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Baldelli named AL Manager of the Year finalist

@dohyoungpark
November 4, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- Two days after manager Rocco Baldelli's first season in Minnesota came to an end with a sweep by the Yankees in the American League Division Series, he found himself sitting next to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine in the basement of Target Field,

MINNEAPOLIS -- Two days after manager Rocco Baldelli's first season in Minnesota came to an end with a sweep by the Yankees in the American League Division Series, he found himself sitting next to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine in the basement of Target Field, surrounded by a group of media members in an informal scrum.

When one of the reporters asked the executives about Baldelli's outstanding performance in his first year with the Twins, the 38-year-old skipper looked slightly uncomfortable, much to the delight of those seated next to him.

"Cover your ears, if you like," Falvey told Baldelli with a laugh. "I was hoping someone would ask that question so we could do a little bit of it. [Baldelli] hates every second of it. We couldn’t be happier about the job he did."

As it turns out, that job well done didn't go unnoticed around the AL, either. On Monday, Baldelli was named one of three finalists for the 2019 AL Manager of the Year Award, alongside Aaron Boone of the Yankees and longtime friend Kevin Cash of the Rays.

The winner, as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, will be announced on MLB Network at 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

All-time AL Manager of the Year Award winners

Baldelli was the lone representative of the Twins among the finalists for the BBWAA awards, as rookie second baseman Luis Arraez notably missed the cut for the AL Rookie of the Year Award despite hitting .334/.399/.439 with 109 hits and more walks (36) than strikeouts (29) as a 22-year-old rookie.

The Manager of the Year Award can be the toughest for voters to objectively gauge due to the difficulty in isolating a manager's performance from surrounding factors. But both the Twins' success as a team in 2019 and the manner in which Baldelli's colleagues talk about his contribution to that success indicate that he is well-deserving of the distinction.

Under Baldelli's guidance, the Twins won 101 games, the second-most in franchise history, as they won the AL Central and played in the ALDS for the first time since 2010. Baldelli became only the seventh manager in Major League Baseball history to win at least 100 games in his first season.

Despite his relative inexperience in the post, Baldelli's ability to quickly learn on the job and his trust in his coaches and players were complemented by his strong critical thinking and decision-making skills that served him well in the long-term viability and development of his team.

"Every single day when you come in, there are different challenges, and you just don't know what those challenges are going to be," Baldelli said. "So staying as nimble and as open-minded as you can, and just knowing that you're not going to have everything figured out every day when you walk in and every day when you leave. But you just trust that there are people around you that are going to help you, that you are going to figure things out and make it work in the best possible way and that ultimately it's going to be OK."

And in an era during which there might exist somewhat of a rift between the dugout and the front office, Baldelli instead absorbed information and collaborated closely with Falvey and Levine on a daily basis, with "postmortem" sessions in the manager's office following games a common sight at Target Field between all of the decision-makers.

"Occasionally, when we're watching the game, we’ll have a constructive criticism of what’s going on," Levine said. "The thing that was so refreshing to me personally was by the time we got down to the clubhouse, he and [bench coach] Derek Shelton, or he and [pitching coach] Wes Johnson, or he and [hitting coach] James Rowson were having the same conversation. It was top of the line.

"There were times where we would walk down postgame, and he’d be thinking about this pitcher versus this pitcher or hitting this guy versus this guy, and they’d be talking about it, and he'd ask our opinion right away," Falvey added. "It wasn’t like a question of, 'I don’t want to hear anyone else's answer on that.'"

With the way Baldelli and Johnson carefully managed their bullpen usage, most of the Twins' core relievers said in September that they felt fresher and better prepared for the end of the season than they had at any other points in their careers. Aside from Sam Dyson, who was acquired from San Francisco with a preexisting injury, none of Minnesota's core relievers spent any time on the injured list in 2019.

By using a regular rotation of Mitch Garver and Jason Castro behind the plate, Baldelli kept both of his backstops fresh and coaxed the best performance out of Garver, who posted record-breaking numbers at the plate. Many other young players also took significant steps forward in their development as Baldelli gave his players significant freedom and rest throughout the season to be the best versions of themselves.

As Falvey noted, it's one thing for a managerial hire to talk up that kind of philosophy during the interview process, but another challenge altogether to actually implement it effectively during the season. But that's what Baldelli did -- and Falvey noted that everyone with the Twins, to a person, was better off for it in 2019.

"To see it manifest on a daily basis, and the way [Baldelli] led that group, and the way he empowered everybody on the staff to do their jobs was incredible to watch," Falvey said. "I think everybody in that room benefitted from Rocco’s investment in that person individually and their genuine belief that there was in that individual person."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.