The Twins are facing a series of challenges if they want to become the next championship-caliber club and sustain it over a number of years.
They’ve picked Rocco Baldelli as the guy to address those challenges.
This year Alex Cora outlasted Aaron Boone and A.J. Hinch on his way to the World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Dave Roberts and the Dodgers made it past Craig Counsell in the NLCS. Look around the game and the manager post has gotten younger with a much more direct focus on data and information to drive decisions. Add to that all the brainpower in many of these front offices, and it’s no surprise which teams have put themselves in the conversation for the best in baseball.
The Twins want to be in that discussion. One primary challenge staring them down is that they’re not going to outspend the richest teams in baseball. That’s fine, the team’s leadership insists. But it means they can’t afford to also be outsmarted or out-communicated. That’s a challenge right now. To say nothing of the fact that the wave of young players led by Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano appears to have stalled, at least for the moment. These are challenges.
Can Baldelli make those connections? Can he get the most out of the roster? Will the roster be improved externally?
Once a top prospect and budding star in the game, Baldelli fits the same bill as the managers who went deep in this year’s postseason. No managing experience. Plenty of time spent around information-driven decisions in an on-field role. And, the Twins hope, an ability to connect with and get the most out of their young star candidates.
This column presents 5 thoughts on the Twins hiring new manager Rocco Baldelli.
You hear it repeated often enough that it seems true. The Twins will be nothing if Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano don’t reach their full potential. That’s stated too strongly, of course. It is true, though, that the picture of success looks a lot fuzzier if both players fizzle out and don’t contribute in the Majors.
They’re the posterchildren for what the Twins hope will be an almost immediate turnaround. They’re not the only two young players that need development, that need to be nurtured into the stars that they just might become. Eddie Rosario was marvelous for 3 months and faded; Max Kepler hasn’t taken that step that we all thought he would by now. Baldelli was asked specifically about fixing Buxton and Sano on Thursday and his answer was impressive.
“I want to learn as much as I can about these guys and talk to people who’ve spent a lot of time around them, and also meet them, before I feel like I have any ability to help them,” he said.
“As I sit here right now I don’t have any answers. I can only say that it is a process. And I’m very much looking forward to connecting with these guys and talking with them. … Because just as much as I have to share with them, I want to hear what they have to say. And I think that’s probably the best place for me to start,” Baldelli said.
Baldelli’s next immediate focus will be hiring his coaching staff. After that he ought to get on a plane bound for Atlanta and make plans to meet Buxton somewhere in Georgia.
The organizational reputation preceeds anyone hired away from the Rays organization. Oh, that’s one of those franchise that thinks a little differently.
Yep. It’s also the franchise that appeared to give up last offseason, got put on blast by the public and media, and then marched its way to 90 wins in a preposterous A.L. East.
Baldelli was part of that success, and he’s been swimming in the “analytics” waters for years in Tampa. He took two good-natured swipes at questions aimed at number crunching in baseball Thursday. And good for him.
My colleague and friend, Patrick Reusse was apparently very upset that the concept of maximizing reliever leverage is ruining baseball. He asked Baldelli about it in a way that made his opinion clear. “I suppose you’re a fan of the “Opener” concept that is ruining baseball as we know it?” he asked.
“I feel like open-mindness and curiosity are generally good traits, regardless of what industry you’re in,” Baldelli said, pausing to let the crowd recognize the dig. “But the opener — or whatever it is that you want to call it … [the Rays players] were open-minded, they were willing to try a few new things that they weren’t necessarily comfortable with,” Baldelli said.
“It’s just showing that — maybe not that that’s the answer and that every team should be going in this route — but that something different actually can work. It’s just not easy always to implement. And anything new is strange and challenging and can be tough on people, because change is tough. But I think it’s a good sign, and you can look a that and go, ‘Well, maybe that’s not the answer, but something else is, and we’ll be willing to try that going forward.'”
The question on analytics came up early on, as well.
“I came up in Tampa Bay. I worked in our front office, I did a lot of scouting and then I coached. And what I learned is: “analytics,” that’s just a word.
