It’s been an uncharacteristically jarring few months for the Twins organization. In the midst of just the second 100-loss season in the post-D.C. history of the franchise, the Twins parted ways with longtime executive Terry Ryan, breaking with their usual pattern of organizational continuity. Months later, they officially have two key new executives in place, and on Monday, they introduced their new hires, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine, to the Minnesota media.
The Twins’ reputation for loyalty is a big reason why jobs with the organization are coveted in the industry, Levine said at today’s press conference. “People all over the game would like to work for the Twins,” Levine said. “But part of that loyalty from ownership means that it’s perceived as a difficult organization to get into as well.”
Twins CEO Jim Pohlad admitted to having virtually nothing to do with the Levine hire. “I had not met Thad until last night,” Pohlad said. “It was Derek’s entire decision to hire Thad, and we couldn’t be happier.” Pohlad added that he wouldn’t stand in the way of Falvey’s need to add resources to beef up the team’s analytics department, which currently is a three-person operation.
Falvey and Levine, along with as longtime assistant GM Rob Antony, will head out Monday evening to the general manager’s meetings in Arizona. If that seems a bit sudden, it’s because it is. The Twins had to wait to formalize hiring Falvey until his Indians were eliminated from the playoffs, per a handshake agreement between the two clubs. When that took seven games — plus a rain delay — to materialize, it meant the timing would naturally be a bit hurried.
Falvey said he wasn’t too worried about that, even if it would be a bit of a crash course over the next few days up to and after free agency formally opens on Tuesday. In his mind, it’s going to be good for the three minds to converge upon the offseason together, as he can bring the best of his information from the Indians organization, Levine the same from the Rangers and Antony from the Twins to blend it all into what ends up being their offseason path.
Falvey joins the Twins from the Indians organization, where he was third in command behind team president Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff. Falvey joined the Indians in November 2007, and ascended quickly before settling in for the last year as the assistant general manager.
Levine joins the Twins from the Rangers organization, where he’d spent more than a decade working under current GM Jon Daniels. Levine started in baseball with a brief stint with the Dodgers before joining the Rockies full-time in 1999, ultimately becoming Senior Director of Baseball Operations.
There’s no question addressing the pitching staff will be paramount to whatever path Falvey and Levine take this offseason, and they’re keenly aware of it. The Twins ranked last in starting pitching ERA (5.39), and the bullpen wasn’t much better (4.63, 26th). With little in the way of MLB-ready pitching in the pipeline (considering the struggles of Jose Berrios and the relative lack of certainty with Stephen Gonsalves and Kohl Stewart), Falvey said he’s aware the team is going to have to get creative in supplementing the pitching staff.
“With pitching, I think you want to explore every avenue and opportunity to add talent,” Falvey said. “Whether that’s being opportunistic in the free agent market, or through trades, or through unique development philosophies, which I think are things that we will apply moving forward, there’s no one way to attack that. This year’s free agent market is a little lean on the pitching side, so I think we have to explore every opportunity that we have to develop the players we have internally, and figure out what it is that we need to do to develop the strengths into useful pieces at the major league level.”
Part of working on the pitching staff will be evaluating players in-house to determine what assets the club has to move around to acquire pitching in addition to what it might find on the market. Falvey wasn’t prepared to go down that road mere minutes into his tenure, but he did suggest the team would search high and low, internally and externally, to revamp the club’s woebegone pitching staff.
“I think we’ll spend time over the next week in Arizona to dig in and talk to other teams about needs and fits and what the landscape looks like for this offseason,” Falvey said. “We will commit to being collaborative in our approach to pitching development. It’s something I feel very strongly about. Utilizing different resources to help us develop the current pitchers that are on the staff and the players coming up through the minor leagues. We wouldn’t shut out any avenue to acquire or develop a player, and I expect that will be a slight change from how we’ve operated here, but I look forward to leading that.”
Falvey’s vision isn’t limited to the pitching side, though it can be easy to focus on that part. Not only are the Twins coming off an incredible run of subpar pitching — including carrying an MLB-worst K/9 every year from 2011-15 — but the Indians are coming off the seventh-best ERA in baseball. Beyond that, the Indians found some of their best pitchers in unlikely places. Corey Kluber came in the Jake Westbrook trade and was far from an instant success. The same can be said of Carlos Carrasco, who came over in the Cliff Lee deal with the Phillies and needed multiple years and even a stint in the bullpen to find his way. Mike Clevinger, who is one of the team’s more promising young pitchers, arrived in a deal for a broken-down Vinnie Pestano. That sort of resourcefulness, if Falvey can duplicate it in Minnesota, will only serve to make the search for pitching more interesting for Twins fans.
“The goal here is straightforward and measurable,” Falvey said. “It’s to build a sustainable and championship-caliber team and organization that Twins fans across Twins Territory will be proud of. Thad and I know there are no shortcuts to getting there. We intend to relentlessly identify, pursue and advance top-performing people, cultivate world-class process and build a culture that’s collaborative and transparent to achieve our goals.”
Falvey didn’t stop there, as he promised wide-sweeping changes to the “Twins Way,” which is such a key phrase that the organization made it the address when they opened Target Field at “1 Twins Way” in downtown Minneapolis.
“The Twins Way will be to thrive together,” Falvey promised at the outset of the conference. “That’s important to me. Both Thad and I have grown and experienced a measure of success within organizational cultures that understand the value in creating balanced systems, designing, implementing and evaluating processes and rewarding hard work and professional character, both on and off the field. We will root our decision making in evidence-based practices, both subjective and objective in nature, which means a commitment to understanding the metrics, but always making human decisions. That will never change. There is no substitute for the people and the input from our senior leadership group.”