MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins are bringing back Paul Molitor as manager after he led a historic turnaround.
The Twins announced Monday that Molitor is getting a new three-year deal that keeps him under contract through 2020. They went 85-77 this season, becoming the first team to make the playoffs after losing at least 100 games the previous year. They lost to the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card game last week.
Molitor spent the entire season in the final year of his initial three-year contract signed in 2014. New executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine never addressed the manager’s future during the season, which saw a 26-game improvement from 2016. That led to some uncertainty about whether they would retain a manager they inherited when they took over.
But with Molitor among the front-runners for AL manager of the year, the two sides reached agreement on a new deal less than a week after the season ended.
A St. Paul native who spent the final three seasons of a Hall of Fame career with the Twins, Molitor has earned the loyalty and respect of his players with an even-keeled demeanour and impressive grasp of the game. Prior to being hired as manager, he served as a roving instructor in the Twins’ minor league system, forging strong bonds with players like Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton that laid the groundwork for this season’s renaissance.
"He’s our skipper. He’s our leader," Dozier said after the Twins were eliminated by the Yankees. "He does so much, having his hands on every single thing. … When you’ve got a guy like that, we feel lucky."
Molitor was hired to replace longtime manager Ron Gardenhire for the 2015 season. The Twins were coming off of their fourth straight season of 90-plus losses, but Molitor spearheaded a surprisingly competitive 83-79 year that kept them in the playoff conversation deep into September.
Then came the disastrous 2016 season in which the Twins lost 103 games, looking hapless in the field, on the base paths and on the mound. They lost more games than any Twins team that came before them and ushered respected general manager Terry Ryan out the door.
Owner Jim Pohlad hired Falvey from the Cleveland Indians and Levine from the Texas Rangers to oversee the rebuild, a pair of uncharacteristic moves for an owner who has long been known for promoting from within. Pohlad made keeping Molitor through the final year of his contract a prerequisite for accepting the position, a set of circumstances that had skeptics believing Molitor’s time in Minnesota was nearing an end.
Over the last two months of the season as the Twins surged back into playoff contention, Falvey and Levine remained noncommittal when asked about Molitor’s status. There remained a possibility that Falvey and Levine would still decide to part ways with Molitor and conduct their own search to bring in their own manager.
In a season that saw Buxton break out after looking overwhelmed early in his career, Joe Mauer’s return to be a .300 hitter and the team’s return to the post-season for the first time since 2010, the list of successes grew too long to ignore. The decision to bring him back no doubt comes as a welcome one for Pohlad, whose family has employed just three managers since 1986.