Breaking down hires of Mattingly, Black and Green for manager roles
The departure of Alex Anthopoulos wasn't the only major news to slip out in the past 24 hours despite Major League Baseball's attempt to tamp down on hiring and firing announcements during the World Series. Three of the four managerial openings—in San Diego officially and in Washington and Miami reportedly—have been filled. Here's a quick roundup.
Mattingly moves to Miami
Less than a week after his odd departure from the Dodgers on the heels of three straight division titles—an unprecedented run in franchise history—Mattingly has agreed to a four-year deal to manage the Marlins. It's not a surprise: Not only has Mattingly been a favorite of owner Jeffrey Loria since his days as the Yankees' first baseman, but rumors of Loria's interest in hiring Mattingly away from Los Angeles also came to light in early September. While nothing untoward may have happened with regards to communication between the two parties, that well-known interest probably figured into the mental calculus of the 54-year-old manager as he sat down with the Dodgers' brass to discuss 2016 and beyond once the Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason by the Mets last week.
Mattingly guided the Dodgers to a 92–70 record and an NL West title this year and to a .551 winning percentage (446–363) in his five seasons. The Dodgers finished above .500 each time and improved their win total over the previous year in the first four of his seasons. Yet with payroll having reached record levels in each of the past two years—up to $300 million by the middle of this year—as the Dodgers transitioned from the bankruptcy of the Frank McCourt era to the lavish spending of the Guggenheim Group, the pressure to win only increased. Mattingly's Dodgers advanced past the Division Series only in 2013, and the franchise hasn't been to the World Series, let alone won one, since 1988. While he was under contract for 2016 and the possibility of a further contract extension was apparently discussed with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi, the two sides ultimately agreed to a mutual parting of the ways.
Mattingly, whose ability to handle the disparate personalities of the Dodgers' clubhouse drew higher marks than his tactical acumen, may feel more wanted in Miami than he was in Los Angeles, and in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, he'll oversee two of the game's top young talents. But beyond that and a likely increase in pay, it's not clear what he's gained here. The Marlins haven't finished above .500 since 2009 and haven't been to the postseason since '03, when they won their second World Series. They've changed managers seven times since that championship, with Fredi Gonzalez (2007 to mid-2010) the only manger to last more than three full seasons.
The last big-name skipper to take the Marlins job after leaving another post—Ozzie Guillen, who was traded from the White Sox to the Marlins in exchange for prospects in September 2011—lasted just one year on the job, overseeing a roster that had been built up in advance of the team's move into brand-new Marlins Park. By the middle of that dismal 69-win season, the team was in fire sale mode, and the makeover continued into the winter. Guillen's successor, first-time manager Mike Redmond, oversaw teams that won 62 and 77 games in his two full seasons, but was on the hot seat when this year's reconfigured club lost 11 of its first 14 games and was fired in mid-May when they were 16–22. General manager Dan Jennings, who'd never coached above high school or played professionally beyond one minor-league spring training, took over in an unorthodox move, but Miami finished just 71–91 this year, good for third place in a division ahead of two other rebuilding teams but less impressive than the team's last third-place finish, an 80–82 season in 2010.
The Marlins were reported to have interviewed Manny Acta, Larry Bowa, Alex Cora, Phil Nevin and Bo Porter and to have "engaged in discussions" with Dusty Baker as well. Meanwhile, Jennings has been dismissed with $4.5 million due in salary; he’s said to have clashed with Loria by playing Ozuna, going against the owner’s wishes. President of baseball operations Michael Hill reportedly will handle GM-type duties, with assistant GM Mike Berger helping out as well.
Beyond their general penchant for organizational upheaval, the Marlins simply haven't maintained any commitment to spending money. Via Cot's Contracts, their last four Opening Day payrolls—including their $101.6 million one in 2012 as well as this past year's $69 million—total less than the Dodgers' $271.6 million Opening Day mark from this year. The team does have a promising nucleus of young players (Stanton, Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto and ex-Dodger Dee Gordon), but the trend toward trading such players as they grow more expensive is likely to continue so long as Loria owns the team.
In short, watching any new manager accept the job in Miami is like watching a puppy chase a stick of dynamite into a minefield. Mattingly deserved better in Los Angeles or wherever he wound up, but for whatever optimism with which he may greet his new job, there isn't likely to be a happy ending for him in Miami.
Just as Mattingly was hired, one candidate to replace him in Los Angeles—former Padres manager Bud Black—was reported to have been chosen to succeed Matt Williams in Washington. The 58-year-old Black spent 8 1/2 seasons in San Diego, his first managerial job, compiling a .477 winning percentage (649–713). He never made the playoffs in San Diego and finished above .500 only in 2007, his first year, and '10, when the Padres were eliminated on the final day of the season.
That said, Black was often hamstrung by very low payrolls—the team ranked among the bottom four every year from 2009 to '12, including dead last in '10—not to mention turmoil at the ownership and executive levels. He was hired by general manager Kevin Towers, who was fired at the end of the 2009 season, then worked under Jed Hoyer, Josh Byrnes and A.J. Preller. Hired last August, Preller undertook a radical but incomplete remake of the roster this past winter, one that left the team with an overcrowded outfield that lacked a true centerfielder as well as a mess on the left side of the infield. Sooner or later, he was expected to want to name his own manager, but when he fired Black on June 15, the Padres were hardly a disgrace at 32–33, six games out of first place. Under replacement Pat Murphy, who was promoted to the interim job from the team's Triple A El Paso affiliate, the team went a dismal 42–54 and finished 18 games behind the Dodgers; Murphy was let go at the end of the year and was named the Brewers' bench coach earlier this week.
