The Twins managerial search has ended with the selection of Rocco Baldelli — a young, bright, engaging former player who won over the young, bright, engaging minds who run the team’s baseball operations department.
But after winning the news conference on Thursday, it’s time for Baldelli to roll up his sleeves and see what he can do for a team with lots of issues. The 37-year-old has never managed at any level, so the Twins are running on faith.
Jake Odorizzi, who pitched for Tampa Bay for five seasons before being traded to the Twins in March, watched Baldelli grow as a member of the Rays front office before joining the coaching staff in 2015.
“Biggest thing is that his playing career wasn’t that long ago,” Odorizzi said. “So talking to him is like talking to a teammate. Matt Belisle [who is 38] is about his age and he was a teammate of ours. Having a teammate as your manager and the personal relationships he can establish with people is pretty remarkable. He’s very, very bright, and his people skills are off the charts. So he will establish good relationships with everyone, and everyone will play their hearts out for him.”
Baldelli put those skills to use Thursday. He will remain in the Twin Cities through the end of the weekend as he begins the get-to-know-you process.
Odorizzi was one player Baldelli spoke with on Thursday. Baldelli contacted Joe Mauer to remind him that he’s wanted if he decides play one more season. He also spoke with former Twins manager Tom Kelly, mindful of the history of the organization and recognizing how the Twins view their alumni.
The plan through the weekend was for Baldelli to contact more of his new players and introduce himself.
“I want to learn as much as I can about these guys, talk to people who have spent a lot of time around all of them, and also meet them and actually talk to them before I feel like I have any ability to help them,” Baldelli said Thursday. “Right now, I don’t have any answers. I can only say it’s a process and I’m very much looking forward to connecting with these guys and talking with them.”
One player will warrant more than a phone call — outfielder Byron Buxton. The young center fielder and his agents were not happy about his not being called up in September, with the specter of not gaining enough service time to reach free agency a year earlier looming over the situation.
Buxton did not return several messages left for him. Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey indicated on Thursday that Baldelli will fly to Atlanta during the offseason to meet with Buxton.
Baldelli also will contact Miguel Sano, who is working out in the Dominican Republic. After injuries and ineffectiveness marred his 2018 season, the Twins are closely monitoring Sano as he intends to be in top shape next season. Dominican scout Fred Guerrero will check in with him regularly to make sure he’s on the right path. Baldelli, undoubtedly, will remind Sano how important it is for him to be healthy in 2019.
Sano’s left knee, which he injured during a Sept. 4 slide in Houston, has healed.
“The leg is fine,” Falvey said. “He’s doing full workouts. He’s fully healthy.”
The top priority now is to settle on a coaching staff, and some changes are expected after a 78-win season. Baldelli might have some people in mind for roles, while the Twins might want him to consider other candidates.
Twins bench coach Derek Shelton spent 2010-16 as Tampa Bay’s hitting coach, so he knows Baldelli well and could stay even though he was a finalist for the managerial position. Garvin Alston just finished his first season as pitching coach. Hitting coach James Rowson, who completed his second season, was one of several managerial candidates brought in for interviews and also interviewed for the Angels vacancy.
The rest of the staff consisted of major league coach Jeff Pickler, first base coach Jeff Smith, third base coach Gene Glynn, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez.
“The construction of a staff is essential to a major league baseball team having success and creating environment and getting where we want to be,” Baldelli said on Thursday. “This is my first day. I’m sure this is something that is going to take a lot of time and energy, and this is where I want to put my energy right now.”
The front office has to complete contract negotiations with Baldelli and help him assemble a coaching staff before turning to other issues — such as preparing for an important offseason.
If you haven’t noticed, the World Series is underway. Which means the hot stove league is not far away. And the Twins, with less than $30 million committed in salaries for 2019 and with needs throughout their 25-man roster, need a plan of attack.
“The next step for us is to flesh out the rest of the coaching staff,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said, “but, simultaneously, we have people on our staff who we trust explicitly, who are putting together some target lists for us, so we can hit the ground running five days after the World Series.”