WARNE: Sorting Through the Post-Molitor Fallout

Photo credit: Brad Rempel, USA TODAY Sports

Your mileage may vary, but my general read on the situation surrounding the last few days at Target Field — as far as fans see it — is that the brain trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine coldly dismissed a hometown boy and Hall of Famer a mere 36-48 hours after one of the greatest feel-good moments at Target Field, a building that is nearly a decade old but has had precious few of those.

But the shades of gray beyond that are pretty grainy.

Ask someone what they think was Paul Molitor’s best attribute as a manager, and among fans you’ll get a bunch of blank stares. True enough, there weren’t this many people defending Molitor all season long when things weren’t going great as there are now, when he’s been shown the door.

Really, Molitor as a manager is a gray area. He carries a ton of credibility among his players because of who he was on the field — something he actually prefers not to bring much attention to in interviews — and there’s almost nothing he hasn’t seen good, bad or otherwise on a baseball field.

But again, fans who like him can’t point to anything specific that he excelled at as a manager. Almost all of them will say that 2018 was a disappointing season. The team finished 78-84, though it’s worth noting that this included a season-ending six-game winning streak — their longest of the season — when they played teams even less interested in competing this year than the Twins were.

Really, that could be traced back to mid-September; from that point, the Twins closed out the season 10-3. One of those wins came against playoff-bound Oakland; the other nine came against Detroit and Chicago, and came on the heels of a three-game sweep at the dreadful Royals.

At best it was an uneven season, and to say a move was necessary might be a reach, but to suggest things had gotten a bit stale around Target Field is certainly fair.

The roster will be hugely turned over this offseason, so the time was right to move on the manager too, I’d reckon.

And I say that as a huge fan of Molitor the human.

But the Opening Day lineup looked like this:

  1. Brian Dozier
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Miguel Sano
  4. Eddie Rosario
  5. Logan Morrison
  6. Eduardo Escobar
  7. Max Kepler
  8. Byron Buxton
  9. Jason Castro

    Starter – Jake Odorizzi

Kepler is the only player in the Opening Day lineup who was still playing regularly when the season ended, and the pitcher who otherwise would have started that day — Ervin Santana — is headed for a winter of considerable uncertainty after the Twins go through the formality of declining his option.

At the end of the day, if you weren’t OK with Molitor winning games at a .481 clip in 2018, how were you OK with him winning games at a .471 clip over the past four years?

With that in mind, I went to Twitter to see what people had to say. Wouldn’t you know it, they had a lot of opinions!

So I decided to try something different. Everyone who asked a question or made a statement in good faith was going to get their due, and from this point on, I’ll address each point made as how I see it, regarding how the Twins handled this and how they’ll move forward.

Let’s go:

I think this is a good point. How many steps forward has this team taken at the big-league level in the last four years? A few, for sure — including playing in last year’s Wild Card game — but were most of them negated by steps taken backward? It sure feels like it.

I don’t really think age gap meant too much here, but the only people who’d truly know this are the ones in charge of making the decision(s). At the end of the day, I just think things were getting stale around Target Field, and this was the easiest way to pull off the band-aid, PR hit or otherwise.

He’s a wonderful man and has two young children at home that I can’t help but think he’ll be delighted to spend more time with. It’s worth wondering how long he was going to want to keep doing this. My guess? No longer than the three-year deal he was on.

Loyalty is a scary word in sports. It’s used to hold grudges against players taking care of their personal finances and their families, and it’s used by players against teams when they’re cut or traded as well.

At the end of the day, a roster and team has to be a fluid situation — talent always needs to be infused or else you get the 2011 Twins — and I think the field staff is a part of that equation.

Probably more true than false. For all the grumbling you see on social media, it’s hard to believe these guys really didn’t gut it to the studs — or anything even close to it — when they took over.

Rob Antony stuck around, though I admit I haven’t seen him at the ballpark in a while now. Jack Goin stayed for a bit too before leaving for the Diamondbacks. They cycled through people, but my perception was that they definitely wanted to see if any of the existing talent could be a fit.

Considering how cutthroat these jobs can be in the business, that feels about as caring and kind as a power structure can be, all things considered.

Having to fill Terry Ryan’s shoes, in that respect, is a tall task too.

I hear this a lot, and I don’t necessarily disagree with it. But if you felt he overused Addison Reed, Ryan Pressly and Trevor Hildenberger — especially early — I’d posit that he was trying to salvage a season that wasn’t entirely done. At least not yet. 

And with that said, I feel like Molitor eased off the throttle as the season went on. Hildenberger threw 73 innings, which isn’t an insane number. According to Fangraphs, 22 relievers threw 73 or more innings this season. Some really, really good ones — Josh Hader, Blake Treinen, Craig Stammen and Jeremy Jeffress — are on that list.

So while I think the bullpen management could have been better, it all sorted itself out in the end. Managing a bullpen is far from easy.

Few people deserve this, and Molitor isn’t one of them. But at the end of the day, pro sports rarely come down to what is or isn’t fair.

