The Twins originally signed Rocco Baldelli to a four-year contract that covered the 2019-2022 season with club options tagged onto the deal's backend. Derek Falvey told reporters last September that the team was committed to Baldelli.
"Rocco's our manager. He's my partner in this all the way through. That's never even crossed my mind, quite frankly... Rocco's a big part of our future. Not just next year, but beyond." At the time, it wasn't clear whether the Twins were exercising an option or committing to Baldelli for the long term.
Earlier this week, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported the Twins quietly extended Baldelli before the 2022 season. He said the extension is for an "unknown period," but he is under contract through at least 2025. A manager entering a contract's final year is often considered a lame duck, so the club wanted to avoid that. Now, his future seems secure, with the front office committed to Baldelli's path for the team.
Baldelli's Twins tenure has seen ups and downs in the team's performance. He won Manager of the Year in his first year at the helm when the team went 101-61 while setting the all-time home run record. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Minnesota won the AL Central for the second consecutive season with a 36-24 record. In the last two seasons, the Twins have finished below .500 while dealing with injuries and other concerns. Entering play on Tuesday, Baldelli has a .527 winning percentage for his managerial career.
As a franchise, the Twins have stayed the course with managers, especially since the Pohlad family has been in the ownership role. Since 1987, the Twins have employed four managers (Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor, and Baldelli). The team remained committed to these managers even when the team's performance suffered for multiple seasons.
Consistency at the top of an organization can have its pros and cons. Players know what to expect if the same manager calls the shots, which can help deal with the multitude of personalities and egos on a roster. On the other hand, one voice year after year can lose some of its effectiveness. Some former Twins managers likely faced this situation at the end of their tenure.
Every manager will face criticism throughout their tenure. When the team plays well, others besides the manager get the bulk of the credit. If a team struggles, the manager can get blamed for line-up construction, bullpen usage, and removing starters too early. Unfortunately, a manager can only work with the players on the roster, so many of the team's flaws are out of his control.
Baldelli has been forced to be creative with the team's line-up construction during the 2023 season. The Twins don't have a traditional lead-off hitter, so the club has used players like Joey Gallo and Max Kepler. Injury concerns have pushed Byron Buxton into a full-time DH role, which has also drawn some scrutiny from fans. Even with this switch, Buxton is on pace for a career-high in games played while leading the Twins in multiple offensive categories. Baldelli is doing his best to compile his line-up pieces on any given night.
In 2022, Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer comprised two-thirds of the Twins' starting rotation. Neither pitcher could pitch beyond five innings regularly, and Baldelli took the brunt of the blame for removing starters too early. However, the results might have been worse if the starters were allowed to face a line-up for a third time. Fast-forward to 2023, and Minnesota has a revamped rotation near the top of MLB's leaderboard in innings pitched and ERA. With the right rotational pieces, Baldelli can leave his starters longer into games, helping the team sit atop the division.
Bullpen usage can be even more fickle when tied to managerial performance. Relievers are typically pitching in some of the highest-leverage situations. The manager's decisions will be questioned if the bullpen blows a lead. Jhoan Duran has been fantastic, but Baldelli has also been forced to use other relievers with worse track records. The Twins' front office has yet to invest in the bullpen for multiple off-seasons, forcing Baldelli into tough late-game decisions.
For better or worse, Baldelli is tied to Derek Falvey and Thad Levine for the foreseeable future. The current front office moved on from Molitor to bring in someone that fit their mold. Results could have been better during Baldelli's managerial career, but he has helped bring the Twins into the analytical age, an improvement needed from previous managers. There is only so much a manager can control in a game, so he must help build a winning culture throughout an organization.
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