Paul Molitor is working his magic in Minnesota

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For years tons of Minnesotans wanted Hall of Famer (and local boy) Paul Molitor added to the Twins’ coaching staff because he’s always been touted as a great baseball mind and specifically an excellent base-running teacher.

This season the Twins finally added him to Ron Gardenhire’s staff and to hear Brian Dozier tell it at least, Molitor has already had a big impact. Dozier, who has 12 steals after totaling 14 all of last season, told Tyler Mason of FSN North:

To be honest with you, what’s kind of revamped everything has been having Molly on the staff. It’s been night and day compared to every other year, as far as dissecting pitchers, knowing exactly what they do, their tendencies, stuff like that. He has a five, 10-minute conversation with me before every game and every single thing that he’s got on film from the pitcher, tendencies, everything.

All of which is great, of course, although as a Twins fan it does make me wonder what took so long to actually get Molitor on the coaching staff.

As a team the Twins rank fourth in the league with 27 steals and have been thrown out just eight times. Last season they stole 52 bases all year to rank 13th in the league and Dozier went just 14-for-21. Molitor has also been tasked with handling the Twins’ defensive shifts, which are much more frequent and analytic based after a decade of relying mostly on Gardenhire’s eyes and gut feelings.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”