Paul Molitor Hired as new Manager of the Minnesota Twins

Can “The Ignitor” light a fire under this franchise and turn it into a winner?

Paul Molitor was named the new Manager of the Minnesota Twins yesterday. He signed a 3-year deal and will be introduced at a press conference today at 10am that will air live on MLB.com and TwinsBaseball.com.

It took Terry Ryan and the front office about a month to hire the man thought to be the top candidate for the job even before Ron Gardenhire was fired. The Twins did their due diligence in looking inside and outside the organization for candidates to fill the job making sure there wasn’t a better man for the job. In the end, Paul Molitor was the man they wanted to take control of this team for the next three seasons.

The naysayers will ask many questions about this hiring. Is Paul Molitor the best person for the job? Should they have hired someone from outside the organization? Should he have some prior managerial experience? Is being a part of the so-called “Twins Way” a bad thing? Can he change Twins baseball back to a winning culture?

Is Paul Molitor the best/right person for the job?
Paul Molitor is a Hall of Famer who played for 21 seasons and has been around baseball for more than 40 years so I can’t imagine anything will come up that he won’t have already seen or dealt with. He’s already been an instructor with a lot of the players in the Twins system and on the current roster yet he will still be a new voice in the locker room. As a HOFer, he will have instant respect from every player that is currently in and/or comes into the Twins system and to the major league roster.

Should the Twins have hired someone from outside the organization, with prior managerial experience who isn’t part of “the Twins Way?”
Some think it’s wrong for the Twins to keep hiring from inside the organization. They interviewed many candidates from outside the organization and in the end, felt like Paul Molitor was the right person for the job. It’s about finding the right person not finding the right person from outside the organization.

On prior managerial experience, I give you this from an article posted yesterday on TwinsBaseball.com:

Molitor will join the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny, the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly, the White Sox Robin Ventura, the Rockies’ Walt Weiss and John Farrell — with the Blue Jays before winning the World Series as Red Sox skipper — as recent MLB hires with no prior managerial experience.

Matheny, Mattingly and Farrell have taken their teams to the postseason and Farrell won the 2013 World Series with the Red Sox. Weiss and Ventura haven’t done as well as they didn’t come into as good of a situation as the other three but it does show that prior managerial experience isn’t a prerequisite to being a major league manager.

“The Twins Way” takes on different meanings to different people. To me, the Twins Way means drafting well and developing those draft picks into major league players while now, because of Target Field, being able to supplement the roster with free agents when needed. I believe they got away from that for awhile and that’s a big part of the reason the Twins have struggled the last 4 seasons. They had no talent to bring up in those seasons and because they were losing, free agents decided to go somewhere else.

Can Paul Molitor change Twins baseball back to a winning culture?
Paul Molitor is a natural leader who may be a perfect fit for the Twins. He played every position as a major league player other than catcher and pitcher and his awareness and instincts are a big part of what made him a great player who got better as he got older. He will instill that awareness into his players and turn this team into a contender.

Even though the Twins just had their 4th consecutive season of 92 or more losses, there are a lot of positives in Dozier, Santana, Hughes, Gibson, prospects coming, etc…. They aren’t that far away from being a .500 ball club that could be on the cusp of contending for the division, playing in the postseason and, ultimately, winning a World Championship.

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Ron Gardenhire Fired as Manager of the Minnesota Twins

Twins Fire Gardenhire

Ron Gardenhire managed the Minnesota Twins for 13 seasons, winning 6 Division Titles and Manager of the Year in 2010.

On Monday afternoon, the Minnesota Twins decided to part ways with their manager for the past 13 seasons, Ron Gardenhire. Gardy won 6 Division Titles in those 13 seasons and won Manager of the Year in 2010 but the last 4 seasons of over 90 losses did him in. He knows that and now the Minnesota Twins will work to find the next man to manage this team that should be back on the way to contending for division championships, playoffs and more World Championships.

There’s going to be people who agree and disagree with this firing. Some people say he, and his whole staff, should’ve been fired 2 seasons ago. Some will ask how he was supposed to win with the players he had to work with. A manager usually takes too much blame for a team losing and gets too much credit for a team winning. At what point is the manager the reason a team is losing games?

