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Winter Meetings interview with Paul Molitor

Q. This brief time you've had with kind of the new regime, Derek and Thad, how is it working? What are your thoughts? Big changes, obviously.
PAUL MOLITOR: It's a change, but it's working. When you make major moves like that, it's going to take time on both sides of the coin. I think everyone's put forth our best effort in trying to expedite building the relationships.

They have inviting personalities in terms of, you know, there is obviously a fairly easy connection. But going up the time with Derek leading up to the Indians and the end of their run and bringing Thad in, probably spent more time with Derek to this point. And just to get a feel for how they want to run this meeting down here. You got a guy like Terry who did it for so long, you know what that's like. And it hasn't been dramatically different, but they have a little different way they're operating.

Q. This brief time you've had with kind of the new regime, Derek and Thad, how is it working? What are your thoughts? Big changes, obviously.
PAUL MOLITOR: It's a change, but it's working. When you make major moves like that, it's going to take time on both sides of the coin. I think everyone's put forth our best effort in trying to expedite building the relationships.

They have inviting personalities in terms of, you know, there is obviously a fairly easy connection. But going up the time with Derek leading up to the Indians and the end of their run and bringing Thad in, probably spent more time with Derek to this point. And just to get a feel for how they want to run this meeting down here. You got a guy like Terry who did it for so long, you know what that's like. And it hasn't been dramatically different, but they have a little different way they're operating.

But I like the energy and there is certainly a lot of high baseball IQ there. We're just trying to continue to find ways to get on the same page, how we want to address short-term for '17 and their main goal is long-term competitive, hopefully championship-type baseball. I've enjoyed it, looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Q. How much have you been involved in the meetings here?
PAUL MOLITOR: Some. They kind of have taken the lead of when my presence has been required or not. There's a lot of club-to-club discussions, potential fits, free agent meetings with agents, and I haven't been a part of a lot of those type of things. But up in the boardroom when we are sitting down and kind of hashing out our roster and other rosters and all the different categories of players that are out there, you know, I've been pretty heavily involved with my input in that regard. Probably get tired of hearing that but it's just one of those things where you try and work on collaboration. I feel my opinion has been heard and listened to. Not a lot of action yet, but we're working on things.

Q. You were picking up on their lexicon now, huh?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't have the extensive vocabulary that we've seen these guys display to this point, but I just watch O'Reilly and get my Word of the Day and try to put it in there.

Q. Obviously one more coach to hire here, so what is the process there?
PAUL MOLITOR: It's been a good process. It's obviously important to me to try to assemble that the best way we can in terms of the right personality, the right knowledge, making sure we have all the areas covered that we need to to run a staff thoroughly.

Through the interview process and getting James on board was I thought a really good hire for us and we're kind of getting down to where we're finalizing it. And it's kind of like your player rosters, you try to get good people but then you've got to make it fit as far as making sure everything you want to have covered is covered.

Q. Is there a chance that it might not be a first base coach, you could shift someone else to first base?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know how much they've talked to you guys, Derek and Thad, but the trend of the quality control role and how we might use that and give us more flexibility in how we plug people in.

Q. Thad said he wanted to get away from the quality control name because then you've lost control of the quality.
PAUL MOLITOR: That's a fair interpretation. I don't know how someone came up with that term to describe that. The way I've looked at it and what I've tried to feel around from people in the game and certainly those two guys is that you add someone with very good crossover ability who can, you know, supply a variety of services to try to help.

You have your infield guy, your base runner guy but if there is someone with skills to help formulate a game plan in terms of how you want to pitch people, maybe how we want to implement shifts on the defensive side, you know, communication between the majors and the Minor Leagues throughout the year, there is a lot of things that that could potentially include.

Q. Among the current guys, the six that remain who could handle outfield and base running if asked to do that?
PAUL MOLITOR: It's a fair question, the outfield void still remains for the most part. Gene Glynn has done a lot of base running work in his past, and Joe being a field coordinator in my mind can coach just about anything. But we're very conscientious of trying to shore that up and get somebody out there. Whoever it is I'm going to encourage them to use the resources of Cuddyer and Hunter in terms of how we want to set up a defensive plan for our Spring Training and the outfielders.

And I think part of what we need to do, the accuracy of the reports we can get on defensive play positioning, first step, angles, routes, all those things that I think we're ready to try to take more advantage of than we have in the past and someone with the knowledge of that will be very helpful.

