Rocco Baldelli was a five-tool player whose career was cut short because of mitochondrial disease, where the body fails to produce enough energy to function properly. He was going to be part of a great Rays outfield with Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton, but Hamilton had drug problems and didn’t fulfill his promise in Tampa Bay. Crawford had a good run for the Rays, but Baldelli had only a few good years in the majors.
The Woonsocket, R.I., native spent 2009 with the Red Sox, before ending his career with 10 games back with the Rays in 2010. Baldelli got into the coaching ranks and year by year became more prominent as someone who could use analytics to improve player performance. This offseason, Baldelli, who had been the Rays’ major league field coordinator, was interviewed for most of the managerial openings, getting the Twins job after they fired Paul Molitor, the 2017 American League Manager of the Year.
There’s no question that Baldelli has his work cut out for him. The Twins were a disappointment this past season after good things were expected following their 85-win season of 2017. But injuries and underperformance resulted in 78 wins in 2018, and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, a Lynn native, had to do something to shake up his team. He felt a new approach was needed, and he also felt Baldelli, who at 37 is the youngest manager in baseball, had learned a lot from Rays manager Kevin Cash and was ready to apply some of those methods to the Twins, the Red Sox’ spring training neighbors in Fort Myers, Fla.
Baldelli said he interviewed with five teams. While he wouldn’t name them, they were obviously the ones with jobs available — the Twins, Rangers, Blue Jays, Angels, and Reds.
“It was the first time I’d interviewed for a manager’s job, and the great part was I got a chance to meet a lot of people in the game I normally wouldn’t have met, and got to hear and see the things they value most in the game for their organizations,” Baldelli said. “They were all different. I really learned a lot as I was going through it.”
Why now? Why did Baldelli go from being on nobody’s radar to being on everyone’s radar?
“I really don’t know if I could put my finger on it. It would be true speculation,” he said. “There were several jobs available. The Rays had a wonderful season in which we knew what our expectations were. Outside maybe the expectations weren’t as strong as ours. It was an awesome year for everyone involved with the organization. A combination of that and general ideas of what teams are looking into these days and what they’re trying to promote in their organizations. I felt lucky I fell into that bucket for these teams.”
Baldelli was asked whether he will adopt many of the methods he experienced in Tampa.
“I think the goal isn’t to replicate what’s been done in the past,” he said. “The goal is always to bring the best of what you’ve been a part of and the people you’ve been a part of and what you’ve earned. We’re trying to build something unique in Minnesota.”
The Twins are in reloading mode, and while new players are likely to be brought in between now and spring training, Baldelli said he’s focused on the players currently on the roster, players that for the most part, he’s already talked to.
“We have a good, young roster of good people with a ton of ability,” he said. “How can we help make the clubhouse as good as possible for them? How can we do our job better for them? If we can add to our group, that’s wonderful.”
Falvey and general manager Thad Levine obviously liked that Baldelli was able to get Rays players to buy into analytics, but Baldelli said that’s a tribute to the players, not himself.
“The players’ desire to get better is the desire to making adjustments and wanting to improve,” he said. “I’m not just saying that. Unless you have a motivated player who wants to improve, it won’t happen. Those adjustments are made in a ton of ways. The player has to buy in or it’s not going to work. In Tampa Bay, we had guys motivated to do that and open-minded. They still had their own thoughts but it was a first step. These are not overnight type of adjustments. It’s a discussion with staff and players that goes on the entire season and offseason.”
When Dave Roberts was brought in to manage the Dodgers, one of his main jobs was to get Yasiel Puig to buy into the team concept. Baldelli seems to have the same task with Miguel Sano, who has great power but has not taken getting in shape seriously, which caused the Twins to send him back to Single A last season.
“Talking to Sano, what an incredible athlete that he is,” said Baldelli. “I have a lot of faith in him and that he’s going to do everything he can to be the best player he can be. Judging by the conversation I had with him, he seems like a great young man. We’re going to get to know him first before we start to dive into everything else.”