The manager makes decisions on who’s in the lineup, the order of the lineup, when to put plays on like hit and runs, sacrifices and stealing, when to give a player the green light at the plate and when to make pitching changes. They don’t acquire players, draft players or sign free agents. They may have some say in the roster but probably not much. Hopefully a general manager works with the manager on the roster but ultimately, it’s up to the general manager to put together the 40-man roster.

Ron Gardenhire is known for being a player’s coach. He’ll stick up for his players and his players play hard for him (or Battle Their Tails Off like Little Nicky Punto.) It is a big part of a manager’s job to get the players to play the right way or, at least, the way the manager wants them to play and to put them in a position to succeed. Rarely is the manager the reason a team wins or loses though.

The front office decisions affect wins and losses a lot more than the manager does and the Twins front office had a pretty bad run for a long time that put the Twins in this situation. Bad trades, bad drafting and not being able to sign better free agents are three of the main reasons the Twins had to make Ron Gardenhire the scapegoat for the last 4 seasons.

Consider that between 1994 and 2008, the only two worthy starting pitchers the Twins drafted are Scott Baker and Matt Garza. Scott Baker was a decent pitcher and pitched for the Twins for a long time but left via free agency after missing the majority of his last season with the Twins due to Tommy John surgery. Matt Garza looked like a nice piece but he was traded with Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young. That’s a long time to get no pitching from the draft and what has been the Twins biggest problem the last 4 seasons…..that’s right, pitching.

In closing, I understand this move by the Twins but it was not Ron Gardenhire’s fault the Twins lost over 360 games combined in the last 4 seasons.

Hey, I still have my Gardy Gnome if I want to see Gardy in a Twins uniform…

Gardy Gnome 2

Other articles on the Twins firing Ron Gardenhire:

An old article from 2010 on Ron Gardenhire:

I would love to know your takes on the Twins firing of Ron Gardenhire. Do you like the move? Who will be the next manager?

THANKS for reading!

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A TwinsTakes Preview of the 2014 Minnesota Twins – Back to Won, Twins Way

Minnesota Twins Season Preview from TwinsTakes.com

The Minnesota Twins come into 2014 off a third straight season of over 90 losses. The last time the Twins went through a rough stretch like this was at the end of the 90’s when they had 4 straight seasons of over 90 losses and that was actually part of 8 consecutive seasons of finishing under .500 from 1993 to 2000 for our Minnesota Twins.

When a franchise goes through bad stretches like that, they better have good scouting to take advantage of picking higher in the draft. From those drafts the Twins drafted players like Todd Walker (1st round in ‘94), A.J. Pierzynski (3rd round in ‘94), Corey Koskie (26th round in ‘94), Doug Mientkiewicz (5th round in ‘95), Jacque Jones (2nd round in ‘96),  Michael Cuddyer (1st round in ‘97) Justin Morneau (3rd round in ‘99), Jason Kubel (12th round pick in 2000) and Joe Mauer (1st overall pick in 2001).

Those players played key roles in getting the Twins back to winning after those 8 consecutive losing seasons. Six of the next ten American League Central Division titles were won by Minnesota from 2001 to 2010. But, as you see from above, there was a severe lack of pitching from the drafts from 1994 to 2000 which has been a big reason why the Twins are now struggling to win games. Score as many runs as you want, you’ll never win consistently if you can’t keep the other team from scoring runs and the Twins aren’t scoring that many runs either.

Pitching Rotation

Knowing they need some starting pitching, they went out and spent some of that salary cap room to improve in that area. Right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco was signed to the biggest free agent contract in Minnesota Twins history for 4 years/$49 million on December 3rd followed by RHP Phil Hughes signing 2 days later on December 5th for 3 years/$24 million. Then they re-signed RHP Mike Pelfrey for 2 years/$11 million around Christmas time* and with Kevin Correia, the Twins had 4 starters penciled in for the 2014 starting rotation.