I think Molitor handled 2018 pretty well, all things considered. Very little of the coaching staff was “his” but he adapted on the fly to the front office’s whims, I thought.

He seemed to willingly embrace that, however. And I think that’s something we shouldn’t lose sight of; a man who had roughly 40 years in the game still deferred to the numbers when it came to trying new things. Have you listened to television broadcasts lately? Players from that era who are now broadcasting are notoriously grumpy about that sort of thing.

I kind of touched on that a few questions ago, but I will say that his usage — or lack thereof — of Taylor Rogers early was strange. But I think Rogers was clearly behind Zach Duke on the totem pole to start the season — mostly since Duke had previously shown the ability to get out lefties and righties — and I also think his numbers reflected that sporadic usage. He really finished the season with a flourish, however.

Based on the indications we were given, he found out the morning of the press conference. He was classy as ever, and said he understood the decision.

As of right now it’s unclear which coaches will remain, but the writing seems to be on the wall that the core four hired by Falvey and Levine — Rowson, Pickler, Alston and Shelton — will remain, if not one of them being promoted to the actual job of manager.

Gene Glynn and Eddie Guardado are wonderful coaches and humans, but it’s unclear if they’ll want to return at this point. Jeff Smith was hired by this regime to his current position, but has been in the organization a very long time, including even playing in the system from 1996-2002.

Agree that it’s the right move to try keep him on, but recent reports suggest he’s not certain — or maybe not even likely — to accept the offer, so we’ll see.

I think a lot of the tactical things that people didn’t like in the early years of Molitor were cleaned up in 2018, even though the team didn’t win.

For what it’s worth, the Twins averaged the ninth-fewest bunts per game in baseball this past year.

Yeah, I buy into this theory. Someone asked me why the Twins didn’t just give Molitor a two-year deal, and I think it makes sense that he asked for three years and they didn’t want to let him walk over years when the money was so reasonable.

If Molitor walked after leading the team to the playoffs, the PR hit would have been markedly worse after the season, and even more so if this year had gone this poorly under a new leader.

The injuries and Polanco suspension, especially. I never got the sense that he wasn’t on board with the coaching staff, though. I mean he too had the opportunity to walk away with no hard feelings a year ago when they told him he’d be working with new people, and he didn’t put up much of a fight.

Maybe not high on the list, but how these things are addressed is rarely linear or correlated to importance. You can’t expect to sign free agents without a manager in place.

It’s just like if the Twins sign a utility infielder first this offseason, and wait on pitching or catching until later. Fans will still complain about the order of operations, when it really means nothing at all.

Stolen base numbers don’t matter much in a vacuum unless they’re presented with further evidence. Stealing a bunch of bases inefficiently — or less than a say, 70 percent success rate — doesn’t move the needle either.

Defense? As in fielding percentage? That won’t tell you much either. I’m not saying the Twins were good defensively, but the players have to make the plays.

Yeah, I mean if you want to look at the last four years and try to ask yourself how far the Twins have moved forward, I think you could fairly assess that it isn’t too far.

This team was a failure in that they assembled talent, but it was never all put together at the right time. Polanco-Santana-Sano-Buxton were never on the field all at the same time, LoMo and Dozier had rough seasons and frankly they just didn’t do enough damage against the also-rans of the division, which was literally everyone other than Cleveland.

I never heard this story. I’m not sure if it’s totally accurate, because I think there are a few holdovers from back then, but if that was the case that too is a brutal part of the business.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it, though. Energy and enthusiasm isn’t always an outward thing. Molitor seems to come from the Mauer school of leadership — or rather, vice versa? — and you won’t find a single player who says Joe wasn’t a good leader.

Molitor is fiery as hell underneath, I’m confident.

Probably not unfair, though I do think everyone was committed to making it work when Jim Pohlad said they couldn’t let Molitor go right away when they were hired.

Molitor doesn’t strike me as a particularly difficult person to work with.

Totally reasonable assertion. Your mileage may vary, but having him not be at the presser — like Gardenhire was when he left — shows some of that respect. With a resume like his, Molitor will land on his feet wherever he winds up.

Ah yes, this is one of the places I saw where someone was wondering why he wasn’t offered two years instead of three. See above, but also it isn’t a bad question. Gardenhire only ever signed two year deals — I believe there were seven of them — but if Molitor drew a line in the sand and said three, it really wasn’t worth rocking the boat.

And if you’re Molitor, you want that added security/money because of the situation we’ve all seen happen now.

Completely true. Also accurate for the front office. And at the end of the day, it’s easier to fire one of those two.

Now with that said, could it lead to added player movement? That’s going to be an interesting storyline this offseason.

We’ve seen a lot about bullpen management, but I’ve touched on that and I think it got better as the season went on.

As for the walk-off losses, again I think that kind of falls on the players. It really fell on a string of bad luck, and playing some games that were close than really anything Molitor did.

At least that’s my diagnosis of the situation.

