Rocco Baldelli knows Charlie Montoyo well. Not only did they spend the last four seasons together on Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, but Baldelli once played for the 53-year-old Montoyo in the minors. Minnesota’s new manager counts Toronto’s new manager as both a mentor and a friend.
Not surprisingly, Baldelli was effusive in his praise when I asked him about Montoyo. Citing his experience and leadership skills, he opined that the Blue Jays are getting “a tremendous manager and a great person.” Fittingly, Montoyo was hired on October 25, the same day his 37-year-old protege was tabbed by the Twins.
Baldelli wasn’t caught by surprise when he heard the news from north of the border. He knew that Montoyo had interviewed with the Cincinnati Reds, and that he would soon be doing the same with Toronto. The second of those sit-downs obviously went well. Mere days after meeting with him, the Blue Jays announced Montoyo’s hiring.
All told, five candidates went through the interview process in Toronto. Baldelli didn’t want to go on the record as to whether he was one of them, but he did allow that his post-season vacation plans were put on hold for a period of weeks. Multiple teams met with him about their openings. That was to be expected. The “future-manager” tag was assigned to him by myriad members of the media over the course of the 2018 season.
While Baldelli’s name was bandied about frequently in the rumor mill, Montoyo’s was only occasionally mentioned. I asked Minnesota’s new manager why he thinks that was.
“Charlie doesn’t go out of his way to get noticed,” responded Baldelli, who has likewise never been an attention-seeker. “He’s not a self-promoter by any means. He’s just a well-rounded baseball man who does his job and does it well. If you look at what most teams are looking for in a manager these days, he checks all of the boxes. The people around him understand that his knowledge of the game is exceptional.”
Given where he came from — where they both came from — that knowledge includes a healthy dose of analytics. Moreover, Montoyo understands that not every innovative concept should be indiscriminately shoved down players’ throats.
“Charlie has been exposed to a lot of things in the Rays organization over the years,” said Baldelli. “And he’s taken to them very well. He’s curious and asks good questions. That’s what you want when you’re looking into trying new things. The idea isn’t to blindly follow what’s laid out in front of you; it’s to understand it. Charlie does a good job of not only thinking about all of those things, but also how they affect the people on the field — how the players think about them.”
Much like Montoyo, Baldelli recognizes that a player’s mindset matters. Ditto how he comports himself. Leadership skills came up more than once when discussing his former colleague, and Baldelli also used the term when I brought up someone he’ll be managing in Minnesota this season. Nelson Cruz signed with the Twins as a free agent in early January.
“People who know Nelson went out of their way to say this is a guy we should go get,” Baldelli told me. “He’s a great guy to insert into our lineup every day, and he’s also a great person for the clubhouse. Even without actively trying to be a leader, he’ll be a leader for us by just being himself. Leadership is an interesting thing. We have this idea of a vocal leader that we all kind of lean on, but that’s not the way I think about it. There are guys who lead by example, and show it to you every day. They treat people with respect. Those are things that players respond to.”
It was the Twins brain trust — Executive VP Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine — who made the decision to pursue, and ultimately sign, Cruz. But they didn’t leave their new manager out of the loop. Baldelli, who is 10 months younger than the 38-year-old DH, played a long-distance (literally) role in the recruitment. As he has with other potential free-agent acquisitions, Baldelli conversed with Cruz over the phone in a let’s-get-to-know-each-other-better exchange of desires and objectives. The winning culture the Twins are trying to build — one that Baldelli is now a centerpiece of — was almost certainly among the topics discussed.
It’s safe to say that culture was a primary discussion point when Baldelli and Montoyo went through their respective interviews. It’s also safe to say that the teams that hired them brought on board first-year managers who share something in common. For both, leadership built on respect is a high priority.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.