Mets' Collins, Padres' Black among 2015's managers on the hot seat
Terry Collins has his ace back, while Bud Black has a completely revamped roster, not to mention a general manager in his first full season on the job. But neither has a contract for 2016, and as the start of the '15 regular season approaches, those two are the most obvious managers on the hot seat.
They're not alone, however. What follows here is a quick roundup of their situations, as well as those of a few other managers who are under the most pressure.
Bud Black, Padres
Among current major league managers, only Mike Scioscia has been at his post longer than Black and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose departure from San Diego after the 2006 season created the opening that Black filled. Black's Padres challenged for a playoff spot in his first season, winning 89 games but losing out on the NL Wild Card berth via a 13-inning loss to the Rockies in a Game 163 tiebreaker. It's been mostly downhill since, as the Padres have finished above .500 in just one other season, 2010, when they won 90 games but missed out on the wild card on the season's final day—with a loss to Bochy's Giants, no less.
Although constrained by payroll issues amid the sale of the franchise, San Diego hasn't been terrible in recent years, but last season's 77 wins represented the Padres' highest total since 2010 and their third-highest during Black's tenure; in all, he has a record of 617–680 (.476). A.J. Preller, who took over as general manager in August, praised Black after the season and was busy wheeling and dealing for a whole new outfield, catching corps and staff ace this winter en route to a franchise-record payroll. But he didn't extend the 57-year-old skipper, whose option for '15 was picked up nearly three years ago. While Black is said to be well-liked by players, he's thus a lame duck, and it's not difficult to envision Preller wanting to install his own man sooner rather than later.
Terry Collins, Mets
When Collins took over as the Mets' manager prior to the 2011 season, he did so amid low expectations. Even with the installation of the widely-respected Sandy Alderson as GM, the team was coming off back-to-back losing seasons amid the disasterpiece theater surrounding ownership's involvement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, not to mention the clown show of the latter-day Omar Minaya/Jerry Manuel regime. Collins—who hadn't managed a major league team since 1999, when his Angels players petitioned GM Bill Bavasi for his removal—was grateful just to be getting another chance in a dugout, while Alderson was waiting out the demand from above to cut payroll. He did following the '11 season, during which New York went a predictably lackluster 77–85.
Since then, the Mets have had the occasional bright spot—R.A. Dickey's Cy Young-winning 2012 season, Matt Harvey's '13 breakout, Bartolo Colon's ineluctable charms and the emergence of Juan Lagares as an elite defender—but also numerous setbacks with young players such as Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Zack Wheeler. Through it all, Collins’s caretaking hasn't been nearly enough to reverse the team's fate; after two years at 74 wins, New York improved last year, but only to 79–83 due in large part to a payroll ranked 25th in the game according to Cot's Contracts.
The Mets have risen to 22nd this year amid a seemingly incomplete blueprint; expectations are that despite that payroll, the return of Harvey from Tommy John surgery will paper over a shaky infield defense and an aging pair of corner outfielders who represent the marquee expenditures of the past two winters in Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer. Even in a division with plenty of rebuilding afoot, this appears to be a no-win situation, particularly with reports of friction between manager and GM, as well as owner Fred Wilpon getting increasingly hands-on around a 65-year-old skipper who doesn't have a contract for 2016, just a club option for $1.2 million.
John Gibbons, Blue Jays
In his second year since returning to the fold following a 4 1/2-year hiatus, Gibbons guided the Jays to 83 wins in 2014, their highest total in four years. Even so, it wasn't nearly enough to break a streak of 22 straight seasons without a playoff berth, currently the majors' longest. With GM Alex Anthopoulos having increased payrolls sharply over the past three seasons and having added Russell Martin via a franchise-record–five-year, $82 million deal this past winter amid significant roster turnover, expectations are high that the team can challenge for a playoff spot in a division that's weaker than anytime in recent memory.
The 52-year-old Gibbons, whose overall record with Toronto is just 462–472 (.495), has a contract that runs through next season. But with the looming possibility of upheaval atop the organization—team president Paul Beeston is in his final season, and his successor could seek a new GM as well as a new manager—he can't get too comfortable.
Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
After his team was eliminated on the final day of the season in 2011, his first year at the helm in Atlanta, Gonzalez guided the Braves to back-to-back playoff appearances in '12 and '13, the latter featuring the franchise's first NL East title since '05 as well as its highest win total (96) since '04. Even so, the team failed to advance in either year, losing the Wild-Card Game and then getting bounced by the Dodgers in the Division Series, in part due to Gonzalez's mismanagement of his bullpen. Expected to contend again with key players such as Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran secured for the long haul, the Braves lost both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to their second Tommy John surgeries last spring; even so, they were still in the hunt in late August before losing 22 of their final 33 games.
Just before the end of the season, the team fired GM Frank Wren, and only the influence of predecessor/mentor Bobby Cox spared Gonzalez. To the surprise of the industry, the Braves plunged into a rebuilding program by trading Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and David Carpenter, and at the moment, both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus project their reduced roster for around 90 losses. Gonzalez, who has a 358–290 (.552) record with the Braves, is a lame duck, and while he still may have Cox's backing, the looming possibility of a new regime to take over from John Hart's temporary stewardship suggests his time may not be long.
Ryne Sandberg, Phillies
A Hall of Fame second baseman, Sandberg has yet to find his footing as a big league manager, but then, he wasn't exactly handed a golden opportunity. Philadelphia went 20–22 under him after he replaced Charlie Manuel in 2013, but the Phillies slipped to 73–89 last year thanks to GM Ruben Amaro Jr. failing to see the handwriting on the wall with regards to the aging core of his roster. Along the way, Sandberg battled with Jimmy Rollins during his first spring, was characterized by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal as "overmatched, struggling in his communications with veterans and with his in-game management" later in the year and was subject to open second-guessing by his players.
Rollins and several other veterans are gone, and while Amaro has belatedly embraced the reality of rebuilding, his expensive team is projected to be the majors' worst by FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and SI, with 95 to 99 losses. Sandberg is signed through 2016 with an option for '17, but unless he demonstrates more managerial facility amid what's going to be a long and brutal season, he may not survive.