No managers on hot seat, but it's getting warm for Rodriguez
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Red Sox may have started 0-6 but Boston manager Terry Francona need not worry about his job security. As was reported in this space in spring training, Francona's bosses have every intention of exercising a two-year option for about $8.75 million and a six-game sample won't have one iota of impact on their intentions.
In fact, there likely is an oddly short list of managers on the hot seat this year because there are an unusual number of managers who are in their first season somewhere (Don Mattingly, Eric Wedge, Mike Quade, etc.), or are in their second year and who are well-respected (Brad Mills, Manny Acta), or who just signed contracts (Joe Girardi, Charlie Manuel), or are coming off Manager of the Year awards or postseason appearances (Bud Black, Ron Gardenhire, Dusty Baker) or who are ingrained icons (Tony La Russa, Mike Scioscia).
There is really only one manager who truly has a seat that is already warm -- the Marlins' Edwin Rodriguez, a relative unknown entering his first full-year managing in the majors after being given a one-year deal last November following a nice job as an interim for the second half of last season. No one is ever given a one-year deal. It's basically unheard of. Even a two-year contract is considered something of an insult.
"No one's on the hot seat,'' said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria when asked about Rodriguez's status earlier this week. "Nobody should be worrying about anything.''
That is probably true -- at the moment. But there are no guarantees with such a youthful team and expectant owner. Loria has been something of a manager-killer in his surprisingly successful run as Marlins owner. Loria's teams almost always outplay their payroll but not necessarily his expectations. He fired Girardi after the latter won NL Manager of the Year in 2006, and he fired Fredi Gonzalez midway through last year even though he won 87 games in 2009. Loria, a New York art dealer, saw the way George Steinbrenner operated for years in the Big Apple, and he has emulated it -- everything except the payroll, of course.
When Gonzalez was canned last June, Loria apparently had been dreaming of doing the deed for several months. He spent the 2009 season whispering sweet nothings in Bobby Valentine's ear, and at one point even arranged to meet Valentine -- who at the time was managing in Japan -- in Paris, a hot spot for art but not normally for major league baseball (though that meeting never came off apparently). When Gonzalez was eventually let go, a Marlins person was asked how many team people were in favor of it. The answer? "One.''
Rodriguez, who is the picture of calm at the moment, was named interim manager but he didn't get the fulltime job until after dalliances with two E-Rod opposites, the larger-than-life duo of Ozzie Guillen and Valentine again.
Marlins people like Guillen very much, and when his name came up, the White Sox suggested they wanted top young outfielder Logan Morrison to talk Guillen. After Loria understandably said no, the Sox picked up Guillen's 2012 option early. As for Valentine, despite a reputed blowup between himself and Marlins president David Samson in the original interview process, Loria offered Valentine the job the second time around. But the salary offer of $1.5 million was less than what Valentine made a decade ago with the Mets, less than half what he made with Chiba Lotte in Japan and was believed to be less than what ESPN is paying him to be an analyst, too.
Rodriguez's salary is said to be at or near the bottom of the major league managerial scale, quite a bit less than $1 million. He gave no hint that the short length of his contract bothers him, though some suspect it is a strong hint he isn't on the most solid footing. There is word Loria wouldn't mind having a big-name manager going into their new park, which is said to be spectacular and opens next season. And Loria's attempts to land Guillen and Valentine suggest that thought has at least occurred to him.
Rodriguez, who was a minor league manager when he was named interim manager of the Marlins, has spent a good deal of time as a roving minor league instructor and once had a brief stint in the majors as a player (with the Yankees). He is approaching this like he is thankful for the opportunity. Better, he seems remarkably serene under the circumstances.
"There is no pressure, to be honest,'' Rodriguez said. "I don't feel pressure from anybody but myself. My expectation of myself is higher than anybody else.''
That's a nice thing to say. But at least in spring training, Loria's expectations were a bit higher. The Marlins were in the throes of a nine-game losing streak when Loria paid a visit, and he was not pleased about the way the team looked. He questioned the team's preparation, which seemed to reflect on E-Rod.
"It was time to wake up and get going," Loria said. "I told them it's time to step it up. They're all very professional. They know what they have to do.''
The team took an immediate turn for the better. Depending on how you look at it or who you talk to, either Loria's words got a quick response or it was part of Rodriguez's plan to give the veterans space until the final two weeks of spring, when he turned on the pressure. Loria's visit came at exactly that time.
Folks around the team say Rodriguez was giving leeway to the veterans early, and Hanley Ramirez, the team's biggest star, seems to have responded, as he's playing as hard as he has in years (though he's made three throwing errors so far this season).
"I wasn't concerned,'' Rodriguez said of the early spring struggles. "We have to be patient, and stick with the plan. "When you have a young team, and you're trying to learn to play the game the right way, you have to be patient.''
It will be interesting to see whether Loria can be just as patient.