*Merry Christmas!!! So when relatives see your salary, do their Xmas lists get longer or do they just have better gifts listed? “Hmmm…I could really use a nicer car and Mikey just got a raise!”

In 2013, the Minnesota Twins used 11 different starting pitchers throughout the season. Only 3 pitchers made over 20 starts, Kevin Correia (31), Mike Pelfrey (29) and Scott Diamond (24), and Samuel Deduno made 18 starts before going on the disabled list at the end of August with a shoulder injury. The other 60 starts went to Vance Worley, Andrew Albers, Pedro Hernandez, Kyle Gibson, PJ Walters, Liam Hendricks and Cole De Vries.

The 891.2 innings pitched by starters added up to a single season WAR* (Wins Above Replacement) of negative 3.0 and a record of 39 wins & 74 losses. OUCH! Correia (1.6), Pelfrey (-0.3), Diamond (-1.0) and Deduno (1.5) combined had a WAR of 1.8 while the rest of the starts combined for a WAR of -4.8.

*Wins Above Replacement is a stat that basically shows how much better a player is than a replacement player that would be considered a AAA or “AAAA” player. So the American League Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer’s WAR for last season was 6.7 & the National League winner, Clayton Kershaw’s was 7.8, meaning they were worth approximately 7 & 8 wins, respectively, for their teams in the 2013 season. Also, there’s two different WAR stats, one from Baseball-Reference.com (bWAR) and one from Fangraphs.com (fWAR). I’m using bWAR unless otherwise noted.

Improve the starting rotation by taking out the replacement level pitching, right? What do the Twins get when they do that?

  • Ricky Nolasco has six consecutive seasons winning over 10 games, averaging just under 13 wins & a WAR of 1.8.
  • Phil Hughes, before struggling last season with a record of 4-14, averaged about 12 wins & a WAR of 1.6 from 2010 to 2012 when he was a full-time starter for the Yankees .
  • Kevin Correia had 16 quality starts out of his 31 starts and 3 of his bad outings changed his ERA from 3.50 to 4.18. With more run support, those 9 wins could easily become double digits. We’ll get to that later.
  • Mike Pelfrey had a rough year coming back from Tommy John surgery maybe a little sooner than he should have but he did pitch pretty well in the summer months. We should get a better Pelf this season now that he’s 1-year removed from that surgery and he seems to alternate good years and bad years.
  • Kyle Gibson*, who won the 5th spot in the rotation, has pitched very well in the minors, and has been a highly rated prospect for the Twins since they drafted him back in 2009. He did struggle in 2011 at one point but that was mostly due to the elbow problems that brought on his Tommy John surgery. He struggled a little in his first taste of the Majors last season but he pitched very well in AAA. The Twins showed faith in him by waiving Vance Worley and Scott Diamond and moving Deduno to the bullpen. It’s his spot to lose now.
    • *Did you know that Kyle Gibson was born on October 23rd, 1987? That means on his first two full days as a baby, the Twins won Game 6 & Game 7 to win their 1st World Series in 1987! That’s a pretty cool fact and almost makes it sound like destiny that he would play for the Minnesota Twins.

The Bullpen

Speaking of the bullpen, there’s not that much to say. The Minnesota Twins had one of the best bullpens in the league last season and they were overused because of the poor starting pitching. In 582.2 innings, the bullpen combined for a 4.4 WAR. The mainstays of Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing are still there. They also added Deduno to the bullpen mix, who might thrive there with his stuff, should get a full season from Caleb Thielbar and Ryan Pressly could improve from a solid first season.

So the Minnesota Twins improved the starting pitching and have a good bullpen that could get better but it won’t matter how good your pitching is if you can’t hit the ball or catch the ball. How’d they improve at the plate and in the field? Will they score more runs than they did in 2013?

The Bats & The Gloves

The Minnesota Twins traded Justin Morneau at the trade deadline last season and traded Ryan Doumit in December after signing former Twin Jason Kubel a week earlier. Roughly a month before that the Twins signed another former Twin in Jason Bartlett. Then, on the same day the Twins signed Mike Pelfrey, they signed catcher Kurt Suzuki to a 1 year, $2.75 million contract to add depth to the catching position. Is that enough to make up for what they lost in Morneau and Doumit? We’ll find out.