Q. Do you have any idea how much you will have Hunter and Cuddyer available for you?
PAUL MOLITOR: I talked to Cuddy once and I've talked to Torii a few times and their attitude seems to be whatever you need which is not surprising. There is talk about them coming to Spring Training early and then again late and the possibility of them sticking around for three weeks in one large chunk. We're going to try to see what makes the most sense and take advantage of those assets.

Q. A couple of days ago, Brian Dozier said he wants to stay with the Twins, but he's bracing himself for whatever may happen. From what you gather, do you feel like he's going to be with you next year?
PAUL MOLITOR: I certainly hope that. I mean, we all know what Brian has done, the way his career has trended, you know, kind of reaching an all-time high in a lot of ways last year. So he's a huge part of what we do, right-handed bat with power who can play defense and added intelligence and leadership. It's not surprising that you go through a 103-loss season and there are going to be people inquiring about how much are you going to try to change to either give your club a different look in the short-term or possibly improve your long-term chances.

When you talk about valuable pieces that clubs would have interest in, it's not surprising that his name has been brought up quite a bit. Him coming back would certainly be a good thing for me. Him and I have a really positive relationship in all regards. I'm kind of following it along and, you know, just kind of see where it goes.

As Derek and Thad have said, we have to be open minded about just about anything that people would bring to us just to try to increase our chances of doing what we need to do both in the short-term as well as going forward.

Q. How tough was it to lose Trevor Plouffe?
PAUL MOLITOR: It was hard personally. When he came in 12 years ago roughly, it was just one of the those relationships that I have had a chance to be a part of in a lot of ways, as a young kid who was looking for a lot of guidance through all the things he endured to become a big league player to his maturation to a good player, good teammate.

We all understand, without having to go too deep, why it came down the way it did given our personnel and how things fit together and where Trevor is at in terms of potential compensation through the arbitration system, all those things were factors, but I think he's going to be fine. I think there is a lot of potential value for somebody who looks for a consistent right-handed bat who can do some things and versatile defensively as far as playing the corners. So, yeah, it's hard to move on when you have relationships like that.

Q. It obviously opened the doors up for (inaudible). Have you talked to him at all this offseason?
PAUL MOLITOR: I haven't talked to him directly. I've been monitoring more what he's been up to through other people in our system, including our training staff. You know, we hear good reports about his focus and you guys heard what he had to say at the end of the year about coming back and things that he wants to do both in terms of being physically prepared as well as trying to undue some of the things that he found were a little bit humbling this year in his second time around. Not to say that there wasn't positives.

When he first came up two years ago the impact was tremendous. Then not atypical from some of our guys who come through the second time around, there were adjustments made and at times he seemed to be figuring things out and other times a little bit of regression. That's just part of the growth of young players. Still consider him a very high-impact guy on our team and coming in, not having the problem of having to be concerned about playing right field. I have a fairly high level of confidence about his defensive third base of what I think it can turn into. There is still going to be some growing pains there as he settles in and we gotta see how he will respond to potentially playing that position a high number of games. Just a guy you want to try to find a way to keep on the field in some way.

Q. What's a fair guesstimate of how many games you would like to start him at third, the whole way, 120, half the time?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't want to get too much in a box there.

Q. Do you need to be covered in case he has more growing pains?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think so, but at some point you gotta -- if you have people that you have trust in and faith in long term, you have to let them endure some of those growing pains through working through it rather than just having someone ready to go take their spot during the short-term. Not that you can't back a guy off if it gets to that point either mentally or physically, but a lot of our young guys, which we have a large amount of, I don't want to -- I'm not a guy that says, hey, this is it, run with it.

Guys are going to have to earn what they get and we haven't been able to do that as much as I would have liked especially last year because of lack of depth. Guys got a chance to play a little bit more than maybe they deserved at times. But I think we try to imagine a positive scenario for our team this year. You would like to think that running him out there on a regular basis, he's going to be a part of enabling that happen.

Q. Byron Buxton really took off there in September. What was the biggest difference you saw in him last year as compared to previous times when he came up?
PAUL MOLITOR: There is no doubt he had a nice September. I think for whatever reason there was a little bit more freedom of expression of his talent, maybe not trying to impress or meet expectations and trying to concentrate on enjoying the gifts that he has. I think he would tell you that every time we sent him back and he would excel in Triple A, he knows that the pressure of the big leagues was part of the reason. Between expectations and trying to help our team get back on track, there is a lot of things he puts on himself which is part of the reason we like him.

