Analytics has a rap of lacking individual thought. The third time through the order penalty exists for pitchers, so we have to lift the starter even though he was cruising and had thrown only 80 pitches. The defense has shifted to cover only half the field but I’m a slugger so I shouldn’t bunt for a base hit. On and on, we’re told that teams and players are making decisions simply because numbers told them.
An extension of that is the idea that these people disregard what certain players and/or coaches have meant to their respective organizations. We just saw that recently when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine made the decision to fire Doug Mientkiewicz following the 2017 season. The former Twins first baseman had spent five years working at various minor league stops as manager until the front office relieved him of his duties. It didn’t take long for Mientkiewicz to find another job, following former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to Detroit as the skipper of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate.
Many Twins fans were upset with the firing. The expressive Mientkiewicz was perceived as a good leader due to his fiery nature. That argument was reinforced as he had a winning record every year of his managing career, including a 73-66 record this past season with Toledo. When Mientkiewicz had been passed over as Twins manager when Paul Molitor was hired, plenty of fans felt the organization had missed out and those cries grew louder when Mientkiewicz was pushed out by Falvey and Levine. Since we didn’t have all the facts on the decision-making process, it appeared that the front office was completely ignoring his success simply because he wasn’t one of “their guys.”
Fast forward to earlier this fall with the firing with Molitor. In my opinion, we probably shouldn’t have been as shocked with this as a new front office almost always brings in their own coaching staff to run the team. Falvey and Levine were given an unusual circumstance as they were required by the Pohlad family to keep Molitor for the final year of his contract. The new guys accepted (acquiesced?) and to everyone’s surprise, the Twins exceeded expectations while making it to the AL Wild Card game. While the original plan was likely to move on from Molitor at the end of the season, winning the AL Manager of the Year award threw a wrench into the gears and the Twins were almost forced to re-sign him to a new three-year contract. However, he was only given a one-year leash and after a disappointing 2018 season, he too was shown the door.
I feel that some fans look at Falvey and Levine and think of them as cruel, heartless businessmen, but the aftermath of hiring Rocco Baldelli paints a different picture. Before Baldelli was hired, current bench coach Derek Shelton was also under consideration. The 48-year old was hired out of the Blue Jays organization where he spent one year as a “quality control coach,” which entailed assisting then-hitting coach Brook Jacoby, involvement in advance scouting of opponents, and made recommendations to the coaching staff. Prior to that, he had experience as a manager in the Yankees minor league system and as a major league hitting coach for Cleveland and Tampa Bay. Reportedly a well-respected man by the players, he was under heavy consideration until Baldelli emerged as the winner.
The initial reaction was that it was business as usual with Falvey and Levine as we started learning of Shelton’s disappointment on losing out to Baldelli. Then, there was the possibility that Shelton would bolt when Texas came calling with their manager opening. However, after the Rangers ultimately settled on Dodgers third-base coach and former major leaguer Chris Woodward, Shelton announced that he would remain with the Twins organization for the 2019 season.
Though I don’t know how much risk there was in losing Shelton, it was a big announcement as Falvey and Levine looked at him as an integral part of next season’s coaching staff. In fact, they said they were looking at a partnership between him and Baldelli, similar to the one that Falvey and Levine have themselves while running the front office. This cooperative role was made possible by their handling of Shelton, with him mentioning to Dan Hayes of The Athletic, “I’m truly very appreciative of not only the process in Minnesota, but how (Falvey and Levine) supported me in the process in Texas. I don’t think you get that a lot of places. It speaks to the quality of people we have working with the Minnesota Twins.”
That sure seems antithetical to the current perception of the front office. Shelton specifically expressed his gratitude towards their encouragement despite his potential departure, which was a different result than the losses of Mientkiewicz, Molitor, and others such as former hitting coach Tom Brunansky, who was fired before he worked a single regular season game under the guidance of the new front office. Maybe it’s that the new guys are learning some people skills, or perhaps their supposed cold-hearted nature was overblown. Regardless, the front office left a positive impression on Shelton and thus were able to retain a coach that they felt is a valuable part of the organization. As this team looks forward to playing a competitive 2019 season, the hope is that Shelton’s expertise is key to getting the organization back on track next year.