The Twins are counting on young guys stepping up and other guys coming back from down seasons a year ago but they signed some veterans for depth to have just in case of injury or unproductive play. They are staying with Pedro Florimon, Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier. Those guys deserve time to be full time players after solid seasons last year. They are also showing confidence in younger players Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.

The Catcher in the…Sigh…

At least they have the catcher position set for a long time in Joe Mauer, right? Oops, that’s right. Joe Mauer is no longer putting on the “tools of ignorance” because of the concussion that stopped his season short in 2013. I know what you’re thinking. Another injury with Joe Mauer? Well…this might help Joe and the Twins in the long run. Not the concussion but the fact that Joe decided to never play catcher again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the “Baby Jesus” to get out from behind the plate and out into the field.

People have been talking about Joe moving out from behind the plate for quite a while now. The catcher position wears on a player’s knees making it difficult to stay in the lineup. The Twins have slowly been trimming down how many games Joe was behind the plate trying to get him into more games to keep his bat in the lineup and eventually move him to another position permanently, or so it seems. Unfortunately, a concussion, which, of course, is never a good thing, has accelerated that permanent move from behind the plate. At least we know that Joe is a great enough athlete to learn the 1st base position quickly and he may even win a gold glove there eventually. We’ve seen plenty of great plays from Joe at first that make him look like a natural over there. Who knows what kind of production he’ll have when playing in the field won’t be so hard on his knees? Will he hit for more power because of it?

Who’s On First?

Kind of crazy that long tenured 1st baseman Justin Morneau was traded to Pittsburgh (then signed with Colorado to play with his buddy Cuddy) and Ryan Doumit was traded to Atlanta in the offseason because the Twins didn’t have many options for who to put over at position number 3. Some, not many, but some. They have Chris Parmelee (who was sent to the minors) and…uhh…well, there’s Chris Colabello. He’s played 623 games at 1st base in his minor league career including 124 in 2012 for New Britain and 67 last season for Rochester before being called up to the Twins and playing 26 games at 1st base for them.

So, like I said, kind of crazy that the Minnesota Twins have a player like Joe Mauer to move to first and Chris Colabello ready in case they need him to play over there for an extended amount of time. He ripped up the International League last season with the bat, winning MVP & Rookie Of The Year while playing for the Rochester Red Wings, and hit .352/.427/.639 with 25 doubles, 24 HRs, 74 RBIs, 89 strikeouts and 43 walks in 89 games. If he can produce those kinds of numbers with the Twins, he’ll be in the lineup one way or another.

2nd Thoughts?

A couple of years ago, the Twins were wondering who would be their 2nd baseman of the now and of the future. They thought Brian Dozier was that guy but he didn’t exactly inspire much confidence when he came up in 2012, hitting .234 with an on-base % of .271 and slugging .332 in 84 games before being sent back down to Rochester and not faring much better there. Those games were all at shortstop where he struggled in the field as well. Amazing how a move to 2nd base seemed to make Brian Dozier comfortable with the bat and with the glove. He probably put in a lot of work in the offseason too so he may be fine at shortstop as well. He solidified that spot for the time being, especially from a defensive point of view. He showed the range and defensive ability in the field and actually did respectable in the leadoff spot. At 27 years old, he should be able to hold that 2nd base position for a while now and make it so the Twins don’t have to rush any prospects.

Short StopGap?

Pedro Florimon showed he will make the routine plays and some amazing plays from the shortstop position last season. He still needs some work on the offensive side of the ball but he was a force with the glove finishing 6th in all of the American League with a 2.1 Defensive WAR. Also, he led the American League in Putouts by a ShortStop (245), finished 3rd in assists (401) and 2nd in Double Plays turned (101).

