LOS ANGELES – Jim Pohlad made retaining Paul Molitor as Twins’ manager in 2017 a condition of hiring Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to run the front office, and he’s glad he did. The team’s owner wants Molitor back in 2018, too — but this time, he’s not going to insist on it.
“I made the call last year, and that was in an unusual circumstance,” Pohlad said this week of the 60-year-old Molitor, now in his third season at the helm of the Twins. For next season, though, “it will be up to Derek and Thad. I know how much they value the relationship between them and the manager, and the engagement with the whole baseball staff. They are going to make the decision.”
They won’t make it until the end of the season, said Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, because he and Levine, the general manager, decided when they were hired last October to give virtually the entire baseball operation a year to prove itself to the new bosses.
“The Twins are a proud, historic franchise with a lot of people who are deeply connected to the organization,” Falvey said. “We didn’t want to make a lot of change at the outset and bring in a whole new staff. We set a new direction and vision, let people know what expectations were of them, and then let people do their jobs. And we’re learning a lot about people.”
That commitment, though, means Molitor will be a free agent at season’s end, just like Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia. His three-year contract, signed five weeks after Ron Gardenhire was fired at the end of the 2014 season, runs out this fall, and there has been no discussion, from either side, about extending it.
Molitor is open about his desire to return for a fourth season; he believes the Twins are just at the beginning of a resurgence fueled by young players, “and my enjoyment of the job, some of it is based on the performance of the team, but it also goes beyond winning and losing,” a reference to the pleasure he takes in helping rookies develop into steady major leaguers. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”
So does Pohlad. “I really am happy with the overall product,” the owner said of a Twins season that has mostly been spent, before a downturn over the past week, in contention for an AL Central title. “That includes what Paul has done, and what most of the individual players have done. Paul is a huge part of it. … If [Falvey and Levine] ask me after the season is over, I’m not afraid to give my opinion.”
“But,” Pohlad added with a laugh, “I would caution them against taking it.”
He didn’t give them a choice last fall, “and I believe it was the right decision to make,” Pohlad said. “I heard all of that stuff about how nobody would want to come here with that commitment, but it didn’t seem to be an issue.”
Molitor and Falvey both said their relationship has become stronger as they’ve gotten to know each other and conferred on daily decisions about the team. “The conversations going back and forth. We’re partners in this dialogue, and in each situation, it’s our first time going through it,” Falvey said. “Paul has kept open lines of communication, and I’ve been very appreciative of that.”
But he’s not ready to conduct any evaluations for 2018.
“We’ve talked internally about how we don’t like talking about contracts with players during the season, and that extends to our staff, too,” Falvey said. “We want guys focused on the field, and out of respect to Paul and the players, we’ll discuss that at a later date.”
That’s OK with Molitor, too. He’s 191-233 as Minnesota’s manager, a record tainted by last year’s 59-103 wreckage, and while he would be pleased to sign a contract extension, “I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. I don’t have time to give it much thought, as to whether they’re even thinking about that now,” Molitor said. “They have their reasons for not putting it on the table, and that’s fine. We’re more concentrated on finishing the season the best we can.”
Only one person seems to be getting impatient about his contract. “The only times I’ve thought about it is when my son [10-year-old Ben Molitor] has asked me. Ben is an avid baseball guy, and he’s curious,” Molitor said. “So he’s the only person I can think of that I’ve had any discussions about my contract.”