Derek [Falvey] is responsible for the baseball department, and he can make any kind of decision he wants to by himself.
— Twins owner Jim Pohlad in Derek Falvey’s introductory press conference
This isn’t what long-suffering Minnesota Twins fans want to hear. They don’t want to hear that Rob Antony and other members of the team staff will be held over. They don’t want to hear Falvey, the team’s new Chief Baseball Officer, utter the words “Twins Way.” They don’t want to hear that this is a transition season.
And yet, the truth is that this is what next year will be.
Two men will replace ousted general manager Terry Ryan: Falvey and his right-hand man Thad Levine. Both are well qualified. Falvey rose quickly through a Cleveland Indians organization that has been quietly progressive in their understanding of analytics and pitching development, which manifested itself this season as they beat the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays en route to an American League Championship. Levine was the No. 2 with the Texas Rangers, who won an AL Championship in 2010 and 2011 and led the Junior Circuit with 95 wins this season. As Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press pointed out on our most recent Midwest Swing podcast, Levine is very qualified and could have potentially gotten a No. 1 job somewhere else had he passed on the Twins.
They both are also young. Falvey is 33, the same age as Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. Thad Levine is 44, a year older than LaTroy Hawkins and three years older than Torii Hunter. While the Twitter Warriors and even some rational fans would like to see Falvey and Levine bust out a gas cannister and matchbook and burn the whole front office down, they would be wise to meticulously audit the Twins organization, eliminate the weak links and keep the most talented people in-house. They already have started slashing, with the team announcing that Tom Brunansky and Butch Davis will not be retained, although they also retained five previous coaches. It appears to be a balanced act, not a full-scale makeover.
This kind of stuff takes time. So does turning an 103-loss team into a winner.
In a year Antony could be gone. So could director of scouting Deron Johnson or pro scouting coordinator Vern Followell or vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff. All are longtime Twins. All were part of the winning at the end of the Metrodome era. All were part of the losing after Target Field opened. All may or may not be better than the other options available to Falvey and Levine on the open market.
Continuity is not sexy, especially to the torch and pitchfork crowd, but it is important in a baseball organization. While some may draw parallels to the Timberwolves situation — GM Milt Newton was replaced by coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and his right-hand man Scott Layden, there was a “country club” culture there, too — an NBA operation, at least as far as player development goes, is much simpler. High draft picks go right to the pros. Individual players have much more influence on the outcomes of games. The Twins have seven minor league affiliates; the Wolves don’t even have a D-League team.
“The thing about Minnesota is it’s a desirable job. People around the league would love to work there, and a big reason is the loyalty from ownership” Levine told our Brandon Warne at the press conference. “But in the same vein, that loyalty means it’s difficult to get in.”
These guys know the drill. They got 5-year deals, so they have ample time to bring the Twins back to respectability. They also aren’t starting from scratch. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton already have plenty of major league experience. So do guys like Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler. Jose Berrios got knocked around a bit last year but shouldn’t be as nervous in his second season with the team. In that sense the Twins are like the Wolves — they’ve got young talent, they just need a front office that knows what to do with it.
So within those five years not only do Falvey and Levine have to polish once-glimmering players that have taken on rust once exposed to the harsh realities of major league baseball, but they have time to clean house. They can figure out who is on board with a progressive, analytical but also human baseball organization and which guys have seen the game pass them by. They’ll find out who will buy in, and who can’t let go of the past. Maybe there are people that should be moved into different positions. Maybe there are others that provide a nice counter-balance to the way Falvey and Levine see the game. Maybe many or all of them will be gone in a few years.
Regardless, what it comes down to is that the Twins are a principled, homegrown, lovable team when they win and a complacent, inbred and hard-headed club when they lose. It’s Falvey and Levine’s job to make the Twins a winning team again, and to replace anyone that stands in their way — one by one, instead of all at once.
As long as Pohlad allows Falvey to make his decisions on his own, it should work out. My guess is that he will. “If I had to pick one requirement for somebody going forward, it’s someone that’s lovable. The only way you can be loved is if you’re lovable. We want someone that can ultimately be loved,” Pohlad told the media back in July. “Technically they have to have the skills and strength and so forth, and have to have the willingness to look an organization and make hard decisions, or come up with ways for improvement.”
Lovable occasionally means tough love. Twins fans not want to hear that this year will likely be a transition year, the season that the 83-win campaign two years ago was supposed to be, but after 103 losses, it will be an improvement. And, frankly, tough love is making hard decisions and not necessarily telling people what they want to hear. By not kowtowing to the scorched earth crowd, Falvey and Levine have already taken a step in the right direction.