The 2015 season is still in its infancy, but after a winter during which his team was recast as earnest contenders, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is showing his trademark impatience. In the wake of a five-game losing streak that has dropped Miami to 3–11, manager Mike Redmond's job is said to be in danger. While Loria claimed not to be interested in "palace intrigue" after meeting with his skipper on Tuesday in Philadelphia, his reputation suggests that Redmond’s days are numbered.
Though they've finished below .500 for five straight seasons, the Marlins won 77 games last year, a 15-game improvement over 2013 and an especially unexpected finish given the loss of ace Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery in May. Brimming with optimism in the wake of locking up Giancarlo Stanton to a record-setting, $325 million contract and buoyed by the emergence of other youngsters such as Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Henderson Alvarez, Loria authorized team president Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings to beef up the roster. The team traded for second baseman Dee Gordon, infielder Martin Prado and pitcheres Dan Haren, Mat Latos and David Phelps, signing free-agent slugger Michael Morse as well. With the Phillies and Braves in the midst of rebuilding programs and the Mets looking less than fully finished with theirs, thoughts of a second-place finish in the NL East—and perhaps the team's first playoff appearance since 2003—didn't seem to be unfounded.
Instead, the Marlins have belly flopped. Outscored by a combined 16–3, they were swept by the Braves in their season-opening three-game series, then lost two out of three to their cross-state rivals, the Rays. While Miami then took two out of three from the Braves in Atlanta, the Fish were swept in a four-game set by the Mets over the weekend, then dropped Tuesday night's series opener against the Phillies in Philadelphia.
Even so, it’s difficult to point to anything in particular that has been Redmond’s fault just 13 games into the season. Latos has been bombed for 12 runs in 9 2/3 innings, and the rotation as a whole—which has lost Alvarez to a bout of shoulder inflammation—has five quality starts out of 14 and a 5.30 ERA. The bullpen has been ineffective (5.26 ERA) as well. The offense has just two players, Stanton and Gordon, with an OPS+ above 100. Morse, Prado, Yelich and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all have on-base percentages south of .300 for an offense that's scoring just 3.79 runs per game (11th in the league), hardly enough to offset a staff that's allowing 5.14 runs per game (14th in the league).
That said, the 3–11 record matches the worst start in franchise history; the Marlins also did so in 1995, '98 (their post-world championship teardown) and in 2013 (the start of Redmond’s tenure). In those three seasons, the team averaged 61 wins, with a high of 67. And Miami's poor April doesn’t bode well for an aspiring contender. Since the start of the Wild Card Era, no team has reached the postseason after starting a year 3–11, and prior to that, only two teams associated with miracles, the 1914 Braves and '51 Giants—plus the Astros from the strike-torn '81 season—have made it
The 43-year-old Redmond, a long-time big league catcher who had never managed in the majors prior to being hired in November 2012, got his job thanks in large part to Loria's previous impatience. In the winter of 2011–12, the Marlins spent big, signing marquee free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell; trading for Carlos Zambrano; and poaching manager Ozzie Guillen away from the White Sox to run the show. What had been a $57.7 million Opening Day payroll the year before skyrocketed to a franchise record $101.6 million. But the team went 8–14 in April, and while it rebounded to go 21–8 in May, that was Miami's only winning month. A fire sale that would reduce payroll to $50.5 million got underway in midseason, and shortly after the season ended at 69–93, Guillen was fired with three years still remaining on his contract.
That was hardly the only time Loria has exercised his itchy trigger finger. Joe Girardi, who earned NL Manager of the Year honors in piloting the team to a 78–84 record in 2006, was nonetheless fired with two years remaining on his three-year deal. But at least he and Guillen made it to the end of their respective seasons. Most famously, Loria fired Jeff Torborg after a 16–22 start in '03. Seventy-two-year-old Jack McKeon came out of retirement and guided the team to its second World Series victory in seven seasons, thereby reinforcing Loria's mistaken belief that a well-timed swing of the axe can yield a championship.
Additionally, Loria fired Fredi Gonzalez when the team was 34–36 in 2010, despite the fact that Gonzalez had led the Marlins to 84 wins in '08 and 87 in '09, their last winning season. Successor Edwin Rodriguez got all of a 163-game trial across the '10 and '11 seasons, resigning when Miami was 32–39 but sat mired in a nine-game losing streak; an 80-year-old McKeon came out of retirement again to finish that debacle. Including Torborg's arrival, the Marlins have changed managers eight times during Loria's 13-year reign, with Gonzalez (555 games) and McKeon (446 games in his first go-round) the only ones to outlast Redmond (338 games).
