Ten teams hired a manager this winter and some did better than others. Here are my rankings of the new managerial hires, from top to bottom.
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates. Pittsburgh sure took a long time finding its new manager, partly because not everyone is right for this job and perhaps partly because not everyone they targeted wanted to endure the stress. No matter, the Pirates wound up with exactly with the right guy. They interviewed what seemed like countless baseball people, but there's nobody who fits an organization that has endured 18 consecutive losing seasons better than an eternal optimist such as Hurdle. He spent this past year as the Rangers' hitting coach and he helped improve their patience at the plate. And the Pirates, who appeared to target Eric Wedge early, were rewarded for their patience in waiting out the World Series and Hurdle. He did a nice job overall during his time managing in Colorado, but Hurdle eventually wore out the Rockies with his perpetually gung-ho message, though, it took seven years to do so. Within seven years, the Pirates ought to break their 18-year losing streak, the longest in the four major sports. Grade: A.
2. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves. This Bobby Cox disciple is the least surprising hire of them all. But it's still an excellent one. Gonzalez won 87 games two years ago in Florida and overall did a fine job there. While he impressed just about everyone, he failed to impress Marlins owner/tough managerial critic Jeffrey Loria. Gonzalez, knowing his job was in jeopardy, held his head high and did the right thing by not backing down to Hanley Ramirez's shenanigans, either. He's seasoned and ready to lead the Braves, who are in the same division as the Marlins but have better pitching and slightly higher expectations. Grade: A-minus.
3. Mike Quade, Cubs. After going 24-13 as interim manager for a team that was demoralized and decimated when he took over for Lou Piniella in August, he was the only logical pick for GM Jim Hendry -- though Cubs faithful wanted to see their beloved Ryno get the job. Ryne Sandberg certainly served the necessary apprenticeship in the minors to earn consideration, but Quade earned the gig in a little over a month at the helm after eight years as an organization man. Luckily for him, Hendry was ready to transition from celebrity managers to relative anonymity after several years of Dusty Baker and Piniella. Grade: B-plus.
4. Eric Wedge, Mariners. He seemed to be the most popular of all the many managerial candidates who surfaced this season, with the Pirates seemingly having him atop their list to start the offseason as well. Wedge is known as a tough disciplinarian. He also has a history, and not a good one with Milton Bradley (few do), so that dynamic bears watching. The Mariners scored only 513 runs but they have several top prospects and the resources to turn things around. Lloyd McClendon, thought to have been the second-place finisher, was said to have sparkled in the interview, and may be a better candidate than many have credited him with being. Bobby Valentine seemed like a perfect fit, but Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, a good baseball man who needs a bounce-back year, apparently didn't want to take the chance. Grade: B.
5. Ron Roenicke, Brewers. Milwaukee seemed to be leaning toward Valentine, but after the Brewers' higher-ups put in their calls, they switched gears and went with Roenicke, a first-timer who is the anti-Valentine and a relative unknown. Roenicke earned a strong reputation working for the Angels under Mike Scioscia, who has already helped develop two previous successful managers, Joe Maddon of the Rays and Bud Black of the Padres. Roenicke has been seen as an excellent communicator as a coach. But this is no easy task, especially after two straight losing seasons and with star Prince Fielder entering his walk year. Interesting call. Grade: B-minus.
6. Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins. He looks like the longest-running interim in history, as he's now contracted to stay through the 2011 season. The one-year deal doesn't look like much of confidence booster, but the optimistic E-Rod is telling folks he's taking it for the opportunity it is. The Marlins were rejected in their run at Valentine (in the first one back at midseason, they turned him down). When the White Sox broached Logan Morrison's name as possible compensation for former Marlins third base coach Ozzie Guillen and current Miami resident as manager, the Marlins said no. It is such a soap opera on the South Side of Chicago that Marlins people are holding out hope Ozzie can be available after the 2011 season. But there is far from any guarantee there, as some close to the soap opera say White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf loves Guillen even more than he loves GM Kenny Williams. Grade: C-plus.
7. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks. He has received many plaudits but the truth is the D-backs didn't fare all that much better than they did with the oft-ridiculed A.J. Hinch, going 34-49 for Gibson after a 31-48 record for Hinch. Gibson is beloved for his hard-edged baseball approach and feistiness, and for being the opposite of Hinch, an intellectual who wasn't accepted by old-time baseball folks through no fault of his own. The reality is, Gibson may be a folk hero for his unforgettable home run in the 1988 World Series but he remains unproven as a manager. Grade: C.
8. Don Mattingly, Dodgers. The Dodgers were contractually obligated to go with Mattingly, a good man with a strong work ethic who's a holdover from the Joe Torre regime. The big question seems to be this: Is Mattingly ready? He's had a couple minor glitches in managerial cameos, but he was unfairly chastised for running out of pitchers in the recent Arizona Fall League, as pitch limits dictate early removals in that preparatory league. Still, the Dodgers did him a favor by surrounding him with a lot of experience on his staff but also have some possible managers-in-waiting, including Tim Wallach. The Dodgers will take high expectations into the season after quickly rebuilding their pitching staff. You have to wonder how short Mattingly's leash might be. Grade: C.
9. John Farrell. Blue Jays. Farrell, the well-respected pitching coach of the Red Sox, probably got this chance because of the great success of Black, a longtime pitching coach who made the transition to manager look easy by doing well in San Diego. Farrell beat out a long line of candidates to get the call. Toronto comes off a year of relative overachievement under the underrated Cito Gaston, and while no one expects them to make the playoffs in baseball's hardest division, the task to avoid the cellar won't necessarily be easy now that the Orioles seem to have turned things around under Buck Showalter. Farrell is by all accounts a very bright man, but this is tough spot for a new manager having to match wits with Terry Francona, Joe Girardi, Maddon and Showalter in the AL East. Grade: C-minus.
10. Terry Collins, Mets. New Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who was last to choose, picked from a selected field of four finalists who were already working for the Mets (Collins plus Bob Melvin and Chip Hale were ex-GM Omar Minaya hires while Wally Backman was mostly a Jeff Wilpon import). Collins, who hasn't managed a major league team since 1999, knows his baseball but looks like he might be the riskiest choice of all after bad endings in Houston, Anaheim and with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan. Collins appeared like the favorite the moment his close relationships with new team VP Paul DePodesta and the immortal Sandy Koufax, who also happens to be Mets owner Fred Wilpon's childhood friend, came to light. Mets people say the feisty Collins rounds out an erudite front office. Moneyball men also tend to pick guys they have pre-existing relationships with who can be counted on to fulfill the orders of the front office. Collins is no dummy, and his fiery shtick should play well at the start (especially among those Mets fans who craved for Wally Backman, a starter on the 1986 World Series champion Mets), but his history suggests he may have difficulty making it all work in New York. Grade: D-plus.
• While the Yankees want to bring their negotiations with the iconic Derek Jeter to a close soon, and are expected to up their $45 million offer sometime this week, they seem opposed to giving Jeter a fourth year. A fair guess for the final number might be $52 million over three years. In any case, the soap opera has gone on long enough.
• While it's difficult to imagine the Yankees' captain leaving under any circumstance, opposing executives are starting to wonder whether their hardball tactics and occasional public utterances of less than 100 percent support (sometimes far less than 100 percent) for Jeter could possibly influence their Cliff Lee talks. Regardless, the Yankees remain the heavy favorite for Jeter. As for Lee, to this point there's no indication the Yankees would repeat the seven-year, $161-million deal they gave to CC Sabathia; Lee, while superb and more proven in the postseason, is 32, four years older than Sabathia when he was a free agent two years ago. But there's no getting around the fact the Yankees absolutely need Lee.
