Derek Falvey has such unfettered authority to change anything and everything about the Twins baseball operations, owner Jim Pohlad didn’t even meet Thad Levine, the team’s new general manager and Falvey’s second-in-command, until he arrived in Minneapolis to begin earning a paycheck on Sunday.
But for all the sweeping freedom that Pohlad has granted Falvey, one decision is out of his hands: Paul Molitor, the owner decreed in June, will manage the Twins in 2017.
And for that, the new baseball bosses insisted Monday, they are entirely grateful.
“The healthiest franchises in the game have strong synergies between ownership, front office, business and the clubhouse. So when we walk in the door having inherited a manager the caliber of Paul Molitor, we feel as if we’ve got a partner in this process, someone we can invest in the future with,” Levine said Monday as he and Falvey took over the franchise. “So we viewed it as a significant and prominent positive.”
Sure, they have to say that; after all, like a lucky contestant on “Survivor,” Molitor has that immunity idol tucked away in his jersey. But both sides swore that this shotgun wedding is one they would have entered into willingly.
Molitor is “an incredibly accomplished baseball man,” Falvey told Twins employees Monday morning in an introductory meeting. Pohlad’s commitment to the Hall of Fame player, who led the team to 83 victories in 2015 before suffering through a 59-103 disaster last season, “was a non-issue for me,” Falvey said. “Paul’s going to be one of the first phone calls we make when we decide whether or not to make a trade. We’re in this together.”
Molitor sounded energized by that partnership, and by the prospect that the new leadership might be able to make some changes that make his job easier. Providing him with more quality pitchers would be a good start, for instance, but Molitor also would like Falvey and his staff to institute a system that better instills fundamentals into minor league prospects.
“There’s probably a little bit too much uncomfortable gappage between up here and down there, with pitching and baserunning and defense,” Molitor said. “There’s still separation. We’ve got to find ways to bridge that better, so [instruction is] more unified.”
At 60, Molitor is 27 years older than his new 33-year-old boss, but he doesn’t see that as a problem. Quite the opposite.
“I kind of enjoy the youthful exuberance he brings, along with the very high level of intellect. That’s pretty apparent from both of those guys,” Molitor said.
Invoking the Indians organization, where Falvey worked until last week, he asked, “How old is Terry Francona? [The Cleveland manager is 57.] It’s just a number, in terms of working together.”
Still, Molitor has heard stories from a few of his fellow managers about meddlesome executives, about know-it-alls who want to micromanage the dugout from the general manager’s suite.
“The manager posts the lineup, and two minutes later gets a call from above. ‘What are you doing?’ ” Molitor recounted. “Derek has made it clear he wants my role to be very inclusive. The manager is not a puppet for him by any means.”
Falvey has heard those stories, and understands that some fans and uniformed staff, resentful of the presence of executives who incorporate data and analytics into their decisions, believe the stereotype of the interfering GM. But he wants a true partnership with his manager.
“Paul is the leader of that major league team. He has the responsibility to write out that lineup card and determine who plays every night,” Falvey said. “What I would ask, and he and I have talked about this openly, [is for] every decision we make, let’s do it together. Let’s be collective about it. Let’s talk about ideas, let’s be open-minded.
‘‘… We’ve got a chance to move this organization in the right direction, and I have every expectation that Paul and I will have that open communication at all times.”