When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman showed up unannounced in Atlanta to meet his struggling $200 million team, alarms went off, and shrill headlines were created. But while Cashman did meet with manager Joe Girardi in Atlanta, there's no evidence whatsoever that Girardi's in any sort of trouble.
"Joe's doing an excellent job," Cashman said by phone. Cashman's similar words of encouragement in Atlanta silenced the alarm bells and headline writers, then the Yankees won two straight, ending the controversy -- at least until the next perceived mini catastrophe for the Bronx Bombers.
Two managers already have been fired this year -- Arizona's Bob Melvin and Colorado's Clint Hurdle. Those two men met in the 2007 NLCS, so that tells you how tenuous a managerial job can be. Concern is often warranted.
Here is an update on four managers who don't appear to be guaranteed a date to manage in 2010.
1. Joe Girardi, Yankees.
There still isn't any real evidence of a rift between Girardi and struggling superstar Alex Rodriguez, despite a report of tough words exchanged between the two. More important, nor does there appear to be any notable fracturing of support from the front office.
Although the conference call arranged by Cashman -- which didn't include Girardi -- is what finally got A-Rod to confess he needed time off, there shouldn't necessarily be anything negative read into that. (It is, however, thought true that some Yankees higher-ups blame the traveling training staff for not grasping that doctors wanted Rodriguez rested once a week.) Girardi likely trusted A-Rod's claims that he was OK too much. But that one miscommunication alone won't imperil the manager.
Girardi didn't have a smooth start last year with the old-guard stars of the dynasty era, but Cashman credits the manager for recognizing the need to loosen up. There are conflicting opinions about how popular Girardi is in the clubhouse now, but he certainly has tried harder, taking the troops on field trips to play billiards and watch the NCAA championships. Girardi will always be intense, but does seem slightly less tense. Cashman compares him to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who's a hero in New York after initially being perceived as too autocratic.
Girardi's going to get the year, at least, as he is Cashman's handpicked successor to the legendary Joe Torre. The question is whether he survives a second season should the Yankees not reach the playoffs, and the general perception is he won't. But Cashman suggested by phone that Girardi didn't do as poorly as portrayed last year. "He managed to win 89 games with a ton of injuries," Cashman pointed out. If it's up to Cashman, Girardi probably stays no matter what. But a lot of money was invested in this team (not to mention a $1.5 billion stadium), and that call ultimately may not be Cashman's to make.
2. Eric Wedge, Indians.
Indians GM Mark Shapiro is meeting with club president Paul Dolan in the coming weeks to discuss the state of the team, including the state of the manager. But no one in baseball believes Shapiro is anything but supportive of Wedge. Shapiro repeated Friday that he didn't believe the manager should be changed, and that support isn't expected to waver.
"If I felt a change would improve our team, I'd make a change," Shapiro told SI.com. "I think that's just a copout that's too often accepted in today's world. Yes, I'd like to see improvement from the coaching staff and manager, but I don't think that's the root of our issue. The accountability lies with me more than Eric."
Shapiro and Wedge have been close dating back to Shapiro's days as assistant GM and Wedge's formative years managing in the Indians' minors. Shapiro has been blaming the bullpen that he and the front office put together (the pen's 5.07 ERA is the third-worst mark in baseball; their overall 5.23 ERA is the worst). All the injuries (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Laffey) haven't helped, either.
One person with ties to the Indians claims things have gotten "stale," and perhaps a change wouldn't be such a bad thing. At 30-43, they are surely one of baseball's most underachieving teams. "Maybe they need a new voice," that person said.
Shapiro disagrees: "I don't think a new voice is going to change the bullpen's performance."
Maybe so, and Wedge should be safe as long as Shapiro continues to believe Wedge isn't the problem. And even if Shapiro's bosses don't share that sentiment, the club-owning Dolans do believe in their GM, who is expected to eventually be promoted to club president. So it would be something of a surprise if they overruled Shapiro now.
3. Manny Acta, Nationals.
The GM and pitching coach are gone, and Acta's bosses appeared perilously close to axing Acta a couple of weeks back, before the Nats beat the vaunted Yankees in two out of three. The Nats still have baseball's worst record by far, at 20-49, but they ruined Cooperstown-bound John Smoltz's comeback effort Thursday night, as they continue to show flashes in recent weeks. Also, in an afternoon speaking engagement prior to Thursday night's win, club president Stan Kasten told the Washington Post, "In Manny's case, I happen to be a big fan of his. I think he has the demeanor to be a long-term solution as a manager. He has the demeanor of a Bobby Cox and others who have been successful.
"I can't predict whether it will work here, but I think he will. I think he's going to serve as a long-term manager here. That's my hope."
While Kasten said plenty of nice words about Acta, he has yet to offer any guarantees. Acta's friends say he is under the impression he's safe at least until the GM situation is settled, and with an "interim" tag still attached to Mike Rizzo's title, the GM issue remains anything but settled. Kasten said by phone that a permanent GM will be selected by the end of the year. Acta's still-tenuous situation will probably become clearer at that time.
4. Jim Tracy, Rockies.
He gets the year, but there are no guarantees.
Tracy impressed Rockies people by establishing roles for players and doing a good job of keeping them in the loop. But it's quite possible he was only hired because he happened to be there when Clint Hurdle's time finally ran out. So Tracy may have to keep making miracles.
Tracy's bosses, of course, are impressed he's led the previously underperforming team quickly back to respectability with a streak of 17 victories in 18 games. But they won't make any call until after they see how he handles adversity. That call will not come until after the season.
The division always described as wide open became a little less so this week, as the Detroit Tigers' 6-0 homestand enabled them to open a five-game lead on the second-place Twins.