No other manager can truly be said to be on the hot seat, but there are a few other managers whose status is worth keeping an eye on include:
• Jim Leyland. Tigers. Leyland and club president/GM Dave Dombrowski are in the last year of their contracts. Dombrowski will surely brought back as the Tigers have progressed from laughingstock to contender in his tenure. The organization is also succeeding financially with Dombrowski as the head of the business side, as well. Leyland seems pretty safe, too -- he's posted three winning seasons and one .500 campaign in five years in Detroit -- though perhaps not quite as safe as Dombrowski. Plus, Dombrowski and Leyland have a longstanding relationship that goes back to their days together with the Marlins and White Sox. But the expectations are very high, Leyland makes $4 million, and while he has tremendous stature in the game, he doesn't quite rise to his iconic status of his friend La Russa. He'll likely be given the chance to return, but it's not a certainty.
• Jim Riggleman, Nationals. If Riggleman, one of the nicest guys in baseball and the right man for this young team, can hang on one more year, he should be in better shape. Because this team should look pretty darned good with starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg back and Jordan Zimmermann having another year under his belt and big-time power prospect Bryce Harper in the lineup. In the meantime, they will start a back-of-the-rotation type starter every time Zimmermann isn't pitching, giving them almost no chance this year in the tough NL East.
• Guillen, White Sox. It's a major long shot that he would be let go. "He isn't going anywhere,'' one White Sox person said. Guillen's option for '12 was picked up early, as mentioned, and as a baseball savant and entertainer extraordinaire he clearly could get another job. The real issue is his relationship with his boss, GM Ken Williams, who likes to mention that he hired Guillen after an argument in the interview. Well, the arguments have gotten out of hand at times over the years, especially last year. One issue that kept cropping up is Guillen's son Oney making negative tweets about Williams, which is pretty rude considering the White Sox gave Oney a chance as a minor league player despite a lack of talent, then a do-little job as a "video coordinator.'' In any case, people familiar with the team's situation say Williams and Guillen are getting along better at the moment. If there is another big blowup, the referee could wind up being Jerry Reinsdorf, the team chairman who has great admiration for both guys. One person said last year he thought Guillen was the more beloved of the two, but another said this spring that Williams was better loved. Asked to explain that, the first person said that it "flip flops'' between who is Reinsdorf's favorite. No matter, Guillen is fairly safe.
• The great Rafael Soriano debate is still fresh, especially after Soriano's rough performance this week. He blew a game against the Twins on Wednesday by giving up four runs and three walks in two-thirds of an inning and followed that by failing to face the press afterward. At least for now, GM Brian Cashman's "no'' vote on signing him during the offseason looks good. Soriano was throwing only 92 mph in that game and the one before it, but came back to throw 94 in holding the lead in the Yankees' win over Minnesota on Thursday. The most unusual aspect of the Yankees' signing Soriano to be their set-up man for $35 million wasn't necessarily the price but the fact that Cashman admitted he voted against it at the press conference. Folks familiar with the situation say Cashman felt obligated to make that admission because 1) he had told the press the Yankees weren't signing Soriano, and 2) he told Kerry Wood the Yankees weren't paying $7 mil for a setup man and Bobby Jenks they weren't paying $8 million for a setup man. According to someone else with the team, Cashman felt his credibility was at stake. He has been overruled before but never felt it necessary to some clean.
• Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said it was a "clean play by a clean player'' when the Yankees Nick Swisher came in hard on Minnesota second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Twins GM Bill Smith agreed. But someone else close to Nishioka said, "(Swisher) went way out of his way and slid high and late and was four feet outside the base path.'' Swisher said he sought out Nishioka in the X-ray room and that Nishioka forgave him and said it was his own fault for not jumping (perhaps an interpreter was there because Nishioka doesn't speak English). I agree with the anonymous friend of Nishioka for the most part; though I think Swisher wasn't necessarily too wide, he did seem too late.
• Gardenhire said Francisco Liriano "falls in love with that slider too much." Liriano agreed. If so, it's understandable, as hitters have historically had more difficulty hitting Liriano's slider than his changeup or fastball (they hit .322 against the fastball last year, ESPN said).
• The Cardinals' Matt Holliday is aiming to be back playing by early next week after undergoing an appendectomy.
• With Lastings Milledge being designated for assignment by the White Sox, a once promising career is on the skids.
• Sources indicate that Joe Torre's job as executive vice president of baseball operations will pay him about $2 million annually, not his pay as manager but not bad. He'll be reporting to the commissioner's office in New York at the beginning but is expected to eventually do the job out of L.A.
• There is no timetable for Carlos Guillen's return. That could be a big loss for Detroit.
• Alex Rodriguez predicted a big year for for ex-Yankees teammate Melky Cabrera and Cabrera already has had one of his patented walk-off hits for the Royals (he's had more of those than anyone but the Dodgers' Andre Ethier in recent years).
• Free-agent Troy Glaus is at home spending time with his kids and playing golf (his agent Mike Nicotera reports he's down to a one handicap) after turning down some opportunities this winter.
• Chili Davis, the hitting coach at Pawtucket, told Red Sox writer Maureen Mullen, "Tell Red Sox Nation, in 1991 the Twins started off 2-9. We did all right that year.'' Yes, they did. Minnesota won the World Series.