CLEVELAND – Carlos Correa was ready for the Twins’ hour-long flight to Cleveland, gearing up for five games in four days with the AL Central lead in motion. He connected his phone to Wi-Fi and, of course, opened Twitter.
He read the first tweet on his timeline twice. Then check if the account that tweeted it has been verified. Then seatmate Gio asked Urshela to read it too.
Both were incredulous, so Correa walked back to the staff section, specifically to pitching coach Wes Johnson.
“Then he told me he had a great opportunity for himself and his family at LSU,” Correa said.
Johnson picked up first place midway through a season and moved to Baton Rouge, La., to be the pitching coach of the Tigers† LSU had also courted Johnson last season. But that accelerated over the past week and the aggressive field became an offer on Thursday. Johnson accepted Sunday. Johnson had no chance between Sunday’s game and the flight to properly inform the team before the news leaked.
Correa said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli initially told him to keep everything he had learned about Johnson down.
“By the time I walked back to my seat, the guys were saying, ‘What were you talking about with Rocco?’ And I said, “I don’t know. Are you talking about Wes? What do you know?” “He’s going away,” Correa said. “I think everyone knew when we landed.”
The Twins spontaneously gathered at the hotel, where Baldelli, Johnson and President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey confirmed the messages.
Players were shocked. When coaches leave mid-season, it’s usually because the team loses games and the staff loses jobs. Johnson left a good team to take the same lower-level position, albeit at a school in the powerhouse SEC.
Johnson made history when he joined the Twins staff after the 2018 season directly from the University of Arkansas† He is an integral part of the coaching staff, helping Baldelli – an outfielder in his playing time – to make decisions about all things pitching.
Johnson was a hit, as the Twins won division titles in 2019 and ’20. The 2021 season was a steep decline, with an ERA of 4.83 employees. But with a fully rebuilt starting rotation in 2022, Johnson reduced that collective ERA to 3.78.
Why Johnson would choose to leave such a plum situation boiled down to three core values.
“I tell people my priorities. It’s my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, one. It’s my family, two. And it’s baseball, three,” Johnson said. “I’ll never get that off the hook.”
The MLB lifestyle can strain that work-life balance. The 50-year-old and his wife, Angie, have three children: Ryan, Anna and Ava. The latter two are still in junior high and high school in Johnson’s hometown, Arkansas. And with a 162 game season, plus a few months of spring training, Johnson missed out on family moments.
The college season is much less demanding, although year-round recruitment seems to be a big factor in his rapid departure. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported that Johnson’s LSU contract has a base salary of $380,000 per year for three years, plus an $800 per month vehicle allowance and a $25,000 relocation bonus.
Johnson said this was “the hardest” thing he’s ever done. It has also put the Twins in a difficult position as they will have to replace a key staff member on Friday once Johnson officially leaves this series.
“We want to respect everyone in the room, talk to different people, different staff members. It does take some juggling,” Falvey said. “Our plan here is to partner with the internal group that we need to take in the role of Wes.”
Likely candidates include assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez, bullpen coach Pete Maki and run prevention coordinator Colby Suggs, although the team has emphasized it will be a group effort to finish this season.
Several pitchers were happy with Johnson’s new opportunity, but sad to lose his guidance. Starter Chris Archer, who has been in the league since 2012 and has dealt with serious injuries in recent years, said Johnson has a way of making pitchers believe in themselves again, which will continue after his departure.
“He really helped me gain confidence in me every day,” Archer said. “…He’s the best pitching coach I’ve ever had, head to toe. Analysis, biomechanics, confidence building, game plan. Every facet you can think of, he’s been the best.”