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Winter Meetings interview with Paul Molitor

December 13, 2017

Q. Molly, what's it been like to sit up in the suite and kind of listen to some of the chatter that's going on as you guys make some moves here?PAUL MOLITOR: You know, I've had a chance to be going through it a few times. Second time with Derek

Q. Molly, what's it been like to sit up in the suite and kind of listen to some of the chatter that's going on as you guys make some moves here?
PAUL MOLITOR: You know, I've had a chance to be going through it a few times. Second time with Derek and Thad and a little different methods. But a lot of prep work before you get here, and then you map it out and get everyone up to speed on what some of your goals are, and then you try to go out and find a way to execute your plan the best that you can.
But it's very fluid. It changes. People are signing. People come off your board. And you just keep trying to press forward and try to meet your goals eventually. It might not always be the people you had targeted from the beginning, but we'll see where it ends up.
Q. You did make a move signing Michael Pineda. Tell us about that.
PAUL MOLITOR: I'm excited, obviously. You've seen those signings in the past that have worked out where a guy's rehabbing whatever the injury might be -- in this case, Tommy John. You make the sacrifice of giving up the year for the most part to allow him to rehab, and you're relying fairly heavily on taking the risk of upside in '19, in his case. I had a nice conversation with him not too long ago. He was excited about the opportunity of coming to Minnesota.
We all know, when he's healthy, what he can do, and I thought it was outside the box a little bit but something that was definitely -- that I was real happy to hear that he were going that direction to bring him on board. We'll see what this year brings. Most likely, we're going to encourage him to take care of his rehab. Obviously, it's going to run up near the end of the year. At the very worst, we're hoping he goes into the next off-season being able to do his regular work and not worry about rehabbing and be ready for '19.
Q. That wouldn't be a bad September addition.
PAUL MOLITOR: Yeah, you're talking nine, ten months away and how things are going to go. We're going to try to get in sync with him as quickly as we can in terms of our idea of the Tommy John rehab. I guess it's kind of one of those things you might allow yourself to think about that, but the biggest thing is to try to make sure he's ready for '19.
Q. What do you hear on makeup? What kind of guy is he? I know about the pine tar thing, but anything else?
PAUL MOLITOR: The pine tar thing, I don't think it's really a reflection of makeup or character or anything like that. It was more a case of high definition television, I think, than anything.
A lot of good things. Never having spoken to him until recently, just encouraged by his energy and desire to, when he gets healthy, to come back and help a team. Thankfully, he chose us.
Q. Does he know any of your Dominican guys?
PAUL MOLITOR: There is some connection there. I wouldn't call them friendships. We talked about some of the people that are on the team from the Dominican, obviously.
Q. What about signing pitchers that can help you right away, Molly? What's your confidence level that you guys can get something here?
PAUL MOLITOR: Right away, I'm not sure exactly what that means. Right away, is that today, or is that this week? Or is that before Spring Training? There's different ways to try to find ways to supplement your staff. We're working at it. It's been a busy few days as far as the amount of people we've talked to, free agent board, trying to find potential matches with other teams. I have a lot of confidence that the next wave of people from our organization is going to be more swayed to the pitching side than the position side, but that being said, to be able to find some people that can help us here to try to push this forward from what we did last year, it's obviously something that everyone has a goal of.
Still optimistic that something really good is going to happen for us here.
Q. What did your ball club do better last year that a lot of people don't realize? What flew under the radar?
PAUL MOLITOR: You can look at a lot of different things as far as reasons that we're able to have a winning season as opposed to 103 last season. I like to keep it fairly simple, as much as I understand some of the analytics and ways we're able to evaluate players and performance and pitchers and defense and base running.<[p> But I knew that we had to find a way to pitch better, and we did. Maybe not tremendously better, but we were better. I think the biggest change that we saw day to day was the way that we protected the baseball on the defensive side of the game. Understood getting off the field better. And I think that we saw some maturity in our young hitters that understand there's going to be a lot of failure in the game offensively, but to be renewed each and every day and do it with confidence, it was a factor in some of the growth of those guys.
Q. Paul, I know the mantra in Spring Training is: Everybody's got a shot. Why not us? But was there a moment last year that maybe with your staff that you kind of had a moment where you said, you know what, we might be.