“Really all we’re trying to do is put our players in a position to succeed. And if we can have some better, helpful information that can either help me or help the staff or help the players, that’s what we’re looking for. It’s an asset to have that information and the ability to use it, which is actually more important than just getting a bunch of info. The info doesn’t do anything in and of itself. It’s the people that are able to take that info and to really break it down and give it to players. … It’s just finding the best way to use so they’re comfortable with it, too,” Baldelli said.
The Twins went oustide the organization to hire Ray Miller, who eventually was replaced by Tom Kelly in 1986. Technically speaking, Baldelli is the first manager without Twins ties since that season. That speaks to longevity of the guys that came before him — T.K., Gardy and Mollie. It also speaks to a new idea about hiring that Falvey and Levine have brought to Minnesota.
Hiring Baldelli away from the progressive Rays invites new information, ideas and maybe more importantly, an inherent openess to discussing philosophy. In the years that I covered Molitor, he was very open to discussing philosophies. There’s just a different outward perception when it’s a new face and new relationship — a new voice, as Falvey said almost a month ago. By definition the learning and feel-it-out period goes both ways down the street.
Baldelli can learn and he can teach. From (and to) coaches and executives, to and from researchers and players.
If you’re skeptical of the hire, the primary reservation would be in the unknown. No managing experience? Well, with hard work and good circumstances, we’ve seen over the past few years that experience is overrated. The fairer critique at this moment would be what you might call the proximity fallacy. Simply: Did Baldelli make the Rays better, or did good things happen when he happened to be around?
It’s sort of unknowable, although you can bet the Twins did their homework to try to get to the answer. Asking coaches, players, minor league staffers and on and on, to try to get a frame of reference for Baldelli’s positive impact.
The Twins could have eliminated some guess work. If they’d hired from Cleveland or from Texas, they might have first-hand knowledge of the worker. Those were the previous stops for Falvey and Levine, respectively. If they’d worked with someone before, they’d have a good idea whether that person was responsible for great decisions and outcomes, or if they were just in the room when good things happened.
If you hire outside your direct network, you really have to trust that secondary network that they’re not blowing smoke and/or protecting their best assets. The interview process helps ferret out some of that, but there’s nothing like working in the trenches with someone to know how they actually operate in thier role.
Derek Falvey introduced Baldelli on Thursday as their “partner” and eventually he also mentioned the word manager. Job titles are kind of just made-up anyway, right?
Falvey said that it wasn’t by design. But make no mistake: being on the same page (and reading the same books) is one reason the Twins made a change at manager.
“We’ve talked all along about the importance of connecting all aspects of our organization,” Falvey said. “From the Dominican Republic, our academy there, all the way through the minor leagues to what we’re doing here at the Major League level. … I think that alignment is so critical to long-term success in baseball.”
“It’s critical that we all have a partnership here around how we want to operate. I want Rocco’s input on how we’re operating in the Domincan and how we’re developing young players, as much as I hope he’s asking me questions about what can we do to help around the Major League environment. We’re a leadership team, and that goes from ownership all the way down through every baseball operation employee we have,” Falvey said.
The Twins have a busy offseason ahead, with plenty of money to spend.
Now that the manager is in tow, it’s time to get started on the rest of it. Truthfully, the Twins have in some capacity been focused on trades and free agency and the 40-man roster up to this point. But it’d be fair to say that their attention has been divided at the highest levels.
Falvey and Levine trust people like Jeremy Zoll and Daniel Adler, among others, to continue to move forward in “normal” offseason planning, as the two public-facing leaders work to find a new manager. The next order of business will be filling out the coaching staff. Soon after that, it’s time to go shopping.
The Twins won 78 games last year. They should have tens of millions of dollars to spend this winter. They won’t just run it back with the same roster and expect better results. They’re going to make additions before checking into their lodging in Fort Myers.
That’s probably appealing to Baldelli as he starts a new role following his big promotion. It’s also imperative that Minnesota’s front office gets right the rest of the winter. Now that the front office has the hand-selected manager, the pressure and attention rests squarely on their shoulders.