Molitor’s Choice

The Twins blogosphere is critical of owner Jim Pohlad’s announced intention to retain Paul Molitor as next year’s manager, regardless of the wishes of the next general manager, for whom Pohlad is currently searching. Any potential general manager worth his salt, the thinking goes, will want to install his own field manager, as that is the decision that will bear most directly on his own success or failure. The obvious answer, to my mind, is that owners change their “votes of confidence” with regularity and impunity, and there’s little reason to believe Jim Pohlad will provide an exception to this practice. There’s more reason to believe that Pohlad feels he must make this statement in order for Molitor to retain credibility with his players for the rest of this season, until a new GM is hired. Coaches and managers are notorious for resigning when they are not given contract extensions beyond one year for just this reason. Why would a player with today’s pampered ego and a guaranteed five-year contract pay attention to a manager in his lame-duck season?
The bigger question, which so far as I know has gone unanswered, is, why would Molitor want to come back and manage these Twins another year? For three weeks or so, they had one of the better records in the Majors and fielded a starting lineup (when Miguel Sano wasn’t playing) with no one hitting under .255. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco looked like legitimate Major Leaguers in their first half-seasons, Brian Dozier had regained his All-Star form and Ervin Santana pitched like the number one starter he was signed to be. There appeared to be hope for 2017. Then another collapse came. Kansas City and Detroit swept the Twins, easily, and the Blue Jays won tonight, 15-8. The Twins have matched their low point below .500 for the season.
What does Molitor see when he looks ahead? For too many years, the Twins have projected a rebound year in 2017 based on the potential of Sano and Byron Buxton. Sano, however, is half the player this year that he was as a rookie. Buxton has failed to hit Major League pitching despite being handed the centerfield job three times already and is scuffling in the minors. Both, too, are injury-prone. Very few, anymore, are dreaming that Sano and Buxton will take the Twins anywhere. Mauer can only get worse, Plouffe will never be consistent, Grossman will likely remain a journeyman, catching is a future weak spot and there’s no long-term substitute for Buxton in center. But this shaky defensive unit looks good compared to the Twins pitching, and that’s the ultimate key. The two brightest spots for the future – Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey – were just exiled to AAA out of management’s frustration that they don’t seem to learn anything. Kyle Gibson, the only proven homegrown talent, has a horrific game for every good one. Twins fans were delighted to get rid of Ricky Nolasco, but Hector Santiago, whom they got in exchange, has so far been worse.
It’s one thing to coach a losing team if they respond to instruction, you see them improving, and the future looks promising. None of these, however, apply to the current roster of Twins. If I were Paul Molitor, I would announce I’m resigning at season’s end, before anyone can fire me.