It may only be a handful of games into the season, but it’s never too early to fire up the hot seat.
Which managers are in danger of 2019 being their final go-around with their current team? Let’s power rank 29 of them in tiers, from those with impenetrable job security to those whose seasons will be nervy and uncomfortable if things go south, to determine who’s under the most pressure this year.
Note: Bruce Bochy isn't included on this list because he's retiring at season's end. Not that he would've been in any real danger anyway: He's as much a part of the Giants as McCovey Cove and not scoring runs. But he's out, so we won't be ranking him. Onward.
As Safe As Safe Can Be
• Alex Cora, Red Sox
• Dave Roberts, Dodgers
Despite a wretched start for the Red Sox, there’s no way Cora is getting fired after leading Boston to a World Series win in his rookie season. Nor does Roberts have to worry, coming off two straight pennants and a four-year contract extension signed in the offseason.
Honestly, they’re so safe that they should spend their time during pre- and post-game interviews saying stuff that would normally get a manager fired, just for fun. “Bunting is the only way to score runs.” “All our starters will throw 130-plus pitches a game.” “I’m going to bat Christian Vazquez leadoff.”
• Aaron Boone, Yankees
• A.J. Hinch, Astros
• Kevin Cash, Rays
• Bob Melvin, A's
• Craig Counsell, Brewers
• Brian Snitker, Braves
These managers either helmed playoff teams last season or, in Cash’s case, were at the forefront of 2018’s most surprising squad. They may not have quite as much security as Cora and Roberts, but their previous success should carry over plenty—though another October stumble by the Yankees could leave Boone squirming come 2020.
• Brandon Hyde, Orioles
• Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays
• Rocco Baldelli, Twins
• Brad Ausmus, Angels
• Chris Woodward, Rangers
• David Bell, Reds
• Mike Shildt*, Cardinals
All seven of these skippers just got started, and they’re all unlikely to have their stints so quickly cut short. (Shildt is technically a second-year manager, as he took over the Cardinals midway through last season, but he’s still enough of a rookie to fit here.) If you’re looking for one potential surprise firing out of this group, though, Ausmus could be it. Another wasted year of Mike Trout, if the Angels once again miss the playoffs, could spell doom, especially if he appears to have learned little from his unsuccessful Tigers tenure.
There Until They Don’t Want To Be
• Ned Yost, Royals
• Ron Gardenhire, Tigers
• Clint Hurdle, Pirates
• Terry Francona, Indians
This veteran quartet has a real “old dudes chilling in Denny’s” vibe to them, in that they’ll be allowed to hang out and manage pretty much until they don’t feel like it any more.
Yost and Gardenhire in particular feel like they’ll be running their teams in perpetuity, given the fact that both Kansas City and Detroit are amid long and painful rebuilds. If they don’t mind watching their teams lose 95-plus games, then I don’t see why either front office would boot them out. And while there are actual expectations for Francona, he signed an extension at the start of the season that will keep him in Cleveland until 2022. Long live Tito.
Your Guess Is As Good As Mine
• Scott Servais, Mariners
• Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
I don’t have a read on this duo. Servais got a contract extension last summer, and Seattle’s offseason fire sale suggested that he’d be kept around to oversee the rebuild. But if the Mariners’ hot start continues, will that change the calculus, especially if they again collapse in the second half?
Lovullo’s Diamondbacks similarly took a step back this winter, and he was the handpicked choice of the current front office, so even if they’re bad, he’s probably good. Plus, he’s just two seasons removed from NL Manager of the Year honors. I’d say he’s safe, but if things go very wrong, he could be in trouble.
• Andy Green, Padres
• Bud Black, Rockies
I don’t think that either of these NL West managers is necessarily on the hot seat right now. Green’s Padres, while young and exciting, lost 96 games last year, so you can’t realistically pencil them into a playoff spot. On the other end of the spectrum, Black’s Rockies have made the postseason two years in a row but not advanced past the Division Series either time, though Colorado’s persistent plucky underdog status makes those trips feel less like failures.
If nothing else, San Diego is clearly ready to win, and if Green can’t get his team at least to within .500, things might get hairy. And while no one expects Colorado to be a serious World Series contender, that could be what sinks Black: a front office and ownership group, fresh off lavishing a $260 million deal on Nolan Arenado, hungry for better results. In other words: I don’t expect them to get fired, but it wouldn’t shock me either if it happens.
• Rick Renteria, White Sox
• Don Mattingly, Marlins
Neither the White Sox nor the Marlins will be anywhere near good in 2019, so piling up losses won’t be the downfall of either Renteria or Mattingly. But it’s not hard to see one or both getting the axe if their respective teams look awful en route to all those defeats—if they’re sloppy and uncompetitive, or if the important young players don’t develop as hoped.
They’ve also both been in place long enough—Renteria is in his third year on the South Side, Mattingly his fourth in South Florida—that it’s easy to imagine both front offices seeking “a new voice” after another dismal year. Of the two, though, I’d bet that Mattingly is more likely to go, as he’s a holdover from the Marlins’ old regime.
Produce Or Perish
• Gabe Kapler, Phillies
• Dave Martinez, Nationals
• Mickey Callaway, Mets
It figures that baseball’s most competitive division (leaving aside the Marlins) would also include its most under-pressure managers. All three of these men struggled badly at times last year as rookies, running into trouble with bullpen usage especially.
Kapler and his fidgety, anxious style of personnel management was hard to watch and flamed out spectacularly down the stretch. Martinez seemed simply overwhelmed in D.C., aiming to be the laid-back Beltway version of Joe Maddon but coming across like a pretender to his particular crown. And Callaway bumbled frequently in New York, though the Mets’ unique challenges—penny-pinching owners, an old and injury-prone roster, and the cosmic horror that swallows Citi Field whole most summers—make that job harder than most.
Everyone in this trio got a second chance despite their blunders, but the stakes are sky-high for all of them. Kapler in particular inherited a situation where, with Bryce Harper and several other high-priced stars on the roster, his team is expected to win now. Martinez and Callaway aren’t as under the gun, but the former still has a good team even with Harper gone, and the latter saw his new general manager go on an offseason spending spree to bulk up the roster. In other words, big things are expected in a division that will be a merciless buzzsaw all the way until October. That may be unfair, but it is what it is.
• Joe Maddon, Cubs
The lamest of lame ducks, Maddon goes into 2019 on a seat so hot that his pants are probably smoldering. This is the last year of his contract—he didn’t get an extension this winter—and the Cubs made lots of noise in the offseason about “getting more out of the roster.” That may have been partially a way to deflect from a winter in which Chicago passed on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, along with virtually every other free agent of note. But it also sounds like dissatisfaction with the way things played out last season, in which the Cubs threw away a late-September division lead, lost the NL Central in a Game 163 to Milwaukee and were flushed out of the playoffs by a mediocre Rockies squad. There’s the issue, too, of the diminishing returns since the 2016 championship, in which Chicago’s postseason stays have become shorter and feebler.
I won’t pretend to know how much of that is Maddon’s fault, but it’s not hard to imagine things getting stale after four-plus years in charge, especially given his aggressively quirky approach and constant tinkering. In some respects, he’s been set up to fail: Chicago’s bullpen is a total disaster, and it’s not his fault that his starting pitchers are old, injury-prone and declining. But ultimately, the buck stops with him before it reaches Theo Epstein or the Ricketts, even if they didn’t give him the pieces to succeed. No manager is in more danger of losing his job than Maddon, and if the Cubs’ rough start continues into the summer, it may be a matter of when, not if, he gets canned.