• The Yankees have yet to make an offer for Lee, but while the Rangers want Lee back and are among the nouveau riche in baseball with their $80-million-a-year TV deal, it's going to be hard for them to beat the Yankees, who are said to be willing to go well past $20 million per year on at least a five-year deal for Lee, and maybe even six years. The Nationals may be the one team willing to compete financially with the Yankees for Lee, but execs say they'd be surprised to see Lee go to a team that still looks like it's a couple years from contention.
• If any other team does go hard for Jeter, the Giants, with their GM being Brian Sabean, who was in charge of the Yankees' draft when the Yankees took Jeter, seems the most logical. They are looking for a shortstop. Other shortstops available are J.J. Hardy, Jason Bartlett and Marco Scutaro through trade and Miguel Tejada and their own Juan Uribe via free agency. Jose Reyes would interest the Giants, if he's truly available in a trade, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
• Johnny Damon wouldn't mind ending up back in the AL East, with the Red Sox, Rays or Yankees.
• The Tigers made a great deal to sign Victor Martinez, a switch-hitting catcher, for $50 million over four years. It's quite a bit higher than the two-year offer (for about $20 million) that the Red Sox originally offered but still represents a fair price even in an overheated market. The Tigers, with aggressive owner Mike Ilitch, still are believed to be in the market for another proven hitter. They could bring back Magglio Ordoñez, but shouldn't be ruled out as a landing spot for Jayson Werth, either. Ilitch always has had a good rapport with agent Scott Boras (who represents both those players). Though Boston still seems like the early favorite for Werth, who seems like a better fit for Fenway Park than Detroit's Comerica. Boston's short leftfield but expansive and tricky rightfield just might be perfect for the righty-hitting, slick-fielding rightfielder.
• The Rangers rejected a $9-million team option for Vladimir Guerrero and didn't offer him arbitration, but those were a matter of prearranged deals. It still seems like there's a decent chance Guerrero returns to Texas, where he fits the ballpark and lineup perfectly.
• It's early, and there will be plenty of interest, but everyone is still assuming Carl Crawford ends up in Anaheim.
• The Pirates are trying for some big fish. It's just a matter of whether any of those fish will go there.
• The Royals are playing in the free-agent market for pitching. They along with the Royals and Mets might take a look at Kevin Millwood.
• Jon Garland usually waits until later in the offseason to settle for his undermarket one-year deal but this time he signed quickly with his hometown Dodgers. His $5 million guarantee is very low for a pitcher who consistently is a double-digit winner and 200-inning man regardless of his low strikeout totals. One AL exec explained that righthanders with average stuff just don't play well in free agency. But one agent was amazed that even if Garland hits all his performance bonuses and vesting options, he still earns less than reliever Joaquin Benoit, a reliever guaranteed $16.5 million by the Tigers (if Garland reaches all his numbers, he can make $16 million over two years). In any case, one competing GM said of the Dodgers, "They really have a solid rotation now.''
• The Marlins giving $7 million to Javier Vazquez makes sense on a one-year deal. He's an innings eater who'll take pressure off the rest of the staff. As one GM put it, they "traded'' Dan Uggla for Omar Infante, Mike Dunn, John Buck and Javier Vazquez. Not too bad. From Vazquez's perspective, he needed to be in the NL and has a condo in Sunny Isles, 15 minutes from the ballpark. While the Yankees have yet to secure Jeter, Rivera or Lee, at least they get a draft choice for Vazquez.
• The Twins won the rights to negotiate with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a second baseman and shortstop who's won the Gold Glove at both positions and added a Japan League batting title for what is believed to be slightly more than a $5 million fee. He's a natural replacement or Orlando Hudson at second base and shouldn't have trouble making a deal with Minnesota considering the reasonable posting fee.
• The White Sox are interested in retaining catcher A.J. Pierzynski but didn't want to pay what he might make in arbitration. They see Pierzynski making less than he did a year ago.
• The arbitration process isn't fair to good middle relievers such as Scott Downs and Jason Frasor who are considered Type As and thus have compensation attached to them. The ranking system should be amended so middle relievers aren't Type As. Only closers should be eligible for Type A status among relievers.