It wasn’t the 78-84 record, and it wasn’t missing the playoffs. It wasn’t implementing all the new analytics, and it wasn’t his knowledge of the game. It certainly wasn’t a personal conflict, because everyone involved testified at length about what a tremendous human being Paul Molitor is.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine on Tuesday fired Molitor, the manager whom they inherited when taking over the team two autumns ago, and in doing so, recited a list of factors they said played no part in their decision. Their actual reasons for replacing him after four seasons in the dugout, however, were considerably more vague.
“It was about where our club is for the present and the future. This wasn’t about our record this year,” said Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, in an afternoon news conference at Target Field. “We just feel a change in voice and potential style with some of these younger players could be of benefit to us.”
The “young” part might have been Falvey’s most telling hint. The Twins were counting on a handful of players in their early 20s to take big steps forward in 2018, and carry the franchise forward with them. But Byron Buxton broke down, Miguel Sano melted down, Max Kepler slowed down and even All-Star Jose Berrios wore down, not only ruining the team’s plans for a breakthrough season, but putting this long-awaited class of Twins prospects in jeopardy of washing out.
“The seasons that [Buxton and Sano] put together were not on the spectrum of things that we expected,” said Levine, the Twins’ general manager. “So we’re going to be very focused this offseason in doing whatever we can to put the best possible resources around those two guys, as well as some of our other young players. If these guys realize their potential in 2019, it’s a much different conversation about our competitive landscape.”
Speaking of competitive landscape, Falvey and Levine — who last October rewarded Molitor for his Manager of the Year performance with a three-year contract — will now embark on their first managerial search in Minnesota, and they won’t be the only ones looking. The Angels, Rangers and Blue Jays already have vacancies, and other teams are expected to make changes soon.
“We need to get started immediately to catch up,” Levine said. “At the same time, we won’t put a specific time frame on it. … I imagine it will take multiple weeks.”
That’s because the Twins’ leaders say they don’t have anyone in particular in mind, just informal lists that they will quickly begin to vet.
“This would be a very quick process if we had a specific person in mind. We do not,” Levine said. “We do have some qualities in mind,” though he left them mostly unstated.
Anyone assuming that his background with the Rangers or Falvey’s tenure with the Indians will dictate their choice is misguided, Levine added, pointing out that the Twins have not hired anyone from their former teams since their arrival. Current Twins employees will be considered, too — Falvey and Levine hired coaches Derek Shelton and Jeff Pickler in consultation with Molitor, making them potential choices — along with outside candidates, some of whom might be coaching in the postseason. Falvey himself was delayed in taking the Twins’ job in 2016 because of the Indians’ run to the World Series.
Decisions about next year’s coaching staff will wait so the new manager can have input, Falvey said, but Molitor’s coaches, some of whom have contracts for 2019, were granted permission to seek jobs elsewhere if they choose.
Falvey offered Molitor a job working with the Twins’ minor league prospects, probably similar to the roving role he held before joining Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff in 2014. Promoted by then-General Manager Terry Ryan to replace Gardenhire the following season, Molitor went 305-343 over four years, surviving a franchise-worst 59-103 record that cost Ryan his job in 2016 because owner Jim Pohlad guaranteed Molitor another year. The Twins earned a one-game playoff berth last year with an 85-77 season, but their hoped-for follow-up quickly fizzled last spring.
Molitor released a statement through the Twins that read, in part: “I was informed today that the Twins will seek a new manager for the 2019 season and I fully respect that decision. … I’m going to consider their genuine offer to serve in a different capacity to positively impact the Twins from a different role.”
Said Falvey: “Paul has an opportunity to impact a lot of different areas if he so chooses. Initially [it would be] in player development, some things he loves to do in terms of teaching young kids.” But should he accept, Falvey said, Molitor wouldn’t have any role with the major league team, at least for awhile.
Molitor’s job changed quite a bit with the arrival of Falvey and Levine, who implemented data-driven strategies designed to give the team an edge. The Twins utilized extreme defensive shifts on 28.4 percent of plate appearances in 2018, for instance, more frequently than any teams except Houston and Tampa Bay, and they experimented in September with having relief pitchers pitch the first inning, before the “starting” pitcher took over.
Pohlad could have prevented any managerial change once again, of course, but said he preferred that “the baseball people make baseball decisions.” So when Falvey and Levine presented him with their recommendation late last week, he gave the go-ahead. “I understand I have veto power,” said Pohlad, who attended the news conference.
The 62-year-old Molitor, a Hall of Fame player who grew up in St. Paul and attended the University of Minnesota, met with his bosses Tuesday morning, when Falvey informed him of the decision. Molitor also met with Pohlad and team President Dave St. Peter, then left the park quickly and rushed to his son’s elementary school, in order to insure that his son heard the news from him.
“I know that this job meant the world to Paul. He grew up a Twins fan, he had a chance to play for his hometown team, and the opportunity for him to manage his hometown team, I know he felt very privileged to have that,” St. Peter said. “I know he’s disappointed today, but his baseball legacy will live on forever here. I told Paul today, I expect we’re going to get back on track and win a lot of games in the future, and his fingerprints will be all over that. He’ll share in that because of his impact.”