Will the Nationals' disappointing season cost Matt Williams his job? He's one of five managers on the hot seat as we reach the end of the MLB regular season.
Brad Ausmus will not manage the Tigers beyond the end of this season, according to a source within Detroit’s front office, and it’s possible that the team could fire him before the year is over. Though Detroit general manager Al Avila told reporters on Friday that “our evaluation is ongoing and decision has not been made,” his failure to contradict the leak strongly suggests that we will soon be adding the Tigers to the growing list of teams who will be in the market for a new manager this winter.
That list already includes the Padres, who may have interest in hiring Ausmus, and the Phillies; their current skippers, Pat Murphy and Pete Mackanin, carry the interim tag after the in-season firing of Bud Black and the resignation of Ryne Sandberg, respectively. It also includes the Marlins, who have a standing offer to Dan Jennings to return to the GM position but will not retain him as manager. Those likely will not be the only four teams with managerial openings this off-season, though. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as five more managers dismissed between now and November. Here are the top candidates on the hot seat, presented in alphabetical order.
John Farrell, Red Sox
This is a tricky situation, as Farrell, who led the Red Sox to a World Series victory in his first season as Boston's manager in 2013, is currently battling lymphoma and is on leave while undergoing chemotherapy. Still, he has been unable to keep the Red Sox out of last place over the last two seasons, and Boston just had a regime change in the front office: Larry Lucchino will step down as the team’s president and CEO at the end of the season, former Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has been hired as the team’s new president of baseball operations, and GM Ben Cherington resigned as a result of Dombrowksi’s arrival.
Dombrowski intends to hire a new general manager, but he will clearly be the decision maker in the organization going forward, and it would not be at all surprising to see a change of manager as a result. In fact, given that it was Dombrowski who hired the unexperienced Ausmus in Detroit, one wonders if a reunion could happen in Boston.
Lloyd McClendon, Mariners
McClendon is another manager whose job is in danger because of his GM’s inability to keep his: Jack Zduriencik was fired in late August, and while Seattle’s search for a replacement is ongoing, it seems likely that any new GM will want to make a change in field manager. The Mariners exceeded expectations in their first season under McClendon, winning 87 games and missing a wild-card berth by one game, but that strong showing raised expectations coming into this season. Seattle hasn't simply fallen short of those; they’ve been awful, failing to push their record above .500 since losing the second game of the season and falling as far as 12 games out of first place on multiple occasions
Bryan Price, Reds
A former pitching coach, Price hasn’t had much to work with in his two seasons as Cincinnati’s manager, so this is less about the failings of the team under him than his apparent discomfort in the role. That was highlighted by his explosion over Devin Mesoraco’s injury in April: Upset over a reporter discovering that Mesoraco didn’t pinch-hit in a key spot because he was not with the team—a reporter doing his job, in other words—Price let forth with an expletive-laden rant that betrayed his lack of understanding of the relationship between the team and the press that covers it.
The Reds are another team that could be heading for a complete regime change. With both GM Walt Jocketty and Price set to enter the final year of their contracts in 2016, some have speculated that the Reds are looking to push Jocketty out of his job, which would likely result in a change of manager, as well.
Robin Ventura, White Sox
As opposed to Price, team performance is behind Ventura’s presence on this list. The White Sox went big this winter, signing free agents Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche and trading for Jeff Samardzija in anticipation of a return to contention. Instead, they started the season 0–4 and haven’t been above third place in the AL Central all year, managing to post a winning record for a grand total of one day. Of the new additions, only Robertson hasn’t been a significant disappointment.
Still, since leading Chicago to a second-place finish in his rookie season in 2012, Ventura has presided after a trio of losing seasons and, like Price, would be entering his lame-duck season in '16. Given that Ventura has now had four seasons at the helm of his current team—more than any other manager on this list—and that the White Sox are anxious to cash in on the primes of studs Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, they could hardly be called impatient if they let Ventura go a year early.
Matt Williams, Nationals
Last year, in his first season at the helm, Williams won a league-leading 96 games and the NL Manager of the Year award. The former was expected given the talent on the Nationals’ roster; the latter was a shock, given the work Bruce Bochy, Don Mattingly, Clint Hurdle and even Mike Redmond and Ron Roenicke did and how little the Nationals’ success seemed to have to do with Williams’s acumen. This season has revealed that selection to be as erroneous as it seemed.
Again heavily favored in their division and for the pennant, the Nationals posted winning records in just two of the first five months of the season and have suffered a shocking collapse over the last six weeks that has Williams’s fingerprints all over it. Hardly a game goes by that doesn’t involve a questionable strategic decision, and while he can hardly be blamed for the failures of several of his key players, his managing seems to be an additional obstacle that the team has proven unable to overcome.
GM Mike Rizzo has been outspoken in support of his manager—recklessly so, according to some—but you’d be hard pressed to find many other evaluators who don’t think the time to fire Williams has long since passed. The bigger question here is if Rizzo’s failure to fire Williams has put his own job in danger, as well.