Pohlad has Molitor's back as manager
MINNEAPOLIS--With his team in a tailspin and the franchise looking for its next front-office leader, Twins manager Paul Molitor has a guarantee from the only voice that matters, principal owner Jim Pohlad.
MINNEAPOLIS-With his team in a tailspin and the franchise looking for its next front-office leader, Twins manager Paul Molitor has a guarantee from the only voice that matters, principal owner Jim Pohlad.
In a letter sent to season-ticket holders last week, Pohlad reaffirmed his commitment to the St. Paul hall of famer, who kept the team in the playoff race through this time last year but has something of a dumpster fire on his hands this year.
After a 7-1 loss to American League Central-leading Cleveland on Sunday, the Twins are 53-90 and 30 1/2 games out of first place with just under three weeks to play. Already this season, longtime general manager Terry Ryan has been relieved of his duties, and Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter are shopping not just for a new leader of baseball operations but perhaps a new way of doing things.
Molitor might know he has a job next season, but that's about all he knows. The Twins have some young talent to build around, players such as Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton, but their pitching is the worst in baseball. And after amassing at least 90 losses in five of the past six seasons - and making the playoffs only once since Target Field opened for the 2010 season - well, as Molitor put it, "I don't know who you'd say is going to be a lock" to make the team next spring.
With that in mind, and the Twins staring down their first 100-loss season since the 1982 team lost 102, the Pioneer Press sat down with Molitor on Saturday for some shop talk. Molitor, 60, spoke on a wide range of subjects, from the organization's success teaching prospects to why he is still focused on winning games this season.
Pioneer Press: With the backing of Jim Pohlad, do you know in your heart, yeah, I'll be here next year?
Paul Molitor: In talking to Jim (Pohlad) post-Terry, and Dave (St. Peter) somewhat, the affirmation has been a good thing, and I'm sure it's something that a lot of people can have various opinions about, (whether) that's the proper way to go. I don't think about that. I think about that they asked me to come back and keep my job, and I plan on doing that. There will be a period of transition here that I'm trying to prepare for, in terms of, first and foremost, finishing the year, and then knowing that there's going to be some time that has to be spent with whoever comes in, and hopefully we'll begin to build a relationship.
PP: When you were hired, there was a sense among some that you weren't entirely sure you wanted to manage ... but you seem to enjoy this job.
PM: I do. It's the most challenging job other than playing. There are a lot of things that this job encompasses that are very enjoyable - the day-to-day competition; trying to discern some wisdom about when to address players, collective or individually; messages that you try to send. We all know this is about trying to get the most out of a group of men, but there are a lot of things that come with it that makes it a little more challenging.
I have enjoyed it. I think the impression that you might have had, about maybe a lukewarmness of my desire was more, a lot of times, circumstantial. And this time, I was a little bit unprepared that it was actually, potentially going to happen. I kind of almost had resigned myself that my day had passed in terms of getting this opportunity. But it took some time to sort out, with both my wife and myself, about what the job would entail, the commitment, and we kind of concurred that this was kind of meant to be.
PP: You're a happy person? You're happy with your job?
PM: Yeah. I am happy, sure. I'm fairly at peace in terms of however long ... I came in and said my goal is to win, that I plan to win, and I still feel that. We've obviously taken a step or two or 10 back here. It's not overly shocking to me that that could happen. But I enjoy this. There's a sacrifice in your personal life and all those types of things, but I knew that coming in.
PP: This is largely the same team as last year. What was the biggest difference? Have you thought much about that?
PM: Maybe in the totality of everything. I think at different chapters of the year, you kind of reflect. Obviously, when we started 0-9, that in itself caused me to look at what we had done, and why was I a little bit blind-sided by that? But if you break it down game to game, it was small things that when they started rolling the wrong way, we couldn't stop it. ... Last year, (young) guys came up and we had a little bit of trending toward an enjoyable season; they fit in a lot better than they do when they have to face adversity right out of the start where things are more magnified. ...
