Twins tab Rocco Baldelli as new manager

October 25th, 2018

The Twins on Thursday introduced Rocco Baldelli as the 14th manager in club history in a news conference at Target Field. At 37 years old, he's the youngest skipper in Major League Baseball.

This is Baldelli's first managerial role, and he's the first manager the Twins have hired from outside the organization since Ray Miller in 1985.

"To say I'm happy to be here, I think would be a huge understatement," Baldelli said. "I embarked on this journey this offseason. A lot of things happened very quickly, and where I've landed, I'm absolutely ecstatic."

Baldelli joins Minnesota after eight years in Tampa Bay. He served as the Rays' Major League field coordinator in 2018, and prior to that, he was their first-base coach after working in the team's front office for four years.

"We talked a lot about finding a partner who shared a vision, who looked at things in a way that would push us forward but also embodied everything about the Twins tradition," said Twins executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. "I don't think we could have envisioned a scenario where we could have found a better partner than Rocco Baldelli to be the next manager of the Minnesota Twins. ... He's someone we believe will be a big [part] of helping us build sustainable, championship-caliber baseball here in the Twin Cities."

An outfielder in his playing days, Baldelli was the sixth overall selection in the 2000 Draft by the Rays out of high school, and he hit .278/.323/.443 with 60 home runs over parts of seven seasons with Tampa Bay and Boston before retiring at age 29 after dealing with a muscle disorder that often left him fatigued. Baldelli said he feels great now, and that he takes care of himself better than he did as a player.

"I feel more than comfortable that my body and my mind will hold up great," he said.

Baldelli replaces Paul Molitor, who was let go earlier this month after a disappointing 2018 campaign. The Twins posted a 305-343 (.471) record in Molitor's four seasons at the helm, including one postseason appearance in 2017, when he led the Twins to the American League Wild Card Game, which they lost to the Yankees. That trip to the playoffs was part of a 26-win improvement (59 victories to 85) that earned Molitor the AL Manager of the Year Award.

Minnesota regressed to 78-84 this past season and never really came close to contending, which prompted the club to make the unexpected change. Molitor signed a three-year extension last offseason, and he's owed roughly $3.5 million over the next two years.

Baldelli's hiring is just the beginning of what should be a busy offseason for the club, which has payroll flexibility to be active on the free-agent market with a number of needs to address. First on the docket, Baldelli is assembling a coaching staff.

"The construction of a staff is essential to a Major League Baseball team having success and creating an environment and getting where we want to be," Baldelli said. "This is my first day. I'm sure this is something that is going to take a lot of time and energy. And this is where I want to put my energy right now."

In addition to hiring staff, Baldelli is also focused on getting to know the Twins' roster. He acknowledged that gaining the respect of his players will take time, particularly as MLB's youngest manager -- and one with no prior experience in the role, at that. He said he hopes to forge a connection with them by reaching out during the offseason, and already had a phone conversation earlier Thursday with longtime Twin Joe Mauer, who's mulling retirement.

"You don't come out the first day and give your hopefully semi-interesting Spring Training speech to the whole team and hope that that's going to do the trick," Baldelli said. "I like to know what makes these guys tick and really how to get the most out of them, on the field and off. ...

"It does not just happen overnight. Someone who I don't know or have never met, why would they have an exceptional amount of trust in me? ... You build that over time, and that's the part that I look forward to."

Baldelli fits Minnesota's desire for an analytically inclined manager -- he said his experience in scouting and as a coach in Tampa Bay taught him to value information and the ability to effectively use it -- and he stressed the importance of creating a positive environment in the clubhouse, an approach he said is key to his philosophy. He cited his experiences with Terry Francona, whom he played for in Boston, and Joe Maddon and Kevin Cash, Rays skippers during Baldelli's Tampa Bay tenure, as influences on his managerial style.

"I'm a little serious right now, there's a lot going on, but I like to have fun. I like for the players to love showing up to that environment," he said. "I like them to be relaxed and confident and be able to go out there and have some individuality and have fun. ... I actually think that when they come to the field, they show up to work, they take ownership of what they're doing better than when you just regulate everything they do."

After all, it was Baldelli's personality and approach that earned him the role. He beat out a several internal candidates -- including bench coach Derek Shelton, Major League coach Jeff Pickler and Triple-A manager Joel Skinner -- as well as a number of external options, like Indians bench coach Brad Mills, Indians Minor League defensive coach John McDonald, Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Rangers coach Jayce Tingler, Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada, all of whom the club was linked to throughout the search.

Twins brass was impressed by Baldelli's resume, but it wasn't until meeting with him and talking with those who know him best, including former teammates from his playing career, that they were convinced he was the man for the job.

"We did a ton of vetting of every single candidate," said senior vice president and general manager Thad Levine. "Everybody we talked about Rocco with was just glowing about his ability to develop relationships, to respect people, to both lead and follow. He's willing to talk and to listen, and I think that combination was extremely endearing to us. ...

"What was on a piece of paper got him on the board. What was in the man and in his heart got him in the chair today."