In Washington, Black takes over for Williams, who had never managed at any level prior to taking over for Davey Johnson following the 2013 season. Williams won NL Manager of the Year honors in 2014 after guiding the Nationals to 96 wins and an NL East title, but the team slumped to 83–79 this year despite being heavily favored not only in the division race but also for the pennant. Bryce Harper turned in an MVP-caliber season, but injuries to key players such as Doug Fister, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman played significant roles in the Nationals' underperformance. Williams exacerbated his team's woes with his overly rigid handling of the bullpen both in the 2014 postseason and throughout '15, not to mention his difficulties in communicating with veteran players. Via the Washington Post's Barry Svluga, in late August, Werth confronted the manager, asking him in front of other players, "When exactly do you think you lost this team?”
Further demonstration of just how little control Williams had over the team came when closer Jonathan Papelbon physically attacked Harper in the dugout the day after the Nationals were mathematically eliminated from contention. In the immediate aftermath of the altercation, Williams couldn't even come up with plausible explanations as to why Papelbon remained in the game but Harper did not, or whether he was even aware of the confrontation given that two of his coaches had broken it up. He was fired the day after the regular season ended.
By contrast, Black has a depth of experience, is respected throughout the game and is known for his ability to communicate with players and for his handling of pitching staffs. He spent seven seasons (2000–06) as the Angels' pitching coach under manager Mike Scioscia, a span during which Los Angeles made three postseason appearances and won the 2002 World Series. In Anaheim, he oversaw 2005 Al Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon; in San Diego, Jake Peavy won the NL Cy Young in '07, Black's first year at the helm. Via the Washington Post's Chelsea Janes, in Black's 15 years as pitching coach or manager, his teams have finished in the league's top five in ERA seven times, a stat that owes something, but not everything, to their pitcher-friendly parks.
Black beat out Baker for the job, with the Nationals also known to have interviewed Cora, Ron Gardenhire, Andy Green (who got the Padres job), Nevin and Ron Wotus. At this writing, there's been no word as to the length of his contract, but he may be covered longer than general manager Mike Rizzo. The team's GM since late 2009, Rizzo is under contract through '16 with a club option for '17—in other words, he's on the hot seat. That goes double given that Rizzo's late-July trade for Papelbon and subsequent demotion of Storen from ninth-inning duties played a significant part in destabilizing the team, and perhaps triple given that Black is the fourth manager he's hired, following Jim Riggleman, Johnson and Williams.
With Ian Desmond, Fister and Span among the team's pending free agents, and with Strasburg, Papelbon and deposed closer Drew Storen all with just one year of club control remaining, the Nationals could look very different by the time spring training rolls around. With the coaching staff having all been dismissed along with Williams, Black will have a new group of coaches surrounding him; he’s expected to pursue ex-Cubs manager and ex-Padres bench coach Rick Renteria as his bench coach.
As for the Padres, Green rates as a surprising choice given that both Gardenhire and Sofield, the Pirates' third base coach, were reportedly the two finalists for the job, each having interviewed twice. Cora, former major league reliever Tom Gordon, bench coach Dave Roberts and new Mariners manager Scott Servais are also known to have interviewed. The 38-year-old Green played 140 games in the majors over parts of four seasons from 2004 to '09 and spent four seasons ('11–14) managing in the Diamondbacks' organization, the last two with Double A Mobile, where he earned back-to-back manager of the year honors. Nonetheless, as the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin notes, he’s the fifth consecutive full-time manager San Diego has hired with no previous big-league experience, following Greg Riddoch (1990–92), Riggleman ('93–94), Bruce Bochy ('95–2006) and Black.
Green spent 2015 as the Diamondbacks' third base coach under manager Chip Hale this past year. Via MLB.com's Corey Brock, Hale praised his hiring: "He's an aggressive manager, and I know now that when we play San Diego, they are going to be well-prepared.… One of the things he's really good at is exposing other teams' weaknesses." Via Brock, Green is "regarded by his peers as well-spoken, intelligent and confident, is also adept at advanced metrics. He worked with the team's infielders and, specifically, handled all the team's shifting efforts."
Green is said to have received a three-year deal, which means that both he and Preller are under contract through 2018. It's not known whether Roberts, pitching coach Darren Balsley or other members of the Padres' coaching staff will be retained. Green can expect Preller to give the roster another significant overhaul this winter, with Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy as San Diego's top free agents and with shortstop and centerfield as key items on the shopping list. The good news is that the Padres’ payroll is significantly above what it was during most of Black’s tenure: The team entered the season with a franchise record $108.4 million payroll and has $71.9 million committed to six players for 2016.
One distressing aspect of this wave of hiring is its all-white cast, particularly at a time when the Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez is the only person of color among major league managers. Several of the candidates for the three openings are black or Hispanic, but all have come up empty, some of them multiple times. One has to feel for Cora, who has been passed over several times. Earlier on Thursday, he tweeted, “Back with @BBTN [ESPN's Baseball Tonight] next year, the process continues.”
Some of the aforementioned candidates may be in play for the Dodgers’ opening, the only current vacancy, but in the bigger picture, the industry has moved backwards in this area over the past several years. If there’s good news, it’s that things can’t help but improve at some point. Until it does, this is something for which MLB and the individual teams can rightly be criticized, and one hopes that commissioner Rob Manfred can find ways to reinforce the industry’s commitment to a more diverse workforce.