Redmond may not get a chance to add many more games to that tenure. On Monday, the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer reported via "sources who have heard rumblings" that Redmond is on the hot seat in the wake of the sluggish start and Friday's postgame comments from Stanton that the team lacked "fire." In the wake of Tuesday's meeting—and it's worth noting that nothing says the vultures are circling more than when an owner joins the team for a road trip—Spencer wrote:
Jeffrey Loria met privately with Mike Redmond on Tuesday, after which he neither endorsed the manager nor indicated that his job is in jeopardy.
Instead, when asked to address speculation concerning Redmond, the Marlins’ owner responded: “I’ve got one thing to say. I’m not interested in palace intrigue. We’ve got to win games.”
…Loria did not shoot down [Monday's] report when speaking with reporters.
Via Spencer, among the potential replacements being considered is Wally Backman, the manager of the Mets' Triple A affiliate in Las Vegas. A major league infielder for 14 seasons (1980–93), the first nine of which came with the Mets, the 55-year-old Backman has 13 years of minor league managerial experience with the White Sox, Diamondbacks and Mets, as well as three different independent leagues, not to mention a reputation as the kind of firebrand to which Loria is attracted.
Backman has had success at several minor league stops, winning the Southern League (Double A) championship with the Birmingham Barons in 2002 and netting The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year honors in '04 after leading Arizona's Class A Lancaster Jethawks to a division title. He's also won additional division titles with the South Georgia Peanuts of the independent South Coast League in '07, the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League in '11, and the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League in '13 and '14. He has guided the 51s to identical 81–63 records in each of the past two seasons and was named PCL Manager of the Year in '14.
However, Backman's resume also has a major ding. Hired to manage the Diamondbacks in November 2004, he was fired four days later following revelations that he had been arrested and convicted twice, with red-faced managing partner Ken Kendrick forced to admit that the team failed to perform a background check on him. Belatedly, it came to light that Backman had been found guilty of driving under the influence in 2000 and had pled guilty to misdemeanor harassment charges related to a 2001 domestic fight involving his wife and one of her friends; for the latter, he was sentenced to 12 months probation, fined and ordered to undergo anger management counseling. He had also filed for bankruptcy at some point.
Backman has since rebuilt his career in the Mets organization and was a finalist for the job that ultimately went to Terry Collins in November 2010. At times, he’s been rumored as a potential replacement for Collins (who's currently in the final year of his contract) or at least a candidate to join his coaching staff, but none of those rumors have come to fruition. Thus far, the Marlins have yet to ask the Mets for permission to interview him, but beat writer Mike Puma of the New York Post said via Twitter that he doesn't believe the team would stand in Backman's way. He also reported that Loria was seen asking about him during the weekend series:
No way the Mets would block Backman from leaving; F. Wilpon loves him like a son and Alderson would personally drive Backman to the airport.— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) April 20, 2015
Was told Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria last week at Citi Field quizzed people who know Wally Backman about his managerial readiness.— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) April 21, 2015
If the Marlins were to fire Redmond but stay within the organization, it's worth noting that current third base coach Brett Butler and bench coach Rob Leary both have minor league managerial experience. The 57-year-old Butler, who spent 17 years in the majors and earned All-Star honors while racking up 2,375 hits, spent eight years between 2004 and '13 managing in the Mets and Diamondbacks organizations, the last five with Arizona's Triple A affiliate. The 51-year-old Leary, who never reached the majors during a five-year professional career, managed in the Expos' chain from 1991 to '94, though never above A ball. Among the team's minor league affiliates, the most familiar name is that of Class A Jupiter manager Brian Schneider, who spent 13 years as a catcher in the majors but is only in his second season as a minor league manager, having gone 50–87 last year.
While the winds of change appear to be blowing, it’s worth noting the increasing rarity of early-season managerial changes. Via MLB Trade Rumors, since the start of the 2005 season, only nine times has a manager been fired before the 81-game mark. Bob Melvin—who took the Diamondbacks' job after Backman, incidentally—was the most recent, getting fired by Arizona on May 8, 2009, with the team 12–17. The '02 season saw three managers fired even earlier than that: Phil Garner was axed by the Tigers on April 8, after an 0–6 start, while Davey Lopes was ousted by the Brewers on April 19, with a 3–12 record, and Tony Muser lost his job with the Royals on April 30, with an 8–15 record.
None of those teams were coming off quite the offseason buildup that the Marlins are, which—particularly in light of Loria’s reputation—is why Redmond is vulnerable. Barring a quick turnaround, the guess here is that he won’t last the season.