Does trading for a manager make sense? Red Sox sure hope so
Managers are more accustomed to a hot seat than the Hot Stove, but players haven't been the only ones populating baseball's transactions in recent years.
In the waning days of the 2011 season, the Marlins pried Ozzie Guillen away from the White Sox, where he had seemingly worn out his welcome. Last month the Blue Jays traded John Farrell to the Red Sox after he told his boss in Toronto he wanted to return to Boston.
If trades involving a manager seem rare, it's because they are: that pair of deals represents one-third of all such moves in baseball history.
The primary impediment to more frequent trades is that managers, whose employment is not covered by the collective bargaining agreement, cannot be traded without their consent the way players can.
So even as organizations are always looking to find advantages and as two executives also recently changed teams in exchange for player compensation -- last offseason then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein left to become Cubs president and his former lieutenant, then-Padres GM Jed Hoyer joined him as Cubs GM -- don't expect managers or executives to become seen as regularly tradeable assets, even though such transactions could be worthwhile.
The first such trade was a one-for-one midseason manager swap in 1960, when the Indians' Joe Gordon and the Tigers' Jimmie Dykes were dealt for each other.
"It was regarded," Major League Baseball's official historian, John Thorn, said in a telephone interview, " as, A, unprecedented, B, sensational, and, C, weird."
Neither team was all that good to begin with, and neither was any better after the deal. But in 1967 the Mets sent right-handed pitcher Bill Denehy and cash to the Senators for manager Gil Hodges, who had played most of his career for the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers. Hodges managed the "Miracle Mets" to a World Series title two years later.
Before the 1977 season the A's traded manager Chuck Tanner and $100,000 to the Pirates for catcher Manny Sanguillen. Like Hodges, Tanner provided near immediate results, as Pittsburgh won the World Series in 1979. (Incidentally, Sanguillen was on the title team, having been returned to Pittsburgh in another trade in 1978.)
The other manager trade happened early last decade, when the Mariners shipped manager Lou Piniella to the Devil Rays for outfielder Randy Winn and minor league infielder Antonio Perez. Under Piniella, Tampa Bay reached 70 wins in a season for the first time in its nascent history but he left after three seasons.
In the four historical examples, twice the club trading for a new manager won a World Series shortly after the deal. Of course that's a very small sample and there were numerous other factors at play, but it's enough to make one wonder about how much impact a manager can have.
Certain managers have the reputation of excelling with young players who still need to develop at the big league level. Other managers are thought to work well with star-studded rosters. The strength of some may be in-game tactical decisions, whose importance becomes especially apparent in the postseason.
If a club's fortunes change, exploring a trade could make sense.
To make a purely hypothetical example: Should the Indians falter in the first year or two of Terry Francona's four-year contract, wouldn't he become appealing as a trade chip? After all, he had great success managing a veteran-laden Red Sox club to two World Series titles. Perhaps a contender would view him as an asset, and the Indians, if they were fully rebuilding, would be willing to receive a player in return.
But how much is a manager's impact worth? That hard-to-ascribe value is both another deterrent to teams making these trades and the interesting theoretical question. There are two ways to think about this idea: using precedent as a guide or attempting to quantify his contributions.
With each new trade, the market slowly becomes more defined and a value is attached to the job, but there have only been three such trades in the past decade.
The Piniella trade netted the Mariners a big league outfielder in Winn and a minor league infielder in Perez. The White Sox got two minor leaguers, reliever Jhan Marinez and shortstop Ozzie Martinez, for Guillen; the Marlins also received minor league pitcher Ricardo Ambres in that transaction. And a couple weeks ago the Blue Jays acquired shortstop Mike Aviles from Boston for Farrell and minor league pitcher David Carpenter.
Only Winn and Aviles were major leaguers, and neither is or was a star. (Winn was an All-Star in 2002, but that was mostly a product of being the best player on a bad Devil Rays team.)
Others have tried to quantify a manager's impact by other means, an admittedly nebulous endeavor. There will never be an accepted tell-all metric, but there are some ways of trying to divine a "WAR for Managers." (Wins Above Replacement is an attempt to combine all of a players' contributions into one number and, though not definitive, it does a reasonable job explaining value.) Here are a few of the ways researchers have tried to shed some light on manager value.
"If a manager turns out to have outperformed his Pythagorean projection, not just in a single year but on a fairly continuous basis, you can make an argument that it is either astonishing statistical luck or that the manager has a real value," Thorn said.
It largely matched up with what we've come to believe about who was an effective manager. The Orioles under Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, for instance, outperformed their Expected Wins by an average of 5.6 per season from 1976-1982. Over Weaver's 17-year career his teams averaged 1.8 more wins per season, which is in line with other notable managers, such as Billy Martin (1.7 wins per season) and Whitey Herzog (1.2 wins).
Chris Jaffe, a writer at The Hardball Times, attempted to answer that same question in his 2010 book,
His research began when reviewing a database created by Phil Birnbaum to determine whether players underachieved or overachieved in certain seasons, by comparing them to the two years prior and hence. Such aberrations were initially ascribed to luck, but Jaffe noted a correlation of groups of teammates simultaneously overachieving.
"Isn't this funny how Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone teams always had pitchers that were quote, lucky, unquote?" Jaffe said, referring to the manager and pitching coach who presided over the Braves' run of 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005. "Or how Earl Weaver always had really lucky teams? There was a reason to think that managers have an impact on how players perform, and coaches as well."
The second major component of Jaffe's research was to investigate team-wide tendencies under managers -- which teams stole a lot of bases, issued a lot of intentional walks, had a pitching staff with a high groundball rate, etc. Perhaps clubs looking to instill such a trait into their team might consider such a move.
Finding that value is, of course, the crux of the issue and not one that will ever be definitively settled. Without it there won't be any meaningful change in the way managers are employed. But for a team and its fans longing for someone else's manager, take heart: that hot seat thing is real, and your man may become available sooner than you think.