I don't think he's out of the woods, but we all think he's got -- we haven't given up on the ceiling that has been created for him. I think it's there, as they say. Good athletes have a way of figuring things out and I don't think there are many better athletes in the game. You guys will hear me say this a lot, but we have to remember how old they are, how much they've played and you have to allow them the opportunity to grow. You have expectations for people, but you have to be patient particularly when they're young and inexperienced at the Major League level.

Q. How good can he be, would you say?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know how to answer that in terms of -- what you see creates the potential in your mind as far as where his talent might take him. I was somewhat jokingly at the end of the year saying I might have misgauged him a little bit in terms of what he could do because I was focused on bunting and putting the ball in play and cutting the swing down and strike outs and then he comes up and hits eight or nine home runs in September.

So we know there is some hit-it-over-the-fence skill that I thought might come over time, but we saw potentially it might be more frequently. So you start to measure how that's going to play out. We all know it takes a while for a player to establish his identity, whether it's more power, more average, more combination of everything, including speed and base running.

Let's get the guy 1,000, 1,500 at-bats and we will start to get a feel for the direction he's going to head. Impact the game with his legs and his bat and his arm and his speed, not a lot of guys have that type of skill set.

Q. Are you always looking to read up on things and the latest stuff available. And Derek mentioned to us yesterday he asked you what kind of baseball stuff you read. I wondered if these guys had reading material for you so you are all conversing in the same --

Q. -- newfangled stuff. Are you reading anything --
PAUL MOLITOR: No, not that they've directed me to. I think I spent a little more time here trying to -- when I looked at our year-end report and the breakdown, a lot of which include analytics in terms of depth, you need to refresh yourself along the way. There is a lot of initials to know what they represent and how to quantify those things, but I haven't specifically done more than get a better understanding of some of the things that we feel in terms of resources that might help us get better.

Q. Did they open your eyes yet or do you anticipate them turning you on to some of these measures where you will put some faith in them where before they were a piece of the puzzle but now they might occasionally be a pretty strong piece? Like fielding independent stats, to look differently at your pitchers and what they achieve.
PAUL MOLITOR: That's one that you kind of -- it's gained a lot of credence, the FIP and those things. So you are aware of that.

We can quantify so many more parts of the game now, it's more tangible in how we evaluate, and in some ways how we apply the use of our roster day-to-day. You think about line-ups and how nice it is when you have somewhat set but you're smart enough to know that you're going to do what you need to do according to what knowledge you have in trying to give your team the best chance to win every day.

The whole idea of signing Jason Castro, a lot of it was measured on the impact of catching on a staff. As we've learned more about how to quantify that, I think that it's probably been a little bit of an undervalued position for guys that handle some of those type of things better than others, and we thought that was a big piece in trying to at least start off a way of trying to figure out a way to pitch better, starters, relievers, collectively, you try to get a guy back there that's going to help guide it in the right direction.

Q. Did you notice how good he was, I'm sure you did by trying to help your hitters in the series against Houston these last few years? Were there times you thought how the heck was that called a strike and now he's yours?
PAUL MOLITOR: To be honest with you, it didn't jump out at me, it's not a focus during in-game. Obviously you see guys that are better at that than others. But as we did the research and talked around and heard his story from a few years back and how he began to take that on as a huge part of what he was going to do with that staff and really starting with the younger staff and helping them find their way, you know, it's something that he believes in strongly, that's an important part of why he has the value that he does.

Q. Have you had a chance to examine how Spring Training went last year and are you planning to tweak anything to get the guys ready given how the season started?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know how much you can relate our Spring Training and how it went and what we did to the fact that we started 0-9. I think it's a little bit of a stretch to think that something that we missed or didn't work enough on, we lost nine games in a row and we pitched fairly well, didn't hit at all, we lost some games late.

You guys have heard me say I think one of the underestimations was the fact that we thought all these young guys could take this on at the same time and create a season of their own without a little bit more of experience chipping in.

But we are going to look at it. Usually January is the month where Joe and myself spend a lot of time on beginning to plan what Spring Training would look like. We joked a little bit about not -- of leaving the bats in the clubhouse the first couple of days and working on catching the ball again. We liked the foundation of our spring. You guys were there, we had a good spring, we were healthy, we ran bases, we caught the ball, there were a lot of reasons to think that we were going to have not a start that would bury us the way it did, and I don't think a lot of people saw that coming. You're always looking for ways to make it better.

Q. Probably won't break your heart to face Sale a few less times?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know about that. For whatever reason. In fact, two years ago they had a stat with Sale against the rest of the league and compared to Minnesota, not that that's something you would expect to continue. That's a huge deal.