I've tried to remember what my job is day to day, not get too engulfed in the fact that we're approaching a hundred losses, potentially. It's not going to feel good if and when that happens; it already doesn't feel good. Like I said, earlier, it's going to be a very high number. I haven't thought a lot about, at least not in detail, about fixes, potentially, even in the short term, where we can build more than just through next year. But hopefully I'm going to have a little input in things we need to address, in terms of what I need to do as a manager and how I prepare in spring; the personnel aspect, I don't expect to have a lot of say about trades and free agents. I might get asked my opinion and things like that, but, again, that's part of the uncertainty."
PP: It has to be difficult because you just don't know what's going to happen. You have a lot of players here, and with a lot of them, it's unclear whether they'll be here ...
PM: And my feelings go beyond the players because it's something that resonates from the high-end front office through scouting and development. There's a lot of people uncertain about how fast things might get shaken up.
One thing that we've learned through this early process of trying to find the right person is that you're getting outside opinions about our organization, and a lot of times, what we think and what we feel are (strictly) internal. People are coming in and probably telling us what they see from the outside, which potentially could be beneficial. My original point is that I think Dave is getting a lot of (candidates) who don't think this is a tear-down job as much as it is some type of re-tooling. And we probably have to comb through areas of what we do, including the major leagues, and maybe somehow change our plan to maximize what's available, whether it's in scouting or development or international, as well as maybe some things people might feel I can do differently in how I go about trying to draw this stuff out from my players.
The whole sabremetrics aspect is something that I've at least tried to take into account. It has its value. Some people, some organizations, value it differently, or at least whatever thing you believe has impact and how you should take advantage of it.
PP: That seems like an outsider thing to me, sabremetrics ...
PM: Yeah, a little bit. I would say the majority of people that are highly vested in that as a high-value tool are people that haven't played as much. I think the people that have played are open-minded about it, but they still trust their own instincts.
PP: Have you felt like some of the kids that have come up through the system were not as ready as they should have been?
PM: That's a fair question. I know that question from both sides, because I was in player development for a long time, and I'd hear about what people up here had to say about players that we were sending them. I know it's not always a matter of them not being trained properly or unprepared; it's something about being here that you can't totally understand until you are here. Are there things that we can do better? Sure, pitchers, position players, situations. But I do know that our ability to see a bigger picture in a game-how we take at-bats, or how we pitch around players in certain situations-there are things that you hope some of these guys have learned to see would be a little bit better than is the case when they get here.
But I try to remember what it felt like to play up here at 21 years old. I have to tell you, I didn't know much about the game. Now, I didn't have a lot of major league experience, but the major league game I had to learn on the fly. The coaching had changed, a lot of different things. All I can tell you is I am not critical of what we do down there (in the minors). I think we can do better about making sure we're a little bit in sync in terms of myself and the major league staff and what we'd like to see in how we develop, maybe, in specific baseball areas.
PP: You talked about bunting today, and I always wonder, "Why don't they bench him? Why don't they fine him?" Are those days done?
PM: There have been rare repercussions for what people have done and not on the field in my short time here. For a guy who maybe should bunt more, I think it's better to force them to, through a sign or communication. For instance, you take aside your bunters before a game and you tell them, "This guy falls off to the third base side and he doesn't cover first, if you're gonna bunt, this is where you want to go ..." And then during the game, all the sudden they're leading off an inning and I say, "Now's the time, give it a shot." They'll try. Guys are a little bit more hesitant to give up at-bats these days to try to bunt. I can't explain that. It's a little bit of a lost art, as they say.
PP: It does seem to me ... the big picture is lost sometimes; that it's a little more individualized. I also know it's easy for people to watch a game and say, "Oh, he should have thrown to second" ...
PM: Well, you have some people that play recklessly, and they don't make good decisions because of the emotion of the game, and you have people on the converse side that are so afraid to make a mistake that they freeze, a deer in the headlights, to make sure they don't make a mistake. You try to bring those guys that are a little bit fearful along, and you try to tone down the guys that seem to be (laughs) have no feel of what that time of the game calls for. I mean, I can teach all the time I want in the minors about, you know, all the information that surrounds a circumstance in a game and try to get them prepared so that when the ball's put in play, they make a good decision. But it's a lot easier said than done for most of these guys. ... You can't create puppets, either.
