New managers now in place for Rangers, Diamondbacks and Twins
On the same day that the Cubs introduced Joe Maddon as their manager, the Twins officially announced that the hiring of Paul Molitor to succeed Ron Gardenhire, who was fired at season's end. With that, the three managerial positions vacant at the end of the season — those of the Twins, Diamondbacks and Rangers — have been filled, but because the postseason overshadowed the other two hirings, it's worth a quick roundup.
Twins hire Molitor
The dismissal of Gardenhire was no surprise after the Twins finished their fourth straight season with at least 90 losses (they went 70-92), but it nonetheless marked the first time the team had fired a manager since 1986, when they axed Ray Miller. Between Tom Kelly and Gardenhire, who took over in 2002, they've have had just two managers since.
In hiring the 58-year-old Molitor, who received a three-year deal, the Twins have turned to a candidate who appeared on track to succeed Kelly so many years ago. The St. Paul native and first-ballot Hall of Famer, who retired after the 1998 season with 3,319 hits, served as Kelly's bench coach in 2000 and 2001, and drew consideration for the managerial job before withdrawing his name due to MLB's threat to contract the team. After working for the team as a special assignment scout in 2002 and as their baserunning and infield coordinator in 2003, he spent a year as the Mariners' hitting coach (2004) before returning to the Twins' fold. He spent 2005-13 as the team's minor league baserunning and infield coordinator before rejoining Gardenhire's staff in that capacity for 2014.
All of which means that Molitor has no managerial experience himself, part of a recent trend that has generated mixed results; the most recent postseason spotlighted the tactical deficiencies of Mike Matheny, Don Mattingly and Matt Williams, three such managers who certainly command respect among their players but too often seemed a step or two behind the action (going up against Bruce Bochy didn't help).
Molitor joins current Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg and the late Luke Appling and Ted Williams as just the fourth man to take his first managerial job after being elected to the Hall of Fame. The four are on a short list of Hall of Fame players to manage teams since the institution's establishment in 1936, though it was a much more common practice prior. Red Schoendienst, who led the Cardinals to two pennants and one championship, and Bob Lemon, who did the same for the Yankees (both as a midseason replacement), are the only ones to win the World Series in that capacity, while Yogi Berra managed the Yankees and Mets to one pennant apiece. Williams, Frank Robinson, Tony Perez and Sandberg failed to reach the playoffs in that capacity, though to be fair, the latter just completed his first season on the job.
While Molitor may lack managerial experience, he’s not out of step with the times. Back when the search process began, general manger Terry Ryan stressed that a willingness to embrace modern analytics would be "a piece" of the puzzle in the team's search. In his capacity as coordinator, Molitor oversaw the team's use of infield shifts, and as St. Paul Pioneer Press beat reporter Mike Berardino pointed out, via Inside Edge data, the team ranked 12th in the majors in success rate using that tactic, saving a net of 15 hits in 553 shifts (2.7 percent). Via Berardino, at his introductory press conference on Tuesday, Molitor said, "Shifts work… The information is in. They’re taking away more hits than they’re giving up."
At the press conference, Ryan stressed the current squad's youth. Via MLB.com, he told reporters, "We're a young club here… We need somebody that can teach. Paul can do that, has done that with us. He's very familiar with the players not only on the major league team, but also certainly in the minor league system." Among those in the system with whom Molitor has worked are top prospects Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, players still at least a couple of years away from the majors after rocky 2014 seasons due to injuries (Buxton and Sano) and a PED suspension (Rosario), but expected to be vital components of the next winning Twins team.
Among other candidates for the job that went to Molitor, MLB.com reported that Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and Twins Class A affiliate manager Doug Mientkiewicz went through the interview process, with Lovullo, Mientkiewicz and Molitor receiving second interviews as well. Additionally, Ryan reached out to both Chip Hale and Maddon, but neither went through the interview process; the former was hired by the Diamondbacks before his scheduled interview.
Diamondbacks hire Hale
On Oct. 13, the Diamondbacks named Hale to succeed the fired Kirk Gibson, who was let go three days before the team finished with a major league-worst 64-98 record. A product of the University of Arizona and a former major league infielder with the Twins (1989-90, 1993-96) and Dodgers (1997), the 49-year-old Hale has a diverse resume that includes six seasons of experience as a minor league manager in the Diamondbacks' chain (2000-02, 2004-06), though the players he oversaw are long gone from the organization. He's spent time on major league staffs as well, serving as Arizona's infield coordinator (2003) and third base/infield coach (2007-09). He spent two years (2010-11) in the latter capacity with the Mets and the last three as the Athletics' bench coach under Bob Melvin, who had managed the Diamondbacks during Hale's second stint as coach.