The Hot Seat at the Hot Corner

Trevor Plouffe as the Twins starting 3rd baseman might be a disappointment to some fans since top prospect Miguel Sano appeared very close to being ready to make the jump to the majors but he ended up needing Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2014 season. Trevor Plouffe is still a capable player that can be a strength with the bat in his hands and average in the field at 3rd. Throwing him out there everyday and keeping his bat in the lineup isn’t a bad thing. He needs to cut down the strikeouts though.

Outfield – Ready to Play, Today?

As of now, the Twins outfield is Josh “The Hammer” Willingham in left, Aaron Hicks in center and Oswaldo Arcia in right. The only other player who’s played in the outfield on some regular basis is Jason Kubel. Chris Colabello that has played in the outfield and, rumor has it, the Twins could use Jason Bartlett as some sort of super utility player and put him out there if they get in a bind. He’s never played in the outfield in his major league career. This doesn’t look like the best of plans but things could change before or during the season if problems arise.

Josh Willingham, or The ‘Ham as I refer to him, had a career year in 2012 when the Twins signed him to a franchise record 3-year, $21 million deal hitting .260 with 30 doubles, 5 HRs, 110 RBIs with 141 strikeouts and 76 walks and winning a Silver Slugger Award. A knee injury messed with his 2013 season however and he only played 111 games and struggled to a .208 average with 20 doubles, 14 HRs and 48 RBIs with 128 strikeouts and 66 walks. Expect a rebound year as The ‘Ham enters the last year of his contract. I’m sure he’ll start to get a lot more at-bats at Designated Hitter as his defense hasn’t always been a positive.

After winning the center field job with a great spring training in 2013 (.370/.407./.644 (AVG/OBP/SLG)), Aaron Hicks struggled out of the gate in his 1st season in the majors, hitting .113 in the 1st month of the season (starting 2-for-49) and a below the Mendoza Line .192 overall. The Twins had Hicks open the season as the leadoff hitter and he only lasted the first 11 games before being moved down to the 8th spot for the majority of the rest of the season. He never looked comfortable at the plate. Well, he had a another great spring training and won the center field job for the second year in a row and his competition, Alex Presley, was actually waived on March 27th and claimed by the Houston Astros. If you look at Aaron Hicks minor league stats, you’ll see that if he struggled one season, he learned from it and progressed the following season. The Twins need that from him this season if they hope to  have some success this season. They definitely need him to get back to better plate discipline, working the count and getting on base. If he does that, he may even return to that leadoff role.

Oswaldo Arcia signed with the Twins as a 16-year old back in 2007 and he’s been hitting the ball and hitting the ball with power ever since. Once Oswaldo began playing in the full season leagues in 2011, he advanced 2 levels a season until he made his major league debut last season on April 15th, Tax Day. We file taxes. Oswaldo gets his Hacks in! (Haxes? Stretch on that one? Eh, they can’t all be gems!) When Oswaldo sees a pitch he likes, he swings and he swings hard. He might destroy baseballs in his spare time just for fun. Oswaldo struggled some in his first season in the majors. He was sent down and recalled 4 times during the 2013 season, most of them due to injury but this season he’s being given a chance to be the everyday right fielder or mostly everyday right fielder. Let’s hope he can get back to destroying baseballs, a lot of baseballs, this season.

Back to Won, Twins Way

If you didn’t know, Target Field is located on 1 Twins Way in downtown Minneapolis. That’s a clever way of referring to how the Minnesota Twins find, draft and develop players. That is how they won games and championships in the past. That “One Twins Way” got away from them for a while when Target Field changed how much payroll the Twins had available to them and is part of the reason they have three consecutive seasons of over 90 losses.

Because of those seasons, the Twins have gotten back to “the Way” they did things in the past but they also have the option of going out and getting free agents if they need to. I believe we will start to see the Twins break out of the over 90 loss season streak and get back to being a contender for the division and, ultimately, back to the playoffs and chances at winning it all. We should start to see some of those high-ranking prospects get to the Twins this season and for sure next season. Obviously by saying we will see the beginning of it this season, that means I think the Minnesota Twins will probably be right around .500 this season.

That is why I called this preview,

Back to Won, Twins Way!

