THOMA COLUMN | For better or worse, Baldelli's moves are part of plan

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Edward Thoma, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read
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Apr. 26—Modern front offices prefer cool to heated, studied to impulsive, refined to profane, understated to bombastic. They value restraint and control.

The days of Billy Martin, Leo Durocher and Lou Piniella are past. Longer gone is the era in which Bill McKechnie, a prototype of today's preferred style, could win a pennant and still get fired on the basis that real managers throw tantrums on the regular.

Which is why, even though the first three weeks of the 2021 season have been ugly for the Minnesota Twins, I don't believe Rocco Baldelli is in any jeopardy.

There are, certainly, high expectations for this squad. There are, certainly, a number of painful losses already pinned on their record.

The Twins, for what the standings are worth in the last week of April, sit in last place.

Baldelli's rapid hooks for starters have too often been followed by bullpen meltdowns. His pattern of pulling players for minor injuries draws jeers on social media. His even-keeled demeanor even after the most excruciating of failures dismays fans who want to him reflect their own anger.

Keep in mind: Managers in the third decade of the 21st century are increasingly an extension of front offices. The game-specific moves they make reflect an organizational strategy.

Durocher was notorious for his obsession for winning today's game and for not worrying about the next day in the process. "Tomorrow it might rain," he would say.

For today's managers, and especially for their superiors, that attitude is anathema. They have a plan, and they intend to follow it for the long haul.

Baldelli isn't letting his starters get to even 100 pitches, and that is ultimately his call in a given game, but we should understand that that approach is not his alone, and it is hardly limited to the Twins.

Teams are emphatically not pushing their starters this month, and probably won't at any point this year if they can avoid it. The consensus is that having a starter who threw 60 innings last year work 200 this year is too risky. Better to pull him too soon than too late.

It's part of the plan.

Baldelli has consistently given the ball to Alexander Colome in the late innings, and that has not gone well so far — but the front office signed Colome for that purpose, and they aren't deciding that was a mistake off five outings.

It's part of the plan.

The Twins have key players — Josh Donaldson, Byron Buxton, Andrelton Simmons, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco — with established injury risks. Baldelli isn't pushing any of them in April in hopes of having them in August.

It's part of the plan.

It's not that there are no repercussions or accountability. Travis Blankenhorn — activated off the taxi squad during the COVID crisis — committed one of the two 10th-inning errors that doomed the Twins on Wednesday. On Thursday he was optioned back to the alternate site, replaced by another infielder (Nick Gordon).

The move wasn't accompanied by a blast of public criticism. But the connection should be obvious. Blankenhorn and Gordon are on the fringe of the roster; neither would be active were everybody healthy. Colome is more central to the team, and thus has a longer leash.

The leash is not infinite, however. The decision on if and when it ends will not be Baldelli's alone.

Edward Thoma is at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. Twitter @bboutsider.