Baldelli won’t have many rules for his players. His philosophy is that you should come to the ballpark every day wanting to learn and improve.
“Whether you’re a staff member or a player, living by the principles of trying to improve yourself every day are what matter when you’re trying to build a good, happy clubhouse,” Baldelli said.
Baldelli said he’s learned the most about team building from Cash, and he’d love to bring some of Cash’s ways into the Twins’ clubhouse. But Baldelli said he also learned from his former managers, including Lou Piniella, Joe Maddon, and Terry Francona.
HARD AT WORK
Yankees making some changes
We love following the dealings of the Yankees, especially since they lost the Division Series to the Red Sox. So far, Brian Cashman, who has won four World Series since he became general manager in 1998, has traded top prospect Justus Sheffield and two other minor league pitchers to the Mariners for James Paxton, a talented, veteran lefthander who is relative low-cost (he made $4.9 million this past season and is eligible for arbitration) and can’t become a free agent until after 2021 season.
This gives the Yankees a starting rotation of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Paxton, CC Sabathia, and possibly Jordan Montgomery. In four career starts against the Red Sox, Paxton is 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA. While Sheffield is highly regarded, he needs to mature, and you could question whether that maturity could have taken place in one offseason.
Meanwhile, Cashman also has said he’s going to trade righthander Sonny Gray. As we reported three weeks ago, the Athletics have shown considerable interest in trying to reacquire him, but many other smaller-market teams, such as the Braves, Padres, Rangers, and Twins, have also expressed interest. So, Cashman will likely be able to get prospects back for Gray, or he could flip him for a good late-inning reliever since David Robertson and Zach Britton are possible free agent defections.
Even with Cashman acquiring Paxton, he’s likely to delve into the starter market, including being in on the top pitcher available, Patrick Corbin, a New Jersey guy who would love to pitch for the Yankees, and possibly Nathan Eovaldi, a 28-year-old righthander who impressed the baseball world in the postseason. There’s also free agent J.A. Happ, who pitched well for the Yankees after being acquired from the Blue Jays.
Cashman also has enough capital in his farm system to make another Paxton-like move. He could look to the Orioles and pick off Dylan Bundy or Alex Cobb. He could inquire, as he once did, with the Giants on the availability of Madison Bumgarner. He also could see if the Mets would part with Noah Syndergaard.
As far as position players, there’s always the possibility the Yankees will make a huge splash by signing Manny Machado, who wants to play shortstop in New York. With Didi Gregorius out until at least July after Tommy John surgery, there is an opening there for Machado. Even if Machado eventually has to move to third base, clearly his best position, the Yankees could shift Miguel Andujar to first base.
There are also long-shot rumblings about the Yankees trying to move Giancarlo Stanton. Obviously it’s a massive contract, but if the Dodgers ever felt they needed to do something splashy, Stanton isn’t that far-fetched, since that’s one team to which he would likely approve a trade. Nor would it be far-fetched if the Giants wanted a big hitter to give their staggering offense a jump start, or if the Phillies decided to include Stanton on their list of superstars to acquire. Stanton has about $260 million remaining on his contract over the next 10 years. That would be cheaper than acquiring Machado or Bryce Harper. Stanton is 29 years old.
Apropos of nothing
1. The big deal being discussed between the Mariners and Padres that would send Wil Myers to Seattle for Jean Segura and Mike Leake hasn’t gone over big with the Mariners’ fan base, which views Segura as a favorite. On the surface it’s a good deal for San Diego, which needs a shortstop and also depth in their starting rotation. With the Mariners likely losing Nelson Cruz, they need a power hitter, and Myers could fit that role well. Segura, 28, has four years and $58 million remaining on his contract, and Leake is owed another $27 million but would have to waive a no-trade clause for any deal to happen. The Mariners are obviously in salary-dump mode, after having traded James Paxton to the Yankees. They’re stuck with Felix Hernandez’s $27.858 million salary for 2019 and are looking to rebuild after falling short of their goals over the last two seasons.