Hale has been on the major league managerial radar for awhile. Not only did he interview for both the Mets' opening that went to Terry Collins after the 2010 season, and the Mariners' opening that went to Lloyd McClendon last year, but he was also a finalist for both jobs who received second-round interviews as well.
Hale's hiring completes an organizational shakeup that began last May, when the Diamondbacks brought in Tony La Russa as their chef baseball officer. The Hall of Fame skipper spent the remainder of the season evaluating the organization; early in September, he fired GM Kevin Towers, and later that month, he hired first-time GM Dave Stewart, a former star pitcher, pitching coach, assistant GM and player agent.
Stewart and La Russa are said to have interviewed nine candidates for the managerial job, including the aforementioned Alomar and McEwing. The rest of the field included Reds bench coach (and former D-backs player) Jay Bell, former Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar, Double-A manager Andy Green, Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, former Dodgers/Pirates/Rockies manager Jim Tracy, and current assistant hitting coach Turner Ward. The Diamondbacks also wanted to interview both Dodgers third base coach Lorenzo Bundy and Royals bench coach (and ex-Mariners manager) Don Wakamatsu, but their respective teams' playoff stints prevented them from doing so. Alomar, Nevin, Tracy and Ward were finalists along with Hale.
Rangers hire Jeff Banister
On Oct. 16, the Rangers named Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister as their manager. He'll succeed Ron Washington, who during his eight-year tenure guided the Rangers to five straight winning seasons, three playoff berths and back-to-back pennants in 2010-11 before abruptly resigning on Sept. 5 due to an off-field personal matter. Battered by injuries, the team was a major league-worst 53-87 at the time, but they went 14-8 under Bogar, which ended up costing them the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.
The 49-year-old Banister has spent the entirety of his 29-season professional career in the Pirates' organization. Drafted in 1986 out of the University of Houston, he spent eight seasons (1986-93) as a catcher/first baseman in their system (though he missed all of 1992 due to injury) and collected an infield single during his only major league plate appearance on July 23, 1991. That trajectory drastically undersells the obstacles that Banister overcame just to get that far. He battled bone cancer during high school, undergoing seven seven separate surgeries on his left ankle, and he broke his neck in a collision at the plate as a college catcher, which left him temporarily paralyzed.
After serving as a minor league player/coach in 1993, Banister spent five years (1994-98) managing in the Pirates' minor league chain. He spent four seasons (1999-2002) on the big club's staff as major league field coordinator and another eight (2003-10) as minor league field coordinator; the latter tenure was interrupted as he served stints as an interim minor league manager and pitching coach. In August 2010, he joined the Pirates as the interim bench coach under John Russell, and remained in that capacity once the team turned to Clint Hurdle.
Under Hurdle, Banister became a key point man in the Pirates' increased use of analytics, working as an intermediary between the front office and players in communicating information on infield positioning and opponent tendencies — a relationship that played no small part in the team breaking its 20-year drought of playoff-free seasons via Wild Card berths in both 2013 and 2014. In September, Grantland's Ben Lindbergh profiled Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald, who broke new ground by traveling with the team on road trips this year so as to increase the efficiency of such communication. Via Lindbergh, Fitzgerald described Banister as "a guy specifically who will pop in and say, 'Have we ever thought about this?' or 'How is the game changing?'"
Such open-mindedness clearly appealed to general manager Jon Daniels, who had no plans to turn away from Washington but nonetheless welcomed an opportunity for a different approach once that relationship ended. Banister — who interviewed for the Astros' managerial opening that was filled by A.J. Hinch — got the nod over Bogar, a former major leaguer who spent 2009-12 in various coaching capacities on the Red Sox staff, managed in Double-A in 2013 and then spent most of this past season as Rangers' bench coach before taking the reins from Washington.
Also interviewing for the job were the aforementioned Lovullo and McEwing, Double-A manager Steve Buechele, Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, former major leaguer and current ESPN color analyst Alex Cora, and pitching coach Mike Maddux. Bogar and Cash were the two other finalists, who received second interviews.
With those hirings, the only current managerial opening is that of the Rays, who are expected to name candidates to succeed Maddon later this week.