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Bottom of the 33rd – Baseball’s Longest Game – Book Review

Pawtucket, RI's McCoy Stadium Logo

Creative Commons License Yzukerman via Compfight

Bottom of the 33rd is a book about Baseball’s Longest Game. The full title of the book is Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game by author Dan Barry. It is obviously a book about baseball but it’s so much more than that.

Bottom of the 33rd is a book about life, life in baseball, life around baseball and how life is for everyone involved in the game of baseball from the owners, general managers and players of the teams to the employees who make the games happen all the way down to the fans that come to the games and cheer their teams on. All of these people have lives outside the game and reasons for being around the game.

I was told about the book by a fellow Twins fan at a game so I read the book not knowing the teams involved or even the year the game was held. All of that would be revealed as I read the book and that may be the best way to read it anyways. You find out who the teams are, who the players are and what got them to this point in their careers and what will become of them in the rest of their careers as you read the book.

Do they become Hall of Famers or do they only get a cup-of-coffee in the major leagues? Do they play for your favorite team? What do they do after their careers are finished? You may see a name that reminds you of another player and wonder if they are related or if they were teammates with one of your favorite players. You will be reminded of why you love the game of baseball.

We all love reminiscing about the past especially when it comes to sports. We love to remember stories of when we were kids and baseball was fun no matter what the outcome of the game. We were able to go and experience a professional game in person and I always thought I might see something special whenever I went to a game. It could be a no-hitter, someone could hit for the cycle or hit three home runs or make the greatest defensive play you’ve ever seen OR it could be the longest game in professional baseball and you were there and you stayed for the whole game.

We hear “It’s just a game!” all the time when it comes to sports. Author Dan Barry does an excellent job showing the reader that baseball is more than a game. Baseball is life to these players, coaches and umpires. For the majority of the fans, it’s just a game and doesn’t affect their lives too much. The players, coaches and umpires sacrifice so much time it can affect every relationship in their life. It’s their livelihood so it means everything to them. Winning and losing or success and failure can literally change those lives!

I highly recommend Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game.* It’s like being there and might be even better because of the history revealed about the lives surrounding the game.

*This is an affiliate link. That means I make money off of any sale that comes from that link. That’s not why I’m reviewing this book though. I put this review on my site because I want everyone who comes to my blog to get something good out of it and if you buy this book, I think you will thank me for turning you on to it.

That’s my take, what’s yours?

Robb

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Three Top Fantasy Baseball Hitters From The Twins

Joe Mauer

Creative Commons License Keith Allison via Compfight

It is just two weeks into the season, but there are already a few Minnesota Twins players putting up solid numbers in fantasy baseball. Although the team as a whole might not be a true playoff contender just yet, owners around the world could make their own playoffs with their services. Here is a look at the three best from a fantasy perspective.

Joe Mauer

The face of the franchise is still the best option the Twins have as far as fantasy baseball is concerned, and the strong start at the plate proves that. His defense behind the plate might be deteriorating, but fantasy owners don’t care much about that.

As long as Mauer is healthy, he is going to be able to hit. Moving away from behind the dish might actually make him a more valuable hitter, as his body will be able to play on a more consistent basis. He has only been listed as a designated hitter or catcher at this point in the season, but he could play some first base as well.

Josh Willingham

Willingham’s entire career seems to be underrated. He has always been a dependable hitter, but since he has mostly played on bad teams, he goes unnoticed. Many fantasy baseball owners know all about him though, and his Silver Slugger season in 2012 definitely opens up some eyes.

Now that he is 34 years old, a repeat of his season a year ago seems like a stretch. However, he is still a top 75 fantasy baseball player. He can be counted on to provide solid stats at the dish.

Trevor Plouffe

Justin Morneau might be the safer pick, but his health is troublesome. Instead, taking a chance on Trevor Plouffe might be worthwhile later in drafts (or off waivers).

Outside of Minnesota, many probably do not know a ton about Plouffe. He plays a position with not a lot of depth (third base), so that helps right away. He is coming off a solid season last year, belting 24 home runs in just 119 games. With the opportunity to play even more this season, he could provide valuable power despite going rather late.

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