Should he stay or should he go?
Days after reports surfaced that Paul Molitor had been invited back as manager of the Minnesota Twins, the deal remained undone.
It doesn't take an advanced degree in tea-leaf translation to conclude that if Molitor is indeed the dugout boss in 2018, it will be on terms set by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, not Molitor.
In terms of results, it is difficult to see what more "Falvine" could have asked for from Molitor and his coaching staff. Not only did the 2017 Twins improve by 26 wins over 2016, they won a wild-card berth with an impressive second-half surge.
That improvement came despite trading away Molitor's most reliable reliever at the end of July. The manager patched together an effective relief corps from rejects and overlooked minor leaguers after Brandon Kintzler was stripped away.
When Kintzler (and Jaime Garcia, who made just one start for Minnesota) were traded off, the then-sagging Twins had a projected 5 percent chance of making the playoff field. And "Falvine" almost certainly figured that the way was clear to dump the incumbent skipper and hire one of their own choosing as they continue to remake the organization.
But the Twins went 35-24 the rest of the way, even with slugger Miguel Sano sidelined for most of that stretch. Molitor may well be named manager of the year in the BBWAA balloting. Selling his dismissal to the players, the fans and principal owner Jim Pohlad — who made retaining Molitor for the final year of his contract a requirement of the new front office — will not be easy.
So they won't fire Molitor. But they'll make it real easy for him to walk away.
We outsiders don't know the specific holdups in the negotiations. Contract length, salary, coaches — any and all of those details could be at dispute.
Molitor's leverage is the 2017 results and his general popularity. Falvine's leverage is their (presumed) confidence that they have alternatives they prefer. It may not be politically wise to explictly fire Molitor right now, but they won't mind if he walks.
And if he stays on a one-year deal and the team regresses in 2018, as history suggests is likely, they'll have another opportunity to bring in a new skipper next year.
This is a rather Machevellian interpertation of the situation, but it fits the known facts.
And in Falvine's defense, they were brought in 11 months ago to remake and revitalize the organization. They've been gradually doing that, piece by piece. Molitor holds the most prominent post, and they should have a manager they are fully comfortable with.
I wrote this in my blog when Doug Mientkiewicz was axed last month as a minor league manager: "Much of the job of minor league manager — major league manager too, for that matter — is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of view." It's the hidden part of icebergs that sinks ships.
Off what I know, I'd keep Molitor on. None of us know everything Falvey and Levine know about this decision.