Twins' Molitor named AL manager of the year
MINNEAPOLIS — As arranged marriages go, it’s hard to imagine one working out better than what the Twins experienced in 2017.
Holdover manager Paul Molitor didn’t just find a way to coexist with the new analytically savvy front-office combination of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Molitor navigated a historic turnaround that saw the Twins go from 103 losses to a 26-win improvement and their first postseason appearance in seven years.
For that, the Hall of Fame player was named American League manager of the year on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Voting was conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I still think there’s value in people that have history and have some old-school thoughts as well as integrating the new,” said Molitor, 61. “I think the resources we added this year certainly affected my pregame preparation, things that I thought about and also how to probably manage in-game. I still use some of the old tools and I still trust my eyes and my gut, as managers like to say, but I think the layers that we have are helpful.”
Molitor received 18 of 30 first-place votes to outpoll runner-up Terry Francona, who led the Cleveland Indians to 102 wins and their second straight AL Central crown, and A.J. Hinch of the World Series-winning Houston Astros.
Molitor joined predecessors Ron Gardenhire (2010) and Tom Kelly (1991) as Twins managers to win the BBWAA award since it was instituted in 1983. Molitor also joined Frank Robinson (1989 Baltimore Orioles) as the only hall of fame players to be named BBWAA manager of the year.
“In my mind I felt it was working as I hoped, but I really didn’t ever spend a lot of time asking Derek and Thad if it was working,” Twins owner Jim Pohlad said last month. “People have to get to know each other. Relationships take time to build. I never had that ‘a-ha moment’ kind of thing. It’s got to keep developing.”
Molitor, who agreed to a new three-year contract after the season, thanked his coaches and credited “tremendous in-clubhouse leadership” from the likes of veteran additions Jason Castro, Chris Gimenez and Matt Belisle. The St. Paul native, former University of Minnesota standout and former Twins player managed to connect with his new bosses after Pohlad made Molitor’s retention a precondition in his search to replace fired GM Terry Ryan.
Upon bringing in Falvey from the Indians and Levine from the Rangers, Pohlad could see the potential for three disparate personalities to merge.
“I hoped that, but they’re not all the same,” Pohlad said. “The three of them are all unique. Derek and Thad aren’t the same people as each other. That’s good.”
Torey Lovullo, who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to 93 wins and a wild-card berth in his first season, was named National League manager of the year. Lovullo, then a bench coach for the Boston Red Sox, lost out to Molitor three years ago after interviewing for the Twins’ managerial opening.
In 2015, after debuting with an 83-win season in his first year of managing at any level, Molitor was named AL manager of the year by The Sporting News. Molitor finished third that year in BBWAA voting behind Hinch and winner Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers.
Gardenhire, who served as Lovullo’s bench coach this season and was recently hired to manage the Detroit Tigers, was named Baseball America manager of the year in 2008. He also claimed top honors from The Sporting News in 2010 and 2004, sharing the later award with Buck Showalter.
Kelly also was named the AL’s top manager by United Press International in 1987 after guiding the Twins to their first World Series title. Sam Mele, who died on May 1 at age 95, swept top managing honors in 1965 after leading the Twins to the World Series in just their fifth season after moving from Washington, D.C.
“Partnerships are not automatic; each pace is different,” Falvey said last month. “Everything we did this year, we did for the first time together, right up until the last day of the season, including that (wild-card) game in New York and shaking Paul’s hand in a moment of disappointment.”
As the Twins used a club-record 52 players and burned through 36 pitchers, second-most in the majors, Molitor and his new bosses had to sort out complicated roster decisions on a weekly if not daily basis. The Twins used 16 starters and played six doubleheaders, then followed a mini-selloff at the July 31 deadline with a 20-win August.
“As we built that relationship, it just got stronger and stronger,” Falvey said. “What stands out to me about Paul is how thoughtful he is, how engaged he is in each conversation, how open he is to different levels of dialogue. There’s never a conversation he’s not willing to have. I hope that continues. I suspect that it will.”
Added Molitor: “I still think there are a lot of basic things that you can use to motivate players and teach players and get them to make adjustments without having to go very deep. When I’m given things that help me understand why a player is either scuffling or being successful or adjustments that need to be made, I’ll use whatever tools they give me that might help clear the message.”
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