When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired by the Minnesota Twins, they indicated that they were going to take a year to audit the team. They took the job knowing that Paul Molitor would remain as the manager, and that Joe Mauer was still under contract. They did not overhaul the organization, despite the fact that the 2015 team lost 100 games for the first time since 1982 — the Twins first year in the Metrodome.
On Tuesday Falvey and Levine fired Molitor, a Hall of Famer from St. Paul who spent his final playing years with the Twins. Later that day the team announced that they had fired the strength and conditioning coordinator, Perry Castellano, and his assistant, Erik Beiser, as well as seven minor league coaches or trainers. Mauer, who donned his catching gear for the first time since 2013 in the final game of the season, is likely to retire. Longtime veterans and clubhouse leaders Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar were traded at the deadline.
This is Falvey and Levine’s team now.
Baseball organizations are behemoths that require large personnel staffs to succeed. Not only are there multiple specialized coaches at the major league level, but also in the minor leagues — and, remember, in addition to Triple-A and Double-A, there are two levels of A-ball and three different rookie leagues. Then there is the scouting department, with advanced scouts and area scouts and cross-checkers.
Expecting Falvey and Levine to clean house immediately would be unreasonable, even though the Twins had not made the playoffs since 2010, the year Target Field opened, and had not won a playoff game since 2004 — Mauer’s rookie year. And the Twins’ 2017 season also complicated things. Minnesota went 85-77, qualifying them for an elimination game that they lost to the New York Yankees — the team that eliminated them in 2010 — and earning Molitor the Manager of the Year award and a three-year extension.
It was obvious that firing Molitor, who is still owed $3.5 million, was difficult for Falvey, 35, to break to a Twin Cities audience that has largely respected one of the best athletes ever to come from the state.
“When I got a chance to speak with Paul this morning, I can tell you it was one of the most difficult conversations certainly of my career and maybe of my life,” he said in his opening statement, adding that Molitor was gracious in receiving the news. “But today certainly was a difficult decision, a complex decision but something we feel is in the best long-term interests of this club right now.”
Falvey and Levine’s comments about their decision to move on from Molitor left the exact reason for his firing open for interpretation. “I would say a lot of factors go into these decisions every time,” he said. “Paul knows that.”
The couched language was likely out of respect to Molitor, who not only was a Hall of Fame player on the field, but also was open to analytics, the opener and other new-age baseball techniques that Falvey and Levine were brought in to implement.
Asked to clarify what, exactly, needed to be changed in the managerial role, Twins president Dave St. Peter said: “There’s a partnership that Derek Falvey talked about Day 1 he was hired with the Twins. He felt as though the relationship with Paul had evolved mightily, and there were other aspects of that partnership, that Derek felt maybe a change of voice was gonna be important to us to continue to maybe unlock the young talent across our organization.”
It’s not uncommon, however, for a new front office to want to choose their manager. “That’s not usual,” said St. Peter, “and obviously when Derek and Thad came on, they understood when they took this job that Paul Molitor was gonna manage our club. To Paul’s credit, it was new to him as well. That was an unusual circumstance.
“Paul worked hard, I know, to be open-minded to new leadership. And Derek said as much, people point to analytics, I can assure you that’s not the reason that decision was made.”
Falvey and Levine are not going to ostercise Molitor from the organization. “We’ve talked about the role in a substantive baseball operations role built around things in player development,” he said, “[and] the potential for him impacting us around big picture decisions.” But the key decision-makers will be hand-selected by the front office.
“That’s the way I look at it, I think the baseball people make baseball decisions,” said Twins owner Jim Pohlad when asked about the decision to replace Molitor. “Those come to me and to Dave in the form of a recommendation, and as I’ve said it’s my personal goal to accept that recommendation as long as it’s proven to me that those recommendations are well-thought out, and that was the case here.”
Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer were frequently present in the clubhouse as special assistants. Bert Blyleven, Roy Smalley and Jack Morris joined Dick Bremer on the broadcasts. Molitor and Mauer, if he retires, could join them as ex-players in advisory roles next year.
Who the next manager will be, however, is an open question.
“With regards to lists, one thing we’ve been consistent with ever since we have gotten these opportunities is that any time there’s a new leadership position we’ve been very thoughtful,” said Levine. “Point of fact — Derek hasn’t brought a single person over from Cleveland nor have I the Texas Rangers. In reality, the lion’s share of the people we’ve brought in were people we didn’t have a previous relationship with.”
But Falvey and Levine have to make the most of their first opportunity to run a team, and cannot be beholden to the Twins’ past. Minnesota has only had three managers since 1986, and Terry Ryan was the general manager from 1994 to 2007 and 2011-16. They came here to introduce new-age baseball to the Twins, improve the organization’s player development system and change a losing culture. And in order to do that, they are putting their own decision-makers in place at all levels of the organization.