Not an unreasonable stance. And four years is quite a while for any manager — good, bad, otherwise — to keep their job.

Bingo. Certainly part of the shock could be related to how long Gardenhire kept his job when the team was losing 90-plus games per season, but that’s part of the exponentially-growing discontent with this team from the fan’s perspective.

I also think that’s fair. I think you give them two years with everything lined up, a farm system that boasts two fringe top-10 talents — Alex Kirilloff moved way up in the last ratings — some young big-league talent and ample financial resources with money coming off the books. If it doesn’t happen in the next two years, they probably start looking elsewhere.

Molitor and Gibson are A+++ people. None of that should be forgotten.

Not much more to say that hasn’t been said already, but getting their own manager in with his entire coaching staff makes it go time.

Consequently, how do people feel about Pohlad not letting them consider dumping Molitor two winters ago?

I think Rowson is in the mix, but he’s behind Shelton and Pickler internally.

Now with that said, it makes a lot of sense to hire one of those three guys as manager and fill their position from the outside, rather than hiring an outside manager who you tell has to be OK with the existing coaching staff, doesn’t it?

Maybe I’m wrong.

Agreed. I think Sandy Alomar Jr. makes a lot of sense for multiple reasons, but there are a lot of people to choose from and I don’t think it’s going to be anyone who is a retread, necessarily.

At least not in the sense of someone who is a household name like Dusty Baker or Joe Girardi. Those guys aren’t going to want to come into a pre-made coaching staff.

And this can apply in a couple ways. At the level I’m in the clubhouse, I can only see a very small percent of things that players see and know each day.

I know the players liked and respected Molitor — it was impossible not to — but that doesn’t always equate to wins.

Exactly. It’s possible to do a fine job but not have much to show for it, and that Molitor’s legacy as a manager is lukewarm is probably pretty telling.

I think that’s where I’m most conflicted about his time as a manager. It’s not that he did anything poorly or tremendously — it was just middle of the road. And as a result, his winning percentage just below .500 is a bit of a step up from where the team was at the end of the Gardenhire tenure, but still not where it needs to be some three or so years into the Buxton/Sano era.

Initially I thought fairly good — staying near home, raising his kids and traveling to affiliates when needed — but for now that appears to not be the case.

If he does take the role, it’d be in player development, which is what he was doing before he took the job on Gardenhire’s staff.

Not much to add to that. It doesn’t add any logs to the “Ted Williams couldn’t manage” fire, but it didn’t snuff it out completely either.

Very little, but if the goal is to find one person to place the blame on, there really isn’t just one. At the end of the offseason, you may well find that a lot of people take the blame — as in players not coming back, etc.

Right now all we have is a snapshot, and we haven’t even gone into the dark room yet.

I really like this perspective. Hi Dave! (His sister is married to my brother in law)

Wrote about this last week. No better time than to bring in a veteran on a long-term deal to help create/foster whatever identity the team wants.

I think it’s going to be completely new, too. But if they hire one of the guys on the current coaching staff, I still think that qualifies as “new” since they don’t have Twins backgrounds beyond the last year or two.

I don’t know how fair that is. Eddie Rosario developed into a great player on Molitor’s watch. Brian Dozier went to the next level. Jose Berrios turned into a stud as well. These things are complicated.

I don’t know that we know this for sure, but it sure seems likely, doesn’t it?

I can’t say that either of the two are completely untrue, but to call it a PR hire seems a bit harsh. He very clearly has a brain for the game beyond just what he did on the field.

I think he did a really good job with his role and using the data and ideas presented to him. The bunt stuff was way less prevalent this season, and the Twins were among the teams to not only use the shift the most, but do so effectively.

He should be commended for that.

I think if it was the case, they’d have fired him last year regardless of results.

I don’t follow this line of thinking. Who do you think signed those guys?

One thing I’d like to know — but suspect no one ever actually will — is when they decided to go in this direction?

Because I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t in the month of September, if you know what I mean.

Boom. I don’t think he was egregiously good or bad. Again, this is the kind of fluctuation that can be experienced in baseball with young players, bad luck and some bad decision-making as far as players are concerned.

I still wager that this year went beyond the realm of what should have been expected. Individually, Sano/Polanco/Buxton/Santana’s situations could have derailed a good team.

To have them all? Brutal.

Agreed that he didn’t deserve it, but in jobs like this, fairness is rarely achieved.

Not sure I follow here. There was never really a consensus to who the best arm in the bullpen was this year, and I felt like Molitor rolled with that fairly well.

Also: you can’t win the game in the sixth or seventh, but you can definitely lose it. I like a manager who isn’t going to just stick to innings/roles that way.

Trying to retain him is the right move, but if he’s not interested there isn’t much they can do. Offering the role, however, was the right thing to do. It’s easy to see why he didn’t accept it right away. It’s a delicate situation, but that’s why you hire front office people — to make difficult decisions like this.

Whew. I don’t think we left any stone unturned here. If you have any comments to add, feel free to shoot them my way on Twitter @Brandon_Warne.

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