Shipley: It's not looking great for Twins manager Paul Molitor
MINNEAPOLIS — Remember that scene in "Ghostbusters" where the college student working on one of Peter Venkman's garbage ESP experiments keeps getting shocked? With every answer, he receives an electric shock from Venkman, even when he gets it right. For this poor schmuck, there is no right answer.
Because all great art reminds us of our everyday struggles, this scene comes to mind every time Twins manager Paul Molitor goes to the bullpen this season. He can parse the statistics, see who's available to hit off the opposing bench, even empty his mind and use his intuition, it doesn't matter.
There is no right answer.
The Twins sent their best reliever to the Washington Nationals at the non-waiver deadline Monday, July 31, and now the manager might as well blindfold himself and throw darts at a roster next time he needs to pluck a reliever from the bullpen. Brandon Kintzler wasn't a perfect closer, but the veteran right-hander was as close to a lock as Molitor had at his disposal.
Now he's gone.
This isn't to say the Twins should not have traded Kintzler, an all-star for the first time this season at age 33. The Twins took a flier on him with a minor-league contract after the 2015 season and got more out of him than they could have hoped, and on Monday they got a little more. Tyler Watson doesn't chart as a future all-star, either, but he's left-handed and 20 and might prove useful.
That's a win.
But this isn't about Watson, or either of the two young arms the Twins got for future trivia-question answer Jaime Garcia, who zipped in and out of Minnesota faster than Jesse and Frank James. No, this is about Molitor, whose job in a contract year just became impossible.
Cleveland and Kansas City are woke, and the Twins—already a lethargic 5-10 since the all-star break—have even less pitching than they had while routinely sitting atop the American League Central despite mostly lousy pitching. The message has been sent from high atop the left-field tower in Target Field: Auditions are open, please prepare a song, no Sondheim.
The Twins brain trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine did what they had to do, leveraged a couple of tradeable assets while not giving up on next season. By not trading right-hander Ervin Santana, coveted by many despite falling on hard times in July, they have assured fans that they expect to be viable next season.
To be a part of that, Molitor, it seems, will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat, which seems unfair and unlikely because, really, who has three rabbits in their hat? Molitor helped make 2015 an enjoyable season by keeping an undermanned team in the wild-card race into the season's last weekend. After taking a 103-loss digger last season, the Twins have become a capable and sometimes exciting team because of a young core that clearly is finding its legs under Molitor's tutelage.
Is that enough?
Owner Jim Pohlad felt strongly enough about Molitor to make his presence in the dugout this season mandatory for whoever was hired to replace former GM Terry Ryan last fall but made it clear that when his three-year deal was up at the end of the season, the decision belongs to Falvey, the team's first president of baseball operations.
Falvey is careful not to publicly throw all his weight behind the modern analytics-driven style of executive management pioneered by Billy Beane and perfected by Theo Epstein, but it clearly is his bailiwick. And it's not Molitor's. The hall of fame infielder with more than 3,000 hits looks at the numbers, but he's more beholden to what we in the newspaper business call "institutional knowledge" than he is to the math.
I'm not sure I've seen a manager spend more brain power on trying to win a baseball game than Molitor, sometimes to the point of madness. You see him go to the bullpen in a game that seems lost and want to yell at the TV, "There's nothing in there!" Still, Molitor looks at the numbers, checks his gut and walks to the mound.
What else can he do?