2. Being on the committee to add new candidates to the Hall of Fame ballot every year, the name that caught my eye is obvious, Mariano Rivera. After that, there are guys I will vote for this time or at some point because they’re worthy, including Andy Pettitte and the late Roy Halladay. There are bubble guys such as Todd Helton and Lance Berkman. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman already has opened my eyes to Berkman, whose numbers are quite similar to those of last-chance candidate Edgar Martinez, who should get in this time after garnering 70.4 percent last season of the 75 percent needed to gain entry. I have not voted for Martinez up to this point but likely will in his final attempt. I’m also a big advocate for Pettitte (256 wins, 19-9 in 44 postseason starts), and I’m certainly considering him this time. Of existing candidates, Omar Vizquel, Jeff Kent, and Gary Sheffield will continue to get my support. I’m giving more consideration to Manny Ramirez, who is maybe the best righthanded hitter I’ve ever seen. I have not voted for PED users outed after testing was in place, but I may be changing my view on that, though I’m not quite there yet. Ramirez’s indiscretions came at the very end of his career, which shouldn’t erase a tremendous body of work, though there were strange times along the way. We only have 10 votes each year, and I’ll continue to vote for those I’ve supported in the past.
3. New York-based agent Burton Rocks represents major league players such as Paul DeJong, but he’s spent the past few years emphasizing that players should be measured more by character and intangibles than analytics. It certainly goes against the grain of what GMs and owners have bought into, where analytics seem to be the driving force. Rocks was recently interviewed by Steve Overmyer of CBS2 in New York. “All owners want to win, and the only way to win is to understand that baseball has flourished through good and bad economic times because of the qualified intangibles of fans and their microeconomics,” said Rocks. “Fans go to the ballpark to see players play because of their charisma, not because of OBP in Sunday afternoon games.”
4. The Nationals’ signing of Kurt Suzuki doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t continue to be interested in the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto. But as the Marlins continue to demand the world (as they should) for the coveted backstop, the Nationals didn’t want to be left with nothing at a position where they had a need. The Marlins wanted at least outfielder Victor Robles, and the Nationals wouldn’t do it. At least for now. So they signed Suzuki, 35, to a modest two-year, $10 million deal, and he could easily become a backup if such a scenario developed. That scenario would likely have to include re-signing Bryce Harper, who has turned down a 10-year, $300 million from the Nationals. The Nationals are OK with Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, negotiating with other teams, but they won’t give up Robles until they’re certain, one way or the other, about Harper. Without Harper, the Nationals’ outfield would consist of Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, and Robles.
5. Nathan Eovaldi is a hot commodity, and while there is a team or two toying with trying to sign him as a reliever, Eovaldi wants to be a starter. And that’s also where the money is. Now, we suppose that if a team offered him Aroldis Chapman money — five years at $86 million — Eovaldi might consider it.
6. There are more signs that the Indians will be paring payroll, offering up Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and now their starting catcher, Yan Gomes. Financially, a high payroll probably doesn’t make sense in that market, but for a while they were a very entertaining team.
7. The Astros need a big first baseman, and we keep hearing Paul Goldschmidt.
From the Bill Chuck files — “No pitcher started more games vs. the AL East in 2018 than David Price. In 16 starts, he went 9-4 with a 3.70 ERA. Dylan Bundy (2-10, 6.26 ERA), J.A. Happ (6-4, 2.52 ERA), and Rick Porcello (7-4, 4.61 ERA) were next with 15 starts.” . . . Also, “Since 2010, only Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre have hit at least 15 homers and struck out under 100 times each season.” . . . Happy birthday, Mark Whiten (52), Chico Walker (60), and Mike Ryan (77), and while he was never a member of the Red Sox, we must acknowledge that Bucky Dent is turning 67.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.