They have an owner, Mike Ilitch, who tries hard to win, and who spent $140 million despite not being in a major market. But they also made some very good decisions.
The Tigers made perhaps the best trade of the winter, getting 99 mph-throwing starter Edwin Jackson from Tampa Bay -- a team that almost never makes the wrong choice -- for spare outfielder Matt Joyce. And they also made perhaps the best draft choice in the past few years when they selected mature right-hander (and Scott Boras client) Rick Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft and gave him $7 million. Porcello, 20, is 8-4 with a 3.55 ERA.
The Tigers continued to go for the gusto in this year's draft, taking two more Boras clients with their first two picks: high school pitcher Jacob Turner (Westminster Christian Academy, outside St. Louis) and Oklahoma State pitcher Andy Oliver. "We wouldn't have drafted them if we didn't intend to sign them," Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski said.
Ilitch has given Dombrowski the go-ahead to scan the market, and they could go either way (hitter or pitcher), or both ways, considering Ilitch's thirst to win. "It's a little early," Dombrowski said, "but we're monitoring the market."
The signing of Magglio Ordonez can never be considered a mistake, but the clause in his guaranteed $75 million, five-year deal that triggers a sixth year at $18 million for 540 plate appearances in 2009 looms large now.
Ordonez, who homered for the first time in 40 games Thursday and is hitting .274 with three homers and 24 RBIs, will get there barring an injury or a decision to bench or release the longtime star. Ordonez is back after a recent "indefinite" benching by manager Jim Leyland. But who can say whether it could happen again.
Boras, Ordonez's agent, questioned Leyland's announcement that Ordonez would be benched "indefinitely," in what appeared to be a subtle warning shot regarding any possible future decision-making based on bucks. Teams are not supposed to make player moves based on money, and one thing about the Tigers is that they never have (for instance, Gary Sheffield was released, even with $15 million left on his deal, though there could always be clubhouse considerations in Sheffield's case).
Boras pointed out that there were no complaints when Ordonez was racking up three straight 100-RBI seasons, that the clause to trigger next year (and one to trigger 2011, as well) were necessary elements in Ordonez signing there, and that the clause was about Ordonez's health, which was in question at the time.
Ultimately, there's a long way to go here before we get to the point of any real controversy, but it could get tricky if Ordonez doesn't show more power. "He's swinging the bat a little bit better," Dombrowski said. Ordonez's performance may, to some degree, have been affected by a very difficult personal situation, as his wife has a serious health issue that required a few days away earlier this year. Though, he hasn't made excuses for his lack of power.
Teams often give clauses such as Ordonez's to stars, but one competing GM opined, "The Tigers never should have given him that clause." In hindsight, they may feel that way as well. The obvious explanation, as with any player-friendly clause, is that they did probably feel it was necessary to get the deal done at the time.
Dombrowski said by phone, "I wouldn't discuss Magglio's situation. It was five years ago. We just hope he swings the bat as he has in the past."
• The Indians have started to field calls on starter Cliff Lee, but Shapiro called the chances for a deal "unlikely to almost impossible.'' It's believed the Phillies, Dodgers and Mets were among early callers. While the Phillies might have the type of pitching prospects to do a deal for Lee (Kyle Drabek would be a start), it's questionable whether the Dodgers or Mets do. Texas is another team that has the need and the prospects (Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz are two of the best) to tempt the Indians. Indians people are believed to agree that the Rangers are a rare team that has plenty of prospects to get it done. The Rangers supposedly can't take on salary, so it's possible they would want the Indians to pay what remains on Lee's $6 million 2009 salary.
For now, though, the Indians' inclination is to keep Lee because they have him next year with a reasonable $9 million option (and no suitable in-house replacement). Even if the Indians are to concede this season, they don't want to concede next year, too.
• The Marlins, winners of five straight and a sudden threat in the NL East under manager Fredi Gonzalez, are looking for a reliever in the wake of Matt Lindstrom's elbow injury that's expected to keep him out six weeks. The available Luis Ayala has been speculated on, but they are also aiming higher than that.
• Mark DeRosa makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals, who still need a hitter. He's a hitter who can play anywhere. Other teams that could use DeRosa include the Mets, Giants, Braves Cubs and Tigers.
• Matt Holliday is still the most likely star to be traded, but his $13.5 million salary could mean that the small-market A's will be asked to contribute if he is traded. Perhaps they'd consider that if the prospects they get in return are excellent. The Braves, Mets, Giants and Cardinals could all be looking to take Holliday.
• Albert Pujols, for all his heroics this year, has one hit with a RISP and two outs (1-for-14, with 15 BB and 10 IBB), and as Joel Sherman of the New York Post (and SI.com) pointed out, Mets' youngster Nick Evan passed Pujols with two in two days versus Pujols' Cardinals.
• Shortstop Brendan Ryan is a very impressive young player for the Cardinals. Tony La Russa appears to be impressed, too, as he has moved Khalil Greene to third base.
• Mets GM Omar Minaya and assistant GM Tony Bernazard deserve credit for finding Fernando Nieve on the Astros' scrap heap. He's won three straight starts and is doing well to slow the return of John Maine.
• Congrats to Omar Vizquel, who became Venezuela's all-time hit king with his 2,678th hit Thursday, surpassing Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio in Texas' 9-8 victory over Arizona.
• Who says Derek Jeter is nearing the end? Jeter, who celebrates his 35th birthday today with another Subway Series, is showing more power, more speed and better range this year.
• My tweeting career took off yesterday with an endorsement from my favorite actress @Alyssa Milano. Anyone who'd like to tweet along can find me at @SI_JonHeyman.