PP: The other obvious answer is that it's all about pitching ...
PM: We haven't even started with that. You can debate whether our season trended the way it did because of pitching, because, like I said, out of the gate we held our own, and losing was about more than just pitching early-the slow starts, and some of the things we did late in games. But over the course of 140 games or so, if you look at where we are for pitching, and what we have struggled with, we're going to give up maybe 200 home runs, and I think we've already given up close to 800 runs, I believe ...
PP: Last I checked, opponents were hitting .288 against you ...
PM: It's an obvious case that that is our biggest area that needs fixing in terms of what we do on the baseball field. Offensively, it's been hot and cold, and there have been some guys that have had - you can break down our offensive players - but when you look at how we've competed overall, offensively we're in the mix. We've scored enough runs. We've had one player in particular that's been off the charts for about three months.
The position thing, yes there's a good chance we're going to have a lot of young guys again. How much this year will help the Sanos and Polancos and Rosarios, Keplers, Buxtons, it's a young core. A really young core. But I would say, if you want to ask me baseball, yes, pitching - pitching.
PP: Can you fix that in one offseason?
PM: Well, there's going to be a lot of discussion about whether we decide to go forward into spring with the same cast, which, it's not easy. You can't just wave a wand and say, 'OK, I want three guys who are upgrades.' It's at what price, and are you willing to be bold to do that? ... What's going to transpire, from everything in the rotation to trying to reassemble the bullpen is the immediate question. You can talk about a couple positions we have to solidify-catcher is sort of up in the air, and shortstop - but we have talented offensive players. I don't worry about that as much as I do pitching.
PP: What about in the system, guys like Kohl Stewart and (Stephen) Gonsalves?
PM: My feel is that these people are not knocking on the door, and they're not necessarily guys you would project to be high-end rotation guys, even when you imagine good health and good progress and good development. I don't want to talk too individually about minor league players, but you hear things that are, not really concerning, they're just, "OK, this guy's got a lot of work to do before he's gonna be close to being on the radar."
PP: Did you hear that about (Jose) Berrios?
PM: Terry (Ryan) ... he's a very good evaluator, we all know that. When he said Gibson wasn't ready, when everyone was clamoring for Gibson, and Gibson came up and Gibson wasn't ready. In Jose's case, it was similar. A young kid, he's got goals and visions and dreams, and he works and he works and he works. But he can't command that fastball. I can't tell you how many times he's told me that, and that's not going to fly up here. It's not gonna fly. And you hope that something clicks, and he goes down there and puts the pieces together, impressive starts, gets away with more and then we expect that to carry over for a 21-year-old kid. It's just ... As far as maturity, he's holding his own; he's doing all right. But to be able to do what he needs to do, for a guy to be in our mix, he's still got work to do. There's no locks here. I'm anxious to see how he pitches here over the next three weeks.
PP: When it's hard to look ahead, does it make sense not to look ahead?
PM: There's not a lot that I'd be seeing clearly even if I were to focus on looking ahead. So, here in the interim ... Look, I know people say, 'Just catch Murphy every day. Play Sano at third every day ...' It sounds good in theory. In practicality of trying to compete, and give my pitchers chances, the people that are here. ... It's not that you feel compelled to play everybody, but there's a lot that goes into those decisions. Like I said, if Sano plays 15 of the last 20 games at third base, how is that going to affect him going into next spring? I can't tell you.
But I get that people want to see those guys, and that games don't mean a lot, at least to the fans in terms of winning and losing. They want to just go ahead and ride it out and let 'em suffer through whatever you have to suffer through. It's not that easy for me to just do that. I try to have an idea of what the feeling is out there. I know guys want me to try to win games. At what cost do you want to either stay in the moment or look to next spring? The problem with next spring is there's not many givens. I don't know who you'd say is going to be a lock right now.
PP: But you do feel you have some good players?
PM: I think we do, offensively. We have some things we have to sort out positionally, but there's going to be enough there, I believe.