With Game 162 approaching, 'tis the season where teams are forced to face the hard facts of autumn — to borrow Ken Burns' apt term — to inventory what went wrong, and why they fell short of expectations. While injuries and underperformances may explain disappointing finishes, it's the managers of those underachieving teams who often bear the brunt of those shortcomings via pink slips. Already, rumors are circulating about which managers will be out of their jobs at the end of the season. What follows is a look at five who are on the hot seat, in order of their team's current record.
Jim Leyland, Tigers (81-72, 2nd place in AL Central by 1 game, 5th in wild card by 5 games)
The most successful manager on the ropes is the one whose team still has a fighting chance at making the playoffs; as of Tuesday morning, the Tigers' Playoff Odds stood at 32.6 percent according to Baseball Prospectus. Even so, the signing of Prince Fielder and the boosting of the Tigers' payroll to $133 million (fifth in the majors) created outsized expectations that the division's defending champions have failed to live up to, and with their 67-year-old skipper nearing the end of a one-year contract, the winds of change may be blowing. General manager Dave Dombrowski is said to be mulling the replacement of Leyland, who has managed the team since 2006, if the Tigers miss the playoffs.
Leyland has presided over the renewal of baseball in Detroit. Three seasons after the 2003 team challenged the 1962 Mets' modern-day futility standard with a 43-119 record, he took them to the World Series as a surprise wild card winner. He also led the Tigers to a division title and the ALCS last year, and overall has compiled a 600-526 record and a .533 winning percentage in his seven seasons. Including his time with the Pirates, Marlins (where he previously teamed with Dombrowski) and Rockies, he has 1,669 wins (15th all-time), six playoff appearances, two pennants and a world championship. Even with a mere .502 inning percentage — weighted down by the post-Barry Bonds denouement in Pittsburgh, the fire sale in Florida, and a disastrous year in Colorado that preceded a six-year absence from the dugout, he has a reasonable Hall of Fame case. While that history doesn't guarantee him any level of success, the Tigers have remained very competitive on his watch. For all of their spending this year — not to mention MVP and Cy Young-caliber seasons from Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, respectively — Leyland has been left with a flawed roster, particularly with regards to the middle infield, rightfield, and designated hitter, that Dombrowski did only so much to shore up. Though he has outwardly shown as much fire and passion as ever, Leyland's advanced age may be working against him as Dombrowski (who is under contract through 2015) looks to the future of the franchise. It would be a shame to see Leyland go, but it may be time.
Clint Hurdle, Pirates (75-78, 4th in the NL Central by 17 games, seventh in the wild card by 7 1/2 games)
It wasn't too long ago that the Pirates were the darlings of the National League. Through the end of July, they were 59-44, three games back in the NL Central, tied for the wild card lead, and on track to deliver the franchise's first winning season since 1992. Despite a reasonable round of fortifications prior to the July trade deadline, the Bucs have stopped winning, going 11-17 in August and 5-17 in September, and now they're not only on the brink of elimination from postseason consideration, they'll need to go 7-4 to finish above .500. On the heels of last season's late collapse (18-38 in August and September) in his first year at the helm, Hurdle's lineup choices and handling of his pitching staff have been called into question. General manager Neal Huntington is drawing fire as well for not being more aggressive in acquiring players for the stretch run, and it's thought that Hurdle may survive even if the GM doesn't. Even so, in the wake of another embarrassing slide, it's tough to avoid the conclusion that Hurdle should go, too.
Bobby Valentine, Red Sox (69-85, 4th in the AL East by 20 1/2 games)
This one has been beaten to death with a shovel in this space and elsewhere, but the short version is that in the wake of the team's shocking 2011 collapse, Valentine — who hadn't managed in the majors since 2002 — alienated several veterans and got less than stellar showings amid an avalanche of injuries. The Sox tore up their roster with a blockbuster deal in late August — escaping over $270 million worth of contract commitments to Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett — and since then, they've played with a collective thousand-yard stare. Valentine has often sounded as though he's given up as well, and while he's under contract for another season, the Sox need to put him out of his misery and move on.
Ozzie Guillen, Marlins (66-87, 5th place in the NL East by 27 games)
Despite a free agent spending spree that brought Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to town, bumping their payroll from $57.7 million to $101.6 million as they rebranded and moved into a new ballpark, the Marlins have been an unmitigated disaster this season. Guillen has been at the center of the storm since early April, when his comments in favor of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro led the Marlins to suspend him for five games. Aside from a 21-8 record in May, the team has been at least six games under .500 in every month; since May 30, they've gone 37-65 for the second-worst record in baseball, nine games better than the lowly Astros, who at least have the excuse of a full-on rebuilding effort instead of a bid for contention. Where the Marlins traded for Carlos Lee in early July to attempt to right their ship, by the end of the month they had dealt Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers and Gaby Sanchez to the Pirates, and since then, they've merely been playing out the string.
Guillen is in the first year of a four-year, $10 million deal, but both he and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest are in jeopardy of being fired by an owner who's not known for his patience. The trigger-happy Jeffrey Loria has had seven different managers (not including a one-game interim, and counting Jack McKeon's two stints individually) since the beginning of the 2002 season. The voluble, profane Guillen has been a magnet for controversy all season, feuding with various members of the media, opponents and his own roster, to the point that Bell, who lost his closer job twice this season, told a radio station his manager wasn't worthy of respect. This is the second year in a row that Guillen has turned his team into sub-.500 sideshow; a break from the dugout is clearly in order.
Manny Acta, Indians (63-91, 5th in the AL Central by 19 1/2 games)
Despite strong starts in each of the past two seasons, the Indians have faded drastically in the second half. While inexperienced players and incompatable rosters —particularly with regards to lousy infield defense and a low-strikeout pitching staff — may be to blame, there's little debate that a team with a young core featuring Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo should be more competitive. Acta is one of the game's most open-minded managers when it comes to sabermetrics, but he hasn't gotten much in the way of results in Cleveland, compiling a 211-266 record (.444) without topping 80 wins in any of his three seasons. In early August, general manager Chris Antonetti said that Acta, who has a club option for 2013, would return. But later that month, the GM noted the shortcomings of the starting pitching, bullpen and lineup, saying, "Collectively, we haven't played to our expectations in almost all facets of the game." Shortly thereafter, CEO Paul Dolan gave Acta the dreaded vote of confidence, and since then the team has continued to sputter; they're 8-14 in September after a 5-24 August. Antonetti and club president Mark Shapiro bear some of the blame for the dismal showing, but it's not on them to keep players engaged on a day-to-day basis; while there's no Guillen- or Valentine-level controversy here, such a slide may suggest that the players have stopped responding to Acta.