On the day that he fired his longtime General Manager Terry Ryan in 2016, Twins owner Jim Pohlad gave manager Paul Molitor the strongest vote of confidence possible.
Pohlad mandated that whomever the organization picked to run the baseball operation would be required to keep Molitor for the 2017 season, no questions asked. End of discussion.
Last week, Pohlad declined to offer a similar show of support to his manager when sharing his thoughts on this season’s debacle. Molitor’s fate, Pohlad told the Star Tribune, depends on the evaluation of his new brain trust, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.
“I have no idea what they are going to come with,” Pohlad said. “No matter if we win the World Series or have a disappointing season like this, they are going to come with recommendations. Some of those recommendations could be personnel changes, some could be methodology changes. I don’t know, but I look forward to that.”
Blaming Molitor for this mess by firing him would be the wrong recommendation, if that option is being discussed internally.
Oh, he would be an easy scapegoat, and cleaning house might appease an angry mob of fans who have grown weary of the organization’s plodding ways. But Falvey and Levine should first look in the mirror when assessing how the season went haywire before even Opening Day.
Molitor was recognized as AL Manager of the Year last season for his deft handling of a team that overachieved enough to reach the one-game, wild-card playoff. He didn’t become a bad manager or bad fit in one season that was ruined by a combination of uncontrollable circumstances and failed personnel acquisitions by his bosses.
Does Molitor deserve blame? Of course. Everyone does. Nobody is suggesting that Molitor is above criticism or accountability. But his name belongs way down the list of reasons why the Twins belly-flopped with a 78-84 record.
Was it his fault that Miguel Sano showed up to spring training out of shape at nearly 300 pounds? Or that staff ace Ervin Santana (finger surgery) and shortstop Jorge Polanco (drug suspension) missed the first half of the season? Or that the front office mostly whiffed on veteran pickups Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn, Addison Reed, Zach Duke and Jake Odorizzi? Or that Brian Dozier never found his typical hot streak before being traded?
So much went wrong simultaneously that the cumulative effect prevented a fair and accurate accounting of Molitor’s managerial chops. The whole season felt like an operation feverishly treading water to keep from drowning.
“There’s a lot of extenuating circumstances, but none of which were unique to the Twins,” Pohlad said in the interview last week. “They happen in baseball. We didn’t compensate. We are very unhappy with the results of this season.”
They should be, but replacing the manager won’t guarantee a quick fix. Their problems run deeper than that. It’s there in plain sight. The fact that the lineup and pitching staff have so many holes to plug this offseason speaks to broad personnel deficiencies.
Management changes in any sport often result in coaching changes. Front-office executives like to hire their own coach or manager. Change for change’s sake isn’t always the right answer, though.
Molitor has adapted his old-school mentality with new-age principles espoused by Falvey and Levine. He collaborates with their analytics department in setting his daily lineup. The Twins employed defensive shifts with the third-highest frequency in Major League Baseball this season, including the use of a four-man outfield in certain situations. And Molitor went along with a new trend of using one-inning “openers” to start games.
If there is any clash of personalities or philosophies, none has spilled into public view.
Beyond his baseball IQ, Molitor’s even-keeled temperament and positive approach in dealing with players strikes the right tone in managing the ups and downs of a 162-game season.
Molitor is expected to meet with the front office this week to discuss the future, potential changes to his staff and presumably his own job. Soul-searching is necessary whenever a team fails to the degree that the Twins put on display.
Molitor has two seasons left on his contract. He should be allowed to see if he can be part of the solution, not a scapegoat.