Much was made of the fact that the abbreviated 2020 season resulted in too small of a sample size to properly assess players. It seems team executives feel that way about manager evaluation, too.
There are only three "new" managers (if that's what you want to call Alex Cora, A.J. Hinch and Tony La Russa) this year after six new managers were appointed ahead of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and 10 in 2020. Several skippers who oversaw underachieving clubs were handed a reprieve by their front offices last year, which is understandable after a 60-game season. But will those executives be so patient after 162 games in 2021?
Let’s check in with every manager across the league and where he sits with his current club.
• Dave Roberts, Dodgers
• Kevin Cash, Rays
• Brian Snitker, Braves
• Jayce Tingler, Padres
Roberts finally helped Los Angeles get over the hump and win the World Series, which should get Dodgers fans off his back … at least until they lose their first regular-season series. And that only happened once last year, so it could be a while. Snitker (newly extended through 2023) and Tingler oversaw each of their franchise’s first playoff series wins in 19 and 22 years, respectively.
If you think Cash is under pressure after employing a quick hook with Blake Snell during the World Series, think again; the Rays manager was executing the ethos of the front office, who chose Cash over their former ace this offseason by trading Snell to the Padres.
• Dave Martinez, Nationals
• Don Mattingly, Marlins
• Bob Melvin, A’s
• Craig Counsell, Brewers
• Rocco Baldelli, Twins
Martinez was extended near the end of last season, securing his position despite the Nationals' disappointing 26–34 campaign. Mattingly’s stock has never been higher after winning Manager of the Year for overseeing 2020’s most surprising playoff run.
Melvin, believe it or not, is the sport’s longest-tenured manager while Counsell, who’s earned consistent plaudits over six seasons in Milwaukee, is somehow the NL’s longest-tenured manager. Baldelli has overseen a steady contender in Minnesota, but the angst of Twins fans is climbing as the club continues to struggle in the postseason. (It last won a playoff game on Oct. 5, 2004.)
• Alex Cora, Red Sox
• A.J. Hinch, Tigers
• Tony La Russa, White Sox
• David Ross, Cubs
What an odd collection of new hires we witnessed this offseason: two former managers connected to sign-stealing and a 76-year-old Hall of Famer who has been out of the dugout for a decade. La Russa may actually belong in a couple of sections below here, as his tenure could prove to be awfully short if the win-now Sox struggle to take control of the AL Central.
Ross already has one season under his belt, but the World Series hero still has a lot of leeway to work out the weaknesses of a slashed payroll on the North Side.
• Brandon Hyde, Orioles
• Chris Woodward, Rangers
• Derek Shelton, Pirates
• Mike Matheny, Royals
A trio of these teams, sans Royals, could very well make up the three worst teams in the game this year. Firing any of these managers wouldn’t accomplish much. Matheny is only in his second season (first full season) managing a Kansas City team that signed a few notable free agents this winter. Woodward, who was embarrassed by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Slam Diego last season, probably is feeling the most heat as his team moves into its new stadium (in front of fans this time).
Critical Juncture Ahead
• Aaron Boone, Yankees
• Terry Francona, Cleveland
• Luis Rojas, Mets
• Joe Girardi, Phillies
• Joe Maddon, Angels
• Dusty Baker, Astros
• Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays
• Mike Shildt, Cardinals
The training wheels are off for these guys. Given how many managers are expected to oversee a leap this year despite the return of a 10-team postseason, it’s plausible a couple of names from this group are gone by Opening Day 2022. The New York managers will be in especially tenuous situations if their teams don’t match the expectations caused by their massive markets and payrolls. The previous World Series winners in this group (Girardi, Maddon) would almost surely survive one more year out of the playoffs, but the pressure in 2022 would be ratcheted up to the nth degree by a pair of fanbases starving for a playoff spot.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
• Scott Servais, Mariners
• Gabe Kapler, Giants
• Bud Black, Rockies
Only three AL managers (Melvin, Francona, Cash) have served longer than Servais, who earned a lot of goodwill overseeing an overachieving Mariners squad that narrowly missed the playoffs during his maiden season in 2016. He signed an extension in July 2018 when the Mariners owned MLB’s fourth-best record (58–39). They went 31–34 the rest of the way to finish 11 games out of a wild-card spot, and haven’t sniffed contention since. He and GM Jerry Dipoto are entering their sixth season together. There’s some promising talent in the pipeline, but you wonder if Servais can survive long enough to see the end of Seattle’s postseason drought.
Kapler is helming a club that remained surprisingly competitive in 2020 given a roster full of overpaid veterans. San Francisco doesn't seem keen on tearing everything down to the studs, instead choosing to reload by developing undervalued veterans and castoffs while retaining mainstays Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. And hey, good for the Giants! It’s certainly a more enjoyable path than the one other teams have traveled (and are still traveling). Kapler's job doesn't hinge on this season, but the Giants shouldn't be one of the worst teams in baseball, either.
Black is in an even worse spot in the same division. Rockies GM Jeff Bridich insists they aren’t rebuilding, which seems like a setup to eventually cast blame on the only manager in club history to earn consecutive postseason berths. Black, respected widely around the game as a pitching guru, will have to use every bit of his expertise with Colorado’s young staff to hold on in Denver. (And there's a chance he may not want to anyway given the Rockies' current trajectory.)
Lame Ducks Walking
• David Bell, Reds
• Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
Barring a drastic surpassing of expectations, it appears these two are operating on borrowed time. Both are entering the final guaranteed year of their contracts (the Reds have a club option on Bell for 2022) and are coaching teams widely projected to finish fourth, which doesn’t inspire thoughts of an extension.
Last year was Cincinnati’s “go for it” year, which ended without a run scored in the wild-card series. The Reds lost Trevor Bauer and must hope for an improved showing from an offense that finished 27th in scoring despite playing in a bandbox and committing $64 million over four years to both Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas.
The Diamondbacks may be in even worse shape after finishing last in the NL West in 2020. Kole Calhoun, the team’s best hitter last season, underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus last week. We’re onto Year 2 of Madison Bumgarner’s five-year, $85 million contract, and, well, Year 1 was a disaster (6.48 ERA in nine starts). The one piece of good news is the National League apparently won’t adopt the designated hitter this season. Arizona doesn’t have another fearsome bat to inject into the lineup and is probably better off with Bumgarner and the rest of the pitching staff taking their licks.