The easiest jobs in sports are backup quarterback and baseball boss of a “rebuilding” franchise.
At least until the starting quarterback gets hurt, or the team you’re supposedly rebuilding starts winning.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had it easy when they arrived in Minnesota. They had tremendous young position players but faced low expectations. They were tasked with slowly building pitching throughout the organization.
That long view came into play at the trading deadline, when they dealt closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia for young pitchers. Then something unexpected happened. The Twins began winning despite the best efforts of the front office.
Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco performed as if they belonged in the same sentence as super prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. Paul Molitor deftly handled a shallow bullpen, and the Twins earned the second AL wild-card berth.
Suddenly, Falvey and Levine are forced to win rather than taking years to painstakingly rebuild. They no longer have the luxury of time. Here’s how they need to operate under their new reality:
1. Rehire Molitor. He is a quality manager and an ideal fit. If Falvey and Levine don’t re-sign him, they will be proving themselves inflexible and tone deaf.
2. Don’t trade a position player unless you can land a top-line starter. If you couldn’t get proper value for Brian Dozier after he hit 42 home runs, you’re not going to receive proper value for any of your position players, who displayed chemistry as well as talent this season and should be given the opportunity to grow together.
3. Confront Sano. My information is that he remains about 290 pounds. My sources say his weight complicated his recovery from the leg injury that cost him a spot on the playoff roster and could jeopardize his future at third base. The Twins need Sano at third base for at least one more year, while Joe Mauer finishes his contract. Sano will need to refine his diet to optimize his career.
4. Re-sign Kintzler. He might not be a prototypical closer, but neither was Eddie Guardado, and he produced 187 big-league saves.
5. Spend money. Free agency is often a mistake and usually a trap. But Falvey and Levine have the scaffolding of a contending team, not enough pitching, and few pitching prospects who are likely to make a difference as early as 2018. This is where the Pohlad money can help. Sign one or two starters and a closer and the Twins can contend again.
6. Don’t be fooled. The Twins ranked 19th in baseball in team ERA (4.59). No other team ranked lower than 11th made the postseason. Winning 85 games with unsettled and often mediocre pitching is a minor miracle. Miracles are fun but not always repeatable.
7. Buy Buxton self-defense lessons. He is a great outfielder and could be a great all-around player, but only if he survives. He frequently has injured himself while diving or ramming outfield walls. He’s too valuable to risk his ribs on a daily basis. He might have to curb his enthusiasm for contact to stay on the field.
8. Give the coaches a raise. The Twins became an excellent base-running team this season, took quality at-bats, and found success with young relievers who were not considered top prospects contributing down the stretch. That speaks to organizational as well as big-league coaching.
9. Don’t make any more Mientkiewicz moves. The handling of the firing of Class A manager Doug Mientkiewicz caused a lot of key former Twins, some of whom work in the organization, to question the front office’s personal skills. Dismissing Molitor would cement that negative perception.
10. Invest in Spanish lessons. Rosario, Polanco and Eduardo Escobar led by example and might have been recognized for vocal leadership if more of us knew Spanish. The Twins employ an excellent translator but might want to consider doing even more to promote their Latin Americans. Remember the “Get To Know ’Em” ad campaign? Pop that into Google Translate and celebrate the region that provided the heart of the team.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org