Q. Kansas City is trading Davis.
PAUL MOLITOR: These are big things. It's how the game works. You understand both sides of the deals. It's not one of those things where you think someone scammed anybody. It's just what teams need to do at different points of where they're at.

Q. Are you surprised Kansas City is dialing it back so soon, given that their window is still open?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't think they're cashing in. I think they feel like they have enough pieces in our division and with their experience to still do things. It seems like from an outsider's perspective and not studying it to too large of an extent, they are going to have a lot of people coming up at the same time as far as who they are going to have to decide to retain. And if you try to do it all at the same time, people talk about waiting until the trade deadline and see where you're at, that type of thing, but when you have that many pieces potentially to plan out free agency you have to plan for those things. I certainly can't judge or tell them what's right. They're going to do what they think is right and they've been successful at it particularly in the short-term.

Q. Home runs were up a lot this year and it wasn't really the power hitters hitting more home runs, but it was throughout the line-up you had a lot more. Does that impact how you manage a game?
PAUL MOLITOR: You know, I've said this throughout my brief tenure. I like flow of an offense rather than to bank too much on the home runs. Some teams, Torontos and Baltimores and people like that that relied on a heavy resource offensively. We hit 200 homers. We had one guy that hit 20% of them. It's something that you welcome. I still prefer good at-bats, good situational hitting, good flow on the bases. It's nice when you can start to win some games because you know you got guys that can hit it over the fence.

I think all the managers are a little more hesitant to loose outs on the base paths these days in terms of how you manage. I'm a little guarded that way in taking potential -- putting outs on the board or being too aggressive offensively but I still think it has its place.

Q. What about defending it? Anything difference there strategically?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think that's part of the studying going on. Talking about guys with spin rate and launch angles and figuring out how to pitch better and smarter.

I don't think what I did and what my coaches do -- I don't think we're going to try to work any harder, we might try to work a little smarter. And if we can figure out how to do that with better resources and application, that's what we're going to do.

Q. How important was it to you to keep Neil Allen on and was that a thing where you had to convince these guys, because raw numbers --
PAUL MOLITOR: We discussed all the coaches. I preface my comments to be quite honest, I didn't really feel very comfortable about trying to judge any of them on the season that we had. I don't think there was really -- there was accountability, but I wouldn't say blame.

I like that they've given me some freedom in that regard, and in Neil's case, I think it was an easy place where people said, well, they're going to have to change the pitching coach. Whether you want to look at our overall numbers, which, you know, we were at the bottom. The guys progressed the way they should have. There's a lot of ways you can look at trying to judge how Neil does it. I look at him day-to-day, the respect I think our pitchers have for him and I think he has the ability to teach and set up game plans. And maybe more importantly, I have tremendous comfortability there. Our in-game communication, the plan we try to put forth every day and how we're going to set up, who we are going to use and how we're going to use them.

You know, you talk about set line-ups, our pitching, we didn't have set pitching for most of the year. As far as juggling roles, long guy one week might be the eighth inning guy the next. You would like to have a little bit more definition to your roles out there in the pen and we didn't have that luxury. I trust what he does. I liked how we communicated in the game. I don't have really a measuring stick, I never had a pitching coach before. It's not like I say, well, you know, that's not a position I paid a lot of attention to as a player or a coach. I just know I wanted to have him as part of my team.

Q. The error total from last season was up, but (No microphone.) How do you look to improve that?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think some things are going to happen naturally through experience and things. The outfield defense started last year, personnel that you're going to run out there most likely, more often.

We didn't have one guy making a ton of errors. You know, you could talk about Polanco. I think we're going to work hard on it, we're going to focus on it. We're going to have to reemphasize things about our defense, our lack of ability to catch the ball on some routine plays and have an idea where we want to throw it, whether it's from the outfield or the infield.

I think that one of my jobs is to try to make that as clear as possible that we have to be better. I looked at the numbers last year and it's -- to give you an idea of the magnitude, if you're going to use errors as part of your measuring stick, the first through the 14th team in the American League, the error differential was 25, maybe. It was like 70 to 95. And then from the 14th team to the 15th team, it went from 95 to 130. We more than doubled the differential between the first and the 14th team. That's a big gap.

Then you add in the other things, the range and other questions that we have to do better at. We don't have strikeout pitching. We have some, some guys were getting better at that, but we need to make a higher percentage of outs and potential plays that need to be played. Thanks, guys.

Minnesota Twins