Front-office shakeups in pro sports usually inspire visions of ruthless makeovers. That especially holds true when new bosses arrive in the aftermath of a historically rotten season.
Blow it all up! Strip it down to the studs!
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine inherited a smoldering mess at 1 Twins Way and pushed pause. The new Twins brain trust didn’t blow up the roster, didn’t strip it to its studs, didn’t do anything considered bold, which was a surprising response to crisis.
Fans wanted blood following a 103-loss season. Many of us howled with disgust when owner Jim Pohlad mandated that the new regime keep manager Paul Molitor for at least one season after a “Total System Failure” debacle.
Hello, is anyone home?
Wholesale change might have produced desirable results, but this season has reinforced that patience also can be rewarded with unexpected success. The Twins enter the final week of their improbable season with a clear view of the American League’s second wild-card spot.
The Twins hold a comfortable lead over their pursuers, but comfort is a fleeting notion for a team that has had its obituary written at least a half-dozen times already this season.
Twins players can’t assume anything right now, not even with their cushion in the standings. They still have to work to finish.
This collection of players and staff has proved to be plucky, so any pressure they might feel — or should feel — probably doesn’t exist because they seem oblivious to external factors.
Whether by design or luck, the decision by Falvey and Levine to evaluate the roster with their own eyes rather than commence a massive overhaul has set up the organization for a bright future.
They wisely didn’t trade Ervin Santana for young assets. They resisted the urge to deal Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers, knowing they wouldn’t get fair compensation in return.
They showed faith in Jorge Polanco to prove that, defensively, he can handle being an everyday shortstop. They didn’t grow impatient with free-swinging Eddie Rosario and trade him out of frustration or with the idea that they had better options in the minors. They didn’t demote Byron Buxton when he started July batting .195.
Yes, Falvey and Levine appeared to wave a white flag in moving All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler and rental starter Jaime Garcia at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, decisions that showed they underestimated the resolve inside the clubhouse as much as many of us did.
Postseason or not, the organizational plan finally makes sense after years of waiting and wondering whether a youth movement would ever pay dividends.
Assuming Molitor returns as manager — which should be a given if the Twins indeed secure a wild-card berth — he can write down his lineup for 2018 Opening Day in ink right now.
There will be no questions about his everyday lineup, which should rank among MLB’s best in terms of offense and defense, provided they don’t experience mass regression statistically from what their young core produced this season.
Falvey and Levine should be judged more closely on how they bolster the pitching staff moving forward. Expectations will be exponentially higher, so they must act accordingly this offseason. They should view themselves in a different light now, as contenders.
The front office must find two starters — either from within their own system or outside the organization — to complement Santana and Jose Berrios. And they need to bolster their bullpen with flamethrowers who can induce strikeouts.
Funny how a season like this changes perspective. Constant losing makes fans irritable and tired of being told to exhibit patience. The cries to trade anyone with any value last offseason wasn’t an irrational overreaction. Losing 103 games sandblasts remaining hope.
But patience sometimes becomes an appropriate course. Doing so allowed Buxton to fix his hitting mechanics at the big-league level, Rosario to learn more plate discipline, Dozier to remain a leader on and off the field and Santana to anchor a rotation on a team that finds itself in prime position to earn a playoff berth.
Nobody predicted this outcome, likely not even Falvey and Levine. Thankfully they didn’t blow it all up before giving this thing a chance.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org