PAUL MOLITOR: I think last winter, with Derek and Thad -- I kind of talk about those guys a lot, but they were right. I just don't think that you ever put limitations on a group of men in a professional sport. I wasn't sure where it was going to go. I did have belief that we had more talent going out on the field than what was indicated by our previous year.
But I think, if there was a time, it was just kind of the way we went about our camp, the progress that we made, and then very critically for a young team, we got off to a good start. I think that we all started to see some of the things that we tried to make a priority in Spring Training start to happen on a more consistent basis, eliminating a lot of the mistakes, and it started to just gain a little bit of momentum.
We had a couple periods where it looked like it was slipping away, but I think clubhouse leadership was able to keep us on track. Part of maturing as a player up here is getting an understanding of just how long a season is and the ups and downs and how you've got to keep pushing.
Q. In your bullpen, you don't have a guy with closing experience in the majors really. How important will it be to maybe find a veteran in that role?
PAUL MOLITOR: It's fairly critical to have someone to be able to get the last outs. I think the emphasis on the last nine outs has grown, not just the back end, and we need to figure that out.
You think about the last couple years and losing Perkins a few years ago and Kevin Jepsen and Kinsler getting a chance last year and losing him, Mattie Belisle.
So we've been able to makeshift fairly well, but I would really like to, the best we can, stay away from having a tryout for closer in Spring Training. I think that would be a tough thing to do.
Q. What's a bigger priority, do you think? Finding that closer or finding another starter? PAUL MOLITOR: It's a tough comparison. Obviously, a lack of starter depth is concerning for me. I think over the course of a long season and the amount of innings you have to fill, depth in that rotation is maybe a tick higher for me. Obviously, I would love to do a little bit on both ends of the pitching.
I think we ran through, what, 17 starters? 16, 17?
Q. 16.
PAUL MOLITOR: I think Seattle might have been in that same ballpark, but other than that, I think we were --
Q. You win.
PAUL MOLITOR: Yeah. But we have to lengthen our options because we're going to need more than five, six starters. It's just the way it is.
And then, like I said earlier, the pitching that we have on the way, you can't really predict if it's going to be out of camp or June or this year or next spring, but I think we're going to see some help there from within, but to be able to find people to help the back end.
Right now we're looking at guys that have been -- Duffy and Presley and Rogers and Hildenberger and that crew from within. So anything we can do to try to add that, whether it's experience or different looks or track records, those are all things that we would like to try to find a way to improve.
Q. A lot of young guys have had success in 20, 21, 22. Byron's had a good year. I think a lot of people forget how young he actually is. In the world of where is mine today, is he the example of it takes a little while. It's really rare that a guy will sustain 22-year-old success.
PAUL MOLITOR: It's tough. You get your exceptions. You see what Trout did or Harper did or some of these guys who were able to excel at the biggest stage rather quickly. Maybe the most surprising element to me is how consistent they were at those young ages that you spoke to.
You know, Byron's had to deal with a lot in terms of coming on the scene and the draft and being the No. 1 prospect. He's had injuries to overcome, lost some playing time and probably development because of those things. But there's not too many people around our organization that ever thought his projection of ceiling had changed. We had to kind of grow along with him and go through the patient stages. All I can say, he's coming. I think you see it in his face and his body language, times that were frustration, and last year was a little bit different. It was a little up and down, but it was more up than down for the first time offensively.
These guys know. I can't speak highly enough about the character of this kid. He's what you want in all your players, all the aspects of makeup and those types of things.
Q. Molly, given that your daily lineup still has a lot of upside in it, do you think you close the gap just by adding a couple of pitchers?
PAUL MOLITOR: I would like to think so. Your goal is obviously you respect who's out in front of you. We saw the Kansas City for a couple of years and then Cleveland the last couple of years. You know, you have to try to find a way to -- your goal is to be a division winner, which helps your path of your ultimate goal. So you have to try to find a way to chase them down if you will and without discarding the other team at the same time.
So, yeah, what Cleveland is going to do as far as they're going to have a little bit different look possibly because whoever might depart, first baseman, whatever. So we'll just have to see how it goes.
Q. How important is it to you to have those conversations with a possible free agent, especially if you hadn't had him, you personally, on the phone or even in person? What do you need to hear?
PAUL MOLITOR: What do I need to hear?
Q. Yeah. What are you listening for there?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think it's more important what they need to hear because it's their decision. You know, I enjoy being a part of those because a lot of it is just trying to have them get a feel for you and vice versa. I think different players probably have different priorities in what they're looking for. Without revealing some of the people we've spoken with, some people, it's all about the role and what they're going to do, how they're going to be used, whatever it might be. The other people, it's tell me about what the clubhouse is like before the game, who the leaders are. Other people with young families, where do people live and all those type of things.
So you get a feel of kind of where these guys are at. But for us, we just try to be as transparent as we can. I feel that there hasn't been too many people that have come through the Minnesota Twins clubhouse that have left disappointed about their experience, and I think that word is out there. Obviously, we're not -- there's no guarantees when players make moves, where they're going to go, and I try to include that in the message.
I can be a little bit more assuring in terms of what I feel their experience will be compared to you're not going to guarantee what's going to happen on the field, wins and losses, all those type of things. You can share what you aspire to accomplish.
Q. How many of those have you had already with prospective free agents, and what's the longest one you had?
PAUL MOLITOR: I'm probably not going to go overly revealing in that. We obviously have talked to some people.
Q. Ballpark figure?
PAUL MOLITOR: Less than 100. No, we've talked to some people. They're out there. There's pitchers still out there. Some have come off the board. The market started to -- we started to get a little bit of a feel of where it was going. It was quiet, kind of slow to move, and then a couple signings before the meetings, and now obviously a handful here, especially the relievers are coming off the board more quickly than other things right now.
So you kind of follow those trends and don't want to get left behind, but you don't want to get caught up in the emotion and the momentum just to feel like you did something, and a couple weeks from now, you say what did we just do? So you've got to kind of stay in control.
Q. With the defense you do have and the run production last year, do you feel the starting pitchers you talked to have been pretty receptive about the fact they'd be coming into a pretty good situation in that sense?
PAUL MOLITOR: I get the sense people saw the direction that we potentially can be -- not only what we did last year but where we might continue to go given the young nucleus of our players and this and that. Yeah, I think that people are aware of that.
Q. The part of the clubhouse itself, you only get 12 spots and you want to get a guy that can actually help you win games. In teams that have been young and won, there's a guy or two that's been the older guy, the guy that is maybe leaned on a little bit. How big of a believer are you in that for this team?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think it's something we tried to directly address last winter, ways to bring people that will contribute on the field, but maybe in some ways, even more importantly, the guys that set the example or are willing to have the tough conversations.
These guys all last year heard about the impact that people like Jimenez and Belisle and Castro and Craig Breslow for a while. We were kind of looking for high character experienced people that could help us, and they all made an impact. I think it was one of the key ingredients to the development of our young guys.
So if we can -- we're still looking for those kind of people. Look at Houston and their young group and bringing Beltran down there, the impact those type of people can have. It's hard to measure, but it's real.
Q. In Chicago, the year before, David Ross in Chicago.
PAUL MOLITOR: Yeah, before Dancing With the Stars.
Q. What do you hear from Mejia down in the Dominican and hopefully makes a step forward?
PAUL MOLITOR: I haven't heard a ton. It's been kind of a crazy first couple of months of an off-season with the coaching changes and different things. You hear me talk fairly glowingly about him last spring and what I thought he could do. There was growth there. I still think there's more. Just going to continue to try to polish him up a little bit in all areas. It's a lot of wasted pitches and things he tries to do. He outthinks himself and all those things. But he's got stuff, and he's got pitches. So we'll see where we're at coming into spring.
There's nothing guaranteed to him. He's going to have to come in and see what he can do to try to win a spot in the rotation again.
Q. How big is the conditioning part for him?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think he works hard. I think Irvin has kind of helped him to understand that. I just think that some people have a little bit more challenge just on body type. He's going to have to try to stay out in front of that for sure.
Q. Have you talked much with Jose Cabrera since the surgery?
PAUL MOLITOR: I talked to him a couple of times. I think he had a little anxiety heading into it, but we're encouraged about how it went and what he's doing. The unfortunate part, we're losing a fairly large portion of time for him to be able to do a lot as far as rehab and conditioning and all the things that I know he wants to do.
I think he got down to Fort Myers last week. He's been down there a little bit. So we're going to have a chance to be a little bit more hands on with him as he continues to increase his rehab, and hopefully he'll be in good shape by the time we get to spring.
Q. Molly, I just noticed all these media people standing behind me. Can you talk about the interest in Darvish?
PAUL MOLITOR: Are they in on all manager meetings? It's easy to see the free agent pitching barred and what names are at the top. It's going to be a tremendous get for whoever has the opportunity to get his name on a contract. Still out there. We'll see what happens.
Q. Thad said on a local radio show that he called Darvish a priority. Has that changed for you guys? Is Darvish still a priority?
PAUL MOLITOR: I'm not sure how Thad defines priority. For me, in this particular case, it's -- let's make sure that the player and his team understand that we want to be part of discussions and we have targeted him as somebody we have tremendous interest in. Where that's going to go, where the market's going to go, what we're able to do, how far other teams are willing to go, you know, things you can't control.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk with him yet?
PAUL MOLITOR: I have not.
Q. Your Puerto Rican players had to stay in Florida for a little bit right after the season, and I think they ended up taking some supplies with them down to that country. What have you -- have you kept in touch with those guys? What kind of update can you give us as far as what they've been up to and how much they've tried to assist in recovery there?
PAUL MOLITOR: Yeah, we have good people. I think it's one of those things that, as time has gone by, it's easy for most people to just push that further back into the memory bank. I think, from what I know and communication, our guys have kept it in the forefront because the ongoing recovery, it's been really slow, and it's going to take time.
These guys understand that, with the privilege of being a major league player, that they feel responsible to some degree to do what they can to help. I think for each person it's going to be a little bit different of where they feel they can make an impact. It's not about getting the attention. It's just about being real.
I haven't heard the finalization of us going down there in April, but I think that's on track still to happen. I don't know if they've made that announcement yet. But even by then, I'm sure we'll still see a pretty significant aftermath of what they've had to endure.
Q. With your DH spot, would you rather be flexible there and maybe rotate Snow or Mallory in there or get a guy that's more of a --
PAUL MOLITOR: It's December 13th, and I don't know who all is going to be in camp. Obviously, we have some situations we have to consider. I don't know how many games Joe ended up DH'ing last year, and Miggy's returning from injury, and Kenny Vargas is going to be out of options this year. Robbie Grossman got a lot of at bats in that role last year. We've got options. I think everyone would love to see Kenny Vargas kind of step up and start to be a guy who finds it a little bit more consistently, but you don't know that. We're just going to have to wait to see how it goes.
Q. The amount of information that's available at everybody's fingertips now compared to when you were playing. I don't even know how much video you watched. Talk a little bit about that.
PAUL MOLITOR: Sure. Information-wise, it's -- I haven't played for 20 years. Then you go back 20 more years before that when I started. It's not even close to what we have now. I think that -- I remember, if I wanted to watch tape, you have VHS, and you'd go and fast forward and rewind. It took time. But that was what you had to do. Now everything's press of a button, computer. You can pull up any at bat any time, any count, any situation.
It's really helpful for the players to have that so readily available. And I think then you go to the actual information and the breakdown. The way the analytics has kind of become so prevalent. I'm still learning. I've got all the different things that you want to do in terms of analytics, I have to kind of keep the glossary close by because someone throws a number at you, and you go, I'm not sure what that is so I'd better make sure before I start talking about it.
But I like it, and I think sometimes what I feel is more important maybe is different from someone else. But it's out there. If we can make better decisions because of it, we'd be foolish not to, not using it.
Q. Did you get a chance to say goodbye to Byungho Park?
Q. How did it go, and why do you think it didn't work for him?
PAUL MOLITOR: I did talk to him when I saw that he was going to return to Korea. I could sense a little bit of disappointment that he wasn't able to come over here and be more impactful. I think the injuries last year in Rochester and not being able to really get it going just kind of, between him and his family, decided it would be better off to go back. I just want to -- like anybody, I wanted to thank him for what he did when he was here.
He's a good person. Hopefully, he gets back to having some fun because I think the enjoyment he got from the game had kind of dissipated during his time here.
Q. Do you remember him ever being loose or having fun, or was he just a ball of nerves?
PAUL MOLITOR: The first year there were moments. He had little stretches. I think he enjoyed Spring Training last year because he played really well, and I'm sure it was hard for him not to get a chance to start the season with us after the spring that he had. Work out the way it did.