Assessing the new managers
Wednesday night was a rough one for a trio of managers in one of the largest and best classes of managers in their first full year with new teams. Terry Collins' Mets relief corps blew a 6-2 lead late in a 7-6 defeat to the Brewers, the Braves' Fredi Gonzalez was burned by having closer Craig Kimbrel pitch to Marlins star Mike Stanton with a base open before the Braves rallied to beat Gonzalez's former team and Edwin Rodriguez's Marlins wound up losing their seventh straight game. After that defeat Florida's hitting coach, John Mallee, was fired and replaced by TV analyst Eduardo Perez, the son of Hall of Famer and Marlins special assistant Tony Perez.
Thursday morning didn't start much better for managers, as Oakland fired Bob Geren and replaced him with Bob Melvin, making the A's the 13th team to change managers in the past 13 months.
Melvin joins 12 managers already in place who are in their first full-year with their new club. Those dozen men are doing a very nice job overall, just as it appears baseball's GMs/presidents did excellent work in finding the right man for those jobs in most cases. All the picks look at least reasonable at this point, with the less successful of the newcomers generally hampered by injuries. Here, in reverse order, is a rundown of the 11 (relatively) new managers and how they're doing so far this year (in a very loose order):
He came in with a great attitude and work ethic after a lifetime in the minors, but the reality is that this may just be either a star-crossed organization (this will be their 103rd straight year without a World Series victory) or just another very unlucky year. Within the first rotation of what looked like a decent starting staff, Quade had lost promising youngsters Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner to injuries (Cashner is still out). The team has been plagued by many other injuries and in some cases underperformance in an abysmal year that probably threatens GM Jim Hendry's job only three years after they won 97 games. Temperamental veteran pitcher Carlos Zambrano lashed out recently while criticizing talented closer Carlos Marmol's pitch selection after Marmol allowed ex-Cub Ryan Theriot a key hit on a slider (Marmol's bread-and-butter pitch) in a recent Cubs lost to the rival Cardinals, calling the Cubs a "Triple-A team'' and an "embarrassment.'' Some took issue with Zambrano's criticism of Marmol but there wasn't much argument with what he said about the team.
Kansas City has a number of big-time prospects coming, and it's still questionable whether Yost is the one to lead them. He must have built strong relationships while he was a coach with the Braves, as it's led to hirings by two organizations to be their manager, first the Brewers (where then-GM Dean Taylor was a longtime Braves assistant GM) and now Kansas City (whose GM, Dayton Moore, was a rising star in the Braves organization; Taylor is now an assistant GM in KC). But he didn't engender great feelings in Milwaukee and seemed to whither in September of 2008 when owner Mark Attanasio replaced him with Dale Sveum, who got the Brewers into the playoffs. The Royals are sliding after a fast start. The jury's still out.
The legendary Yankee made a great impression in spring training with his energy and interest, and it's hard to hold the Dodgers' struggles against Mattingly. His inexperience was an issue entering the season, but the Dodgