John Shipley: So what if Paul Molitor isn't Falvine's dream date?
MINNEAPOLIS — Paul Molitor should be given every opportunity to manage the Minnesota Twins next season and beyond. After nearly three seasons on the job, he has proven himself a good major league manager.
For the second time since succeeding Ron Gardehire in 2015, Molitor has a rebuilding club contending for a playoff spot with less than 20 games remaining, no mean feat even in the wild card era. Under his tutelage, young players such as Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario have become productive major leaguers, and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano burgeoning stars.
As important, Molitor's charges have rallied to play their best baseball of the season since the front office bailed on them by trading away their closer and a left-handed starter at the non-waiver deadline. Whatever one might think of the way Molitor makes out a lineup card or uses his bullpen, that's leadership that can't be questioned.
So, why are first-year Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine making Molitor play out the string on the last season of a three-year deal? Because he's not their guy and never will be; unless, one guesses, the Twins win the World Series this fall.
That's a difficult incongruity to rectify while watching the Twins put the hurt on the San Diego Padres the way they did on Tuesday night at Target Field, but nearly a season into the Reign of Falvine, it does make a sort of sense.
Falvey and Levine are young and gregarious, small college players whose major league career tracks started in baseball operations. Molitor is quiet and measured, a hall of fame player who waited until his late-50s to pursue a managing career with alacrity. Falvey and Levine are advanced stat acolytes learning to trust the old eye test; Molitor is an old eye-test man learning to trust advance stats.
Molitor has proven himself to be a good manager, but is he their manager? No, he's not. That doesn't mean it wouldn't work.
The fact is, owner Jim Pohlad put both sides in a bad situation when he committed to honoring the rest of Molitor's contract before hiring Terry Ryan's replacement last fall. Every new regime wants to bring in its own people, and Falvine already has started shifting personnel behind the scenes.
That won't work in this case.
Pohlad no doubt believed he was doing the right thing by standing with Molitor, and maybe he was. But it would have been awfully easy to cut bait after a 103-loss season and let the new guys do their thing. It also would have been easier had the Twins rolled over this season as many expected. Instead, Molitor orchestrated a remarkable turnaround, and the boy geniuses now have their biggest decision to make.
It became clear after the opening series of the season, a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, that the Twins were a much-improved unit. From the get-go, they made the plays they were supposed to make, hit the cutoff man and didn't overrun the bases the way they did in 2016. They also started to put together some professional at-bats. The guys who didn't were marginalized (see: Kennys Vargas) while the guys who did were given full-time jobs (see: Robbie Grossman).
It seems pretty clear that hitting coach James Rowson and pitching coach Neil Allen have done some good work this season, too, and it's always hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for a team's improvement. But I know this: If the Twins were lousy this season, it would be Molitor's fault.
Well, the Twins are not lousy, and it seems unfair to penalize Molitor because he isn't Falvine's dream date.