If there was ever a dividing line between the Twins ownership of Carl Pohlad, who ran the team from 1984 to 2009, and Jim Pohlad, who took over when his father died, it happened Thursday with the announcement of the hiring Rocco Baldelli as manager.
It was not easy for Jim Pohlad to agree to firing Paul Molitor, because he had such a close friendship with the Hall of Famer.
But it is clear that much like how Carl had total trust in Andy MacPhail and Terry Ryan when those two served as general manager, Jim has put that kind of faith in Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.
And in Baldelli, the 37-year-old former Tampa Bay coach and field coordinator, hired Thursday, Falvey and Levine have found the manager they believe will be able to implement their kind of analytics-driven baseball and produce results on the field.
Pohlad said that his front office kept him involved in the hiring process, especially when the choices were narrowed down.
“I didn’t interview every single person,” Pohlad said. “They had a big pool of candidates, they narrowed it down and I ended up talking to a handful.”
What impressed him about Baldelli?
“I think the person that he is — I didn’t evaluate him on his baseball acumen — he is our kind of person,” Pohlad said. “He is inquisitive, he wants to learn, he wants to develop and he wants to develop our players. I could relate to him. Not to say I couldn’t relate to the others, but I could relate to him as a human being, and that is really important to us.”
Tampa Bay model
Pohlad said that it’s no coincidence that the Rays keep producing managers. Two years ago, former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon guided the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908. The Rays replaced him with Kevin Cash, who guided the team to 90 victories in the tough AL East this season. And Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo was just hired as Blue Jays manager on Thursday.
“I’d like our organization to be like Tampa’s,” Pohlad said. “I like for people to want to take people from our organization because of the quality.”
Baldelli was the assistant to Andrew Friedman, who was the Tampa Bay general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations from 2005 until 2014, when he left to join the Dodgers. Since then, Los Angeles has made back-to-back World Series while winning the NL West every year.
A new commitment
The Twins posted a .550 winning percentage from 2002 to ’10, reaching the playoffs in six of nine seasons. But since then, the team has posted a .409 winning percentage from 2011 to 2018 and reached the postseason just once, losing in the wild-card game last year.
The Twins have only $24.5 million committed to three players on the 2019 roster and a number of big questions remain about how they fill out that group, including whether Joe Mauer returns and how arbitration hearings go with a number of their key young players such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler.
“It’s going to be a huge job,” Pohlad said of Baldelli’s first year. “His first year as a manager. We are committed to a long-term thing where we grow with him. It’s going to be interesting.
“Is he going to make every single call the right way on the field, from the bench, every game? Probably not. But you know, we understand that. He has a huge upside.”
Pohlad said that the question of whether or not next season is a rebuilding year, or one where the team looks toward the future, is no longer how he wants the organization to think.
“We always have to do that, I think that is clearly what is going on in baseball, building for the future, always,” he said. “But that does not mean sacrificing the present.”
The Twins’ attendance last season of 1,959,197 was their lowest in 13 years. Is he concerned about season tickets for the 2019 season?
“We didn’t have a good season [record-wise],” Pohlad said. “So season tickets will be tough. It has shown that way every time after a tough season.”
While this team now is clearly going in the direction that Falvey and Levine have set, they are also moving in the way that Pohlad wants.
He wanted to create a more modernized front office and baseball operations team, and that is clearly in place.
Pohlad said that he is happy with the way the organization is taking shape, even if it was tough changing managers.
“I’m very happy. I want to build an organization that people want to come and take people away from us,” he said. “That is a great compliment. That is what our goal is, besides winning baseball games.”
A difficult process
Twins President Dave St. Peter said that when it came to interviewing candidates for the job, he thought Falvey and Levine brought together a great group of candidates.
“Incredibly difficult [decision],” St. Peter said. “I have an incredible amount of respect for [Twins bench coach] Derek Shelton. He has been an unbelievable asset for the Twins since he joined us a year ago. I got to know [Chicago bench coach] Brandon Hyde, who came from the Cubs organization, and Brandon was all class and had a clear vision. I think he is going to be a big league manager some day, as will Derek Shelton.
“We just thought Rocco brought the entire package, his experience, the journey he has been on and how it fits for the Twins and how it can relate to our young core group of players. We thought it was the right decision.”
Does St. Peter, who has been in his role with the franchise since 2002, think the Twins front office has put their necks on the line with these hires?
“History is going to show long-term how successful we will be but we believe in Rocco and clearly we believe in Derek Falvey and Thad Levine,” he said. “We all need to be accountable for wins and losses but we have a long-term vision here to have a perennial contending team and I think today’s announcement is a step in that direction.”
And while St. Peter has concerns about season-ticket sales for next season, he said it’s not on Baldelli to change that.
“Our job is to put our players in the best possible position to bounce back and have a winning 2019 season,” he said. “If we do that, the ticket sales will be right where they need to be.”
Yes, next season will really feel like a new direction for the Twins franchise, but the only thing that matters is if that direction leads to wins.