Twins

With Hunter, Cuddyer and Hawkins, Falvey and Lavine Aim to Fix, Not Torch, Twins

Photo credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media

For those who were hoping that chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine were showing up to Target Field with dynamite and blow the Minnesota Twins up will be disappointed to see them holding calculators and looking at spreadsheets as they try to turn around what was once a model midsize market organization.

Explosions, after all, are much more exciting than audits, but hardly more effective for a team with their two young superstars (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano) having already played in the major leagues, as well as their top pitching prospect (Jose Berrios) and plenty of complimentary players (Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco). After enduring five losing seasons in six years, it’s no time for a rebuild — these guys have to produce a winning team soon. By bringing back three former players from the Twins’ heyday, Falvey and Levine have signaled that they aren’t afraid to seek advisors from the past as they try to get the Twins up to speed as quickly as possible.

“This is about as close to a no-brainer as it gets in this game,” Falvey told the Pioneer Press. “Talking with them it became so clear that these three guys wanted to embed themselves in our baseball culture and be a part of the solution and actively work. There’s really no area of baseball operations that they aren’t going to hit.”

Torii Hunter, 41, will emphasize organizational and the major league environment, spending time with the major league team and baseball operations decision making staff. Michael Cuddyer, 37, will help position player development by teaching an understanding of major league expectations, environment and culture. LaTroy Hawkins, 44, who last played for the Twins in 2003 and finished a 21-year major league career in 2015, will contribute to the development of organizational pitching philosophies used in the selection and development of players. All three will contribute to the amateur scouting process and be a resource for player acquisition, according to the team.

“We definitely bring a unique perspective because we all just finished playing,” Hawkins said. “We have a lot of respect from all of those guys in the clubhouse and up and down the minor-league system. That’s the uniqueness of our hiring because we have that relationship with those guys. They’ve seen us do the job. I think that resonates.”

Basically, Hunter is here to boost team morale, as he did two years ago, when he spent his final major league season with the Twins, Cuddyer returns to set a standard for how players conduct themselves in the major leagues, and Hawkins should help ensure that Minnesota’s current struggles to develop quality pitching don’t continue in the Falvey era. In truth, all should have been part of the Twins’ formula for longer than they were, and especially in the case of Hunter and Cuddyer, would have provided stability and leadership in a locker room that needed both qualities after everything fell apart in 2011.

It would be easier for Falvey and Levine to go scorched earth and completely clean house. It would gain immediate empathy from the torch and pitchfork crowd, often a loud minority among any losing team’s fan base, and potentially buy them time as they try to change what has become a losing culture on 1 Twins Way. They also would go unchallenged by players like Hunter, Cuddyer and Hawkins — as well as current special assistants Tom Kelly, Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Jack Morris — who represent the old guard who may occasionally offer resistance to Falvey and Levine’s progressive methods.

This may sound like the old “country club” again, but the idea of bringing back old players to set a tone for the franchise is far from unprecedented

This may sound like the old “country club” again, but the idea of bringing back old players to set a tone for the franchise is far from unprecedented for Minnesota’s two top executives. As Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reported in mid-November, Falvey worked with Travis Hafner, Tim Belcher, Travis Fryman and Carlos Baerga as a member of the Cleveland Indians front office, and Levine had a similar dynamic with the Texas Rangers, who brought back Michael Young, Darren Oliver and Ivan Rodriguez as special assistants.

“There’s a lot of (alumni) here who have had a lot of passion for the Minnesota Twins,” Levine said at his introductory news conference on Nov. 7. “They’ve been involved in different capacities. We aspire to get them more involved, recognizing that the skill set and the experience that they bring can really complement the experiences that Derek and I have had and really round us out.”

To use a puerile analogy, if the rest of the MLB has been the Road Runner — quicker, smarter and more clever than the Twins in recent years — Falvey and Levine are avoiding the folly of Wile E. Coyote. Namely, assuming that TNT will solve all their problems, because the result is often this, this or this. Catch the coyote in an honest moment, and he’d probably tell you he could have used a calculator and some spreadsheets; the Twins would tell you they never should have let Hunter and Cuddyer go in the first place.

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Photo credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media

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