Gibson, Collins among managers in trouble as season winds down
On Tuesday morning, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported that the Diamondbacks plan to bring manager Kirk Gibson back for the 2015 season, but by the end of the day, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa shot down that assertion. From a distance, it makes more sense that Gibson would get the axe given the team's prolonged underperformance and the manager's knack for emphasizing machismo over winning, but the larger point — in Arizona and beyond — is that the dog days of August tend to hint at changes to come. As La Russa himself said via a Diamondbacks spokesman, "I just think the official comment is, we're at Aug. 18, the season is a month and 10 days from being over. So it won't be long until you have to trot out your plan officially."
Thus, it's a good time for a closer look at those managers whose jobs may be on the line as the final quarter of the 2014 season plays out. The managers are listed in alphabetical order.
Bud Black, Padres (58-66)
Black is now in his eighth season at the helm of the Padres, and though he's widely respected, the reality is that his teams have finished above .500 just twice, most recently in 2010. That said, disarray above him relating to the sale of the team, skimpy payrolls and a general manager job that has changed hands three times — from Kevin Towers to Jed Hoyer following the 2009 season, from Hoyer to Josh Byrnes in late 2011, and from Byrnes to A.J. Preller (via an interim regime) this summer — have been factors in that record.
Black's options for 2014 and 2015 were exercised by Byrnes back in 2012, but like most incoming GMs, Preller will want to put his own man in place sooner or later, and is known to have discussed potential replacements during the interview process; via Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, ex-Boston catcher Jason Varitek was among the names. With the team 17-12 since the All-Star break, Black's job is likely safe through the end of the season, but without an extension, he's at best a lame duck after that.
Terry Collins, Mets (59-68)
The Mets are en route to their sixth straight sub-.500 season and their fourth under Collins, who has been cast as a caretaker while the Wilpon ownership limits GM Sandy Alderson to payrolls befitting a small-market club. At $85.4 million, the team's current tab ranks 24th, notably below those of Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City and San Diego. With Matt Harvey on the shelf this year due to Tommy John surgery, no one expected that the Mets would suddenly contend, but with their ace due back next year as the centerpiece of an impressive array of young pitchers, both payroll and expectations could rise.
In his 10 seasons as a major league manager, Collins has never reached the playoffs, and he isn't viewed as the type who will help put the Mets over the top. But those awaiting a more aggressive tack from the front office may be disappointed with last week's report from CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, indicating that the 65-year-old Collins would likely return for 2015, his final year under contract.
Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks (53-73)
After taking over in mid-2010, Gibson piloted Arizona to 94 wins and an NL West flag the following year, but what's followed has been a pair of 81-81 seasons and then this year's embarrassment. The Diamondbacks haven't spent a single day above .500 in 2014; they opened by losing 22 of their first 30 games. They were 16-28 when La Russa was brought in to oversee the entire Baseball Operations department, placing him above Towers in the pecking order. The current GM bears the larger responsibility of assembling (and purging) the roster in the name of instilling a culture that emphasizes grit and "eye-for-an-eye" retribution, but Gibson has been complicit in that makeover, which has run talented players like Trevor Bauer, Adam Eaton, Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton out of town.
While the Diamondbacks went 39-39 from May through July, they've lost 12 of 17 since August began. To be fair, injuries and salary-driven trades by Towers are a big part of their recent plunge, but the ongoing theme of the team's season is their ability to draw negative attention, particularly via their involvement in high-profile beanball wars. The low point was undoubtedly Gibson openly cheerleading a plunking of Ryan Braun that set up a game-winning grand slam by Jonathan Lucroy; more recently, an apparently intentional drilling of Andrew McCutchen in a blowout drew scrutiny as well. Both incidents implicate Gibson as having his priorities far out of whack, and while La Russa was never one to shy from old-school tactics, he wasn't one to telegraph them either.
Back in the spring, Gibson and Towers both received contract extensions (believed to run through next season), but if La Russa wants to clean house, that's his prerogative. It would hardly be a surprise if Gibson receives his walking papers sometime between now and October. Frankly, it’s been overdue since he fist-bumped Evan Marshall.
Ryne Sandberg, Phillies (55-71)
It was just over a year ago that Hall of Famer and longtime managerial hopeful Sandberg took over for the fired Charlie Manuel. Sandberg managed to coax a 20-22 record out of an aging roster the rest of the way, as well as a 15-14 record to start this year, but the team is now 16 games under .500. Sandberg, who's signed through 2016, had a high-profile dust-up with Jimmy Rollins back in the spring, and more recently, Rosenthal characterized him as "overmatched, struggling in his communications with veterans and with his in-game management."
That's not a good look for Sandberg, though the blame for keeping this aging, nowhere-bound core together belongs to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who after beginning the year under denial that the team needed to rebuild, failed to deal any of his potential impact players at the July 31 deadline while complaining that other teams weren't "aggressive enough" in their trade offers. Sandberg deserved a fresh start, but if Amaro gets his well-deserved walking papers, an incoming GM may want to hire his own man.
Walt Weiss, Rockies (49-76)
Weiss oversaw a 10-game improvement (from 64 wins to 74) in his first year at the helm, and a 22-14 start to this season had the Rockies flying even higher. Alas, a slew of injuries, most notably to Nolan Arenado, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, crushed the team's hopes, and the latter two players underwent season-ending surgery in the past week. Since that hot start, the Rockies are a major league-worst 27-62, headed for their fourth straight losing campaign.
Under normal circumstances, Weiss would receive a pass, but via Rosenthal, the manager has grown frustrated with the team's front office, and particularly with senior vice president of major league operations Bill Geivett, who in an unusual arrangement, maintains an office in the clubhouse. Loose-cannon owner Dick Monfort recently took time out from his busy schedule of testy exchanges with season ticket holders to throw Geivett under the bus for the Rockies’ disappointing performance. If Geivett is fired, Weiss may be placated, but he could also conclude that this isn't the job he signed up for, particularly if Tulowitzki is traded this winter as a means of spurring a rebuilding effort.