead to staff turnover, but Falvey and Levine took a year to audit the team instead of firing the front office and rushing to fill the vacant positions shortly before this season started. They let assistant general manager Bill Smith’s contract expire and moved longtime scouting director Deron Johnson to a senior position, but kept interim general manager Rob Antony in a front office position and retained most of the scouting department.
“No one works harder than Minnesota Twins scouts”
“I have a better understanding of our history here, now, than I did when I first took the job, for sure,” Falvey said in late May before the Twins took Royce Lewis with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. “And I can tell you by and large, no one works harder than Minnesota Twins scouts — to get information, to learn makeup, to know about the players — so I’m confident we have a great group that I trust.”
Now, three months later, they’re starting to make changes. Analytics chief Jack Goin — out. Longtime scout and former executive Wayne Krivsky — out. Minor league pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen — out. Brad Steil, who served as the farm system director since 2012, has been moved to director of pro scouting, and six amateur scouts were recently let go, with more changes likely to come in the near future.
The most high profile firing, however, involved Mientkiewicz, a Twin from 1995 to 2004 who (perhaps add “as a first baseman”) won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox that broke their 86-year-old curse. The 43-year-old had coached many of the team’s core players — including Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios — in Double-A Chattanooga. His teams finished in first place in four of his five seasons as a manager, he never posted a losing season in the minor leagues and he finished in third place behind Paul Molitor and current Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo for the Twins manager position three years ago.
Mientkiewicz was fired while dealing with the effects of Hurricane Irma near his home in the upper Florida Keys, and while he was not shocked that he was let go, he was upset with the way that it was handled. “I’ve been cutting down trees up and down the block, cleaning up after the hurricane, and watching the National Guard go up and down the street. My cellphone was out for several days, and then I got a call today,” Mientkiewicz told the Star Tribune. “I’m out here working my rear end off, dealing with the remnants of the hurricane, and they call to tell me I’m fired. You think they will ever do something professional as an organization?”
Then Strib columnist Jim Souhan reported that Mientkiewicz was asked to manage the Twins Arizona Fall League team six weeks ago, but he turned it down because his wife Jodi was due to have open heart surgery. Usually an offer to manage the AFL team is a compliment and a sign that the manager has a future in the organization.
The idea to fire Mientkiewicz so soon after the minor league system seemed to come from a good place, as Falvey and Levine wanted to give him as much time to explore options with other organizations as possible. “Changes are being made, and we have worked very closely with our senior leadership team and departments to determine the best course of action for the future,” Levine said. “Our hope and goal is to do so in a timely fashion, so that people who are not being retained have 100 percent access to job openings that may occur around the industry.”
But while the timing can be forgiven — the Twins obviously are aware of the effects of Irma and have had to delay the start of their instructional league because of the damage it has caused — the Arizona Fall League offering is puzzling now that they have fired him. Falvey and Levine have declined further comment on why he was let go.
There are more major decisions to come. Molitor coaxed 83 wins out of a flawed team two years ago and now has a team that finished with 59 wins last season in the Wild Card hunt. Whether he is retained will reveal what the organization values. He has an even-keeled temperament, can pick up on pitcher’s tells and other nuances of the game and has an insatiable willingness to learn and accept new ideas. His bullpen management, frequent bunt signals and scrambling of the lineup have irked a vocal section of the fanbase, however, and he was retained on the final year of his contract due to a mandate by owner Jim Pohlad.
Molitor has managed to avoid the pitfalls of Hall of Fame players before him, namely expecting too much of less talented players and speaking too much about his past achievements. But he was not hand-picked by Falvey and Levine, and they may have other candidates in mind.
Falvey and Levine need to act now
Change is necessary in the Twins organization, which has failed to develop pitching recently and failed to build a contending team around Joe Mauer after he signed his $184 million deal. Falvey and Levine now must construct a team around budding star Byron Buxton. That means filling out a rotation with only one young star, Jose Berrios, and address key up the middle positions like shortstop and catcher either internally or through free agency.
Falvey and Levine will choose minor league instructors and major league coaches, they have complete control of the scouting staff and they need to act now. Buxton and Sano are in the big leagues. Mauer has had a resurgence. Ervin Santana appears to have a few good years left in him, and the bullpen is starting to shape up with young arms like Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers and Ryan Pressly.
This year’s team could play in the Wild Card game, but once again they will have to beat the New York Yankees to advance in the postseason. Just like the Twins of the late aughts — before Francisco Liriano, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau departed and anyone had ever heard of bilateral leg weakness — the Yankees remain postseason gatekeepers. Minnesota will have to win a one-game playoff in the Bronx to get to the ALCS this season, and they likely will have to beat the Yankees in a playoff series if they want to contend in the American League. (in the future?)
A recent three-game sweep in which the Twins were outscored 18-6 indicates that Falvey and Levine still have a lot of work ahead of them. An early start to the makeover process is, if nothing else, quite prudent.