Twins' turnaround gives Molitor AL MOY chance
In first year at the helm, Hall of Famer led Minnesota to 13-win improvement
MINNEAPOLIS -- At his introductory news conference after being hired as Minnesota's manager before the season, Paul Molitor said he believed the Twins would be competitive in 2015 despite their struggles over the previous four years.
Molitor proved to be correct, as the club was one of the biggest surprises in baseball, going 83-79 to post its first winning record since 2010 and snap a streak of four straight seasons with at least 92 losses. Minnesota wasn't eliminated from the American League Wild Card race until the second-to-last day of the season.
For his efforts, Molitor was named one of three finalists for BBWAA AL Manager of the Year, joining the Astros' A.J. Hinch and the Rangers' Jeff Banister. The winner will be announced today at 5 p.m. CT on MLB Network, with additional coverage on MLB.com.
"He deserves to be in the discussion," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said late in the season. "I'm not sure I could say one negative thing about how things have gone this year. He pressed a lot of the right buttons."
Molitor, who was already named the AL Manager of the Year by Sporting News, helped guide Minnesota to a 13-win improvement in 2015. It was the fifth-highest jump in wins in the Majors.
Molitor oversaw a Twins team that overachieved according to the numbers, as they finished 12th in the big leagues in runs scored and 19th in ERA. But they found ways to win and showed resiliency throughout the season, as they were able to shake off losing streaks and remain in contention.
The skipper commanded the respect of his players, as the 59-year-old Molitor was a Hall of Famer during his 21-year playing career with the Brewers, Blue Jays and Twins from 1978-98. But he was also still able to relate to his players, even the rookies such as Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, because he had previously served as a roving Minor League instructor for Minnesota before serving as a coach under former manager Ron Gardenhire in 2014.
"He's very familiar with the players not only on the Major League team, but also certainly in the Minor League system," Ryan said. "He worked with them and watched them grow and mature, not only as players, but as human beings."
Molitor, along with his coaching staff and veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, also transformed the clubhouse, as the mood was much lighter, especially after home wins with the Twins holding their dance parties with music and strobe lights.
"The coaches changed this clubhouse and a winning attitude came back," Hunter said after the season. "These guys gave it their all and tried to prove the critics wrong. And we pretty much did that."
Molitor said after the season he still has a lot to learn after serving as a manager for the first time in his career, but he said he enjoyed the process.
"I'm definitely happy with the way it went, but I sometimes wonder if I'd be feeling the same way if we lost 90 games," Molitor said. "I hate to only judge myself by the fact we had players emerge [who] played better, we had better leadership and a winning record. So I think the true challenge is to see how it goes when things become a little more adverse. I made plenty of mistakes, but I think off the field, the most important thing is learning how to communicate and get the most out of guys."