The creative career path of former Twins reliever, current Red Sox boss Craig Breslow

FORT MYERS, FLA. – The phone call that changed Craig Breslow’s life, that propelled him down a career path that has led him to becoming the Boston Red Sox’s top baseball executive, came while he was a Minnesota Twin, back in 2008.

The caller kicked him out of school.

Sort of.

“The dean of admissions at NYU School of Medicine called me and expressed his concern over how long it had been since I had set foot in a classroom,” Breslow said. “They had given me permission to defer my admission, but it had been five years by then and I was still pitching. I had always anticipated eventually going to medical school, of becoming a doctor or researcher, but I’ve had to find other ways to stay connected to the medical community.”

That’s because he’s stayed connected to the baseball community ever since, first as a lefthanded reliever who found major league work with seven different teams — three of them, including the Twins, twice — for a dozen seasons, and after retirement as a front office executive.

And that career path almost led him to Minnesota, too.

“He wasn’t sure he was going to play anymore [after Toronto released him in 2018], so he sent me a list of things he thought he could contribute to, and it was impressive. We talked to him about a role on the pitching side,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations. “I had him talk to Rocco, too, thinking maybe he could be a fit on the field. But our pitching group was filled out by then, and I sensed that he felt he could have a bigger impact with a team that hadn’t been together quite as long.”

He found one with the Cubs, where he spent four seasons in charge of developing pitchers, and gained a reputation for creative uses of data and technology. The Red Sox were so impressed that last October they hired him to head up their entire baseball operation.

“He’s incredibly smart, and he’s constantly curious. That curiosity is something that will allow him to get better and better,” Falvey said. “We signed him for our bullpen in 2017, and he was using technology and gathering information just like teams were doing. He was ahead of everybody else in figuring out what shape he wanted his pitches to have, and how to get there.”

The winter before returning to the Twins, in fact, Breslow bought one of the first Rapsodo pitch-tracking computers that every MLB team now utilizes and began analyzing his own pitches, hoping to make up with knowledge what age was stealing in athleticism.

“It was clear I was entering the final chapters of my playing career and needed to make pretty significant adjustments in order to evolve with the game,” Breslow said. “I tried to reinvent myself with a lower arm slot and embrace a different type of pitching profile and repertoire. Derek was enthusiastic about it and signed me.”

Falvey said Breslow “was one of the first guys ever to send us data from his own workouts so we could assess where he was. For a guy to actually buy the system and use it to make adjustments, I remember thinking how cool it was. He understood the pitching axis, the difference between spring rate and spin efficiency. He was using terms like induced vertical break — back then, he really stood out as someone who embraced what we were trying to do.”

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But at 36, the arm wasn’t as useful as the Yale-educated brain. Breslow appeared in 30 games for the Twins, posting a 5.23 ERA in 31 innings before being released in late July.

Still, Breslow said he loved his time in the Twins bullpen — both times — and believes it helped him become a baseball lifer.

“I played in the Metrodome. I got to throw to a Hall of Fame catcher” in Joe Mauer, Breslow said. “I became an established big leaguer there, and I had great teammates that remain friends. And Derek and Rocco were people who helped me out and helped me see what I wanted to do when my [playing] career came to an end.”

Now Falvey and Breslow hold similar jobs for Fort Myers’ spring-training tenants, so they’ll see each other frequently. How will their familiarity with each other, and their shared confidence in data to provide insight, affect how they negotiate a trade?

“It’s a good question. On the one hand, if we value the same sort of players, does that mean we’re less likely to give them up?” Falvey mused with a laugh. “Or do we know what each other is looking for, so we’re more able to interest each other in what we’re offering? I guess we’ll find out. We’ll see how many [former] Red Sox we have this time next year.”