There was no question in my mind that Paul Molitor was going to be back as Twins manager.
He deserved to come back because of the great improvement the Twins made in 2017. Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey also knew how badly Jim Pohlad wanted him back, so he wasn’t going to go against the wishes of the owner.
Now the big question is: Did the Twins do better because Molitor was a better manager in 2017 than in 2016, when they posted a franchise-worst 59-103 record?
“I think I’m kind of the same guy,” the Hall of Famer said. “I think [each] season you encounter presents different challenges. Last year obviously I continued to try to teach and be positive and be patient, but it’s hard to endure that kind of year.
“This year I had tremendous in-house, in-clubhouse leadership. I left them alone for the most part. Obviously I had to go out there a few times, but I think what plays in our game is consistent demeanor. Yes, there is going to be outbursts along the way, but when you play this many games, the guys that can handle the emotions and kind of stay relatively neutral for the most part, they’re going to have the chance to be the most effective in the long run.”
Molitor said that same approach is how the team was able to go from the devastation of 2016 to a 26-win turnaround in 2017. But in his mind he looks back to 2015, when the team was also in the running for the second wild card, and sees the birth of this season.
“I think from the outside you look at adding 26 wins and it’s a big jump in our game for that to happen,” Molitor said. “The way seasons can turn, positively and negatively, it’s sometimes maybe a smaller line than you think.
“I think the character of our team was a huge part of the fact that we were able to make a conscious effort from Day 1 of spring training that we were going to be a better team in the areas that mattered, particularly on the defensive side.”
One of the big additions that helped behind the scenes this season was hitting coach James Rowson, who was brought in after being the Yankees’ minor league hitting coordinator — where he helped develop standouts such as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez — to replace Tom Brunansky.
“When we opened up that role last year, we interviewed a few people,” Molitor said. “When James came in, it was obvious to me that he had a tremendous knowledge of hitting. I think that from Day 1 he was really committed to try to make each relationship with each guy personal. Collectively, I think you look at what we did offensively and the development of some of our young guys, and I give James a lot of credit for that.”
The Twins now need to replace fired pitching coach Neil Allen, too, and Molitor said he has a lot of trust in Falvey to help fill that role.
“We’ll talk in-house and [about] candidates that might be out there on the market,” Molitor said. “I’m confident we’re going to land someone that’s going to help us. Derek, we all know, has a very sharp mind and one of his strengths is [analyzing] pitching. We’re going to make sure that we go out and get someone that can fulfill that job and fulfill it effectively.”
The Twins have a young core of talent including Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Mex Kepler and Jorge Polanco. They also have some important veterans such as Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana. But there’s no question they aren’t on the same level of teams such as the Indians and Yankees.
So how do they improve?
“I’m not assuming that it just automatically continues to go forward,” Molitor said. “You start out Day 1 in spring training making sure these guys understand that a lot of work needs to be done. I think offensively we’re going to look for continued development. I think we all understand now the importance of catching the ball and protecting the ball. If we can just continue to find a way to pitch a little bit better, I think that will bode well for us to go to the next step, which we’re all hoping that we do.”
There have been questions about Sano being out of shape and if that prolonged his recovery from a stress reaction in his left shin. Molitor said he thinks the third baseman will come back better than ever.
“I think Miguel is still learning how to best give himself the chance to be the impact player we know he can be,” he said. “He’s promised me he’s going to do everything he can to come into spring training in the best shape he has ever been, and I have a lot of confidence he’ll do that.”
Smith grabs his goal
Vikings safety Harrison Smith recently told me he wanted to get his hands on more interceptions this year, after not getting any last season. He made one of the biggest of his career in the Vikings’ 20-17 victory over Chicago. With just over two minutes left in regulation, the Bears had the ball in a tie game when Smith picked off rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“I started covering [tight end Zach Miller],” Smith said. “He started breaking down a little bit. So I got my eyes on the quarterback.”
He said that before the game, the defensive backs only had tape on Trubisky from the preseason, but they did have some ideas on how to defend him.
“You can only watch the film that’s out there,” Smith said. “We did that and anticipated him on [bootlegs] and things like that.”
Smith’s fellow safety, Andrew Sendejo, said the Vikings aren’t surprised by those kind of plays from Smith.
“He makes big plays in clutch situations and has been doing it for a while,” Sendejo said. “Whenever Harry does something like that at the end of the game … you expect it out of him.”
Wiggins a no-brainer
Incredibly, there has been a lot of media talk about whether or not to give Andrew Wiggins a five-year, $148 million extension, which he signed with the Timberwolves on Wednesday.
This decision was a no-brainer. People can try to break down Wiggins’ play as much as they want, but the simple fact is the Wolves could not let a player of his caliber go. The potential for him to get even better is off the charts because of his youth, durability and athleticism.
Here’s a simple way to decide if they should have signed Wiggins: The players who have scored over 4,000 points by their age-21 season, which Wiggins played last year, goes as follows: LeBron James (6,307), Kevin Durant (5,967), Carmelo Anthony (5,405), Wiggins (4,995), Shaquille O’Neal (4,270), Kobe Bryant (4,240) and Tracy McGrady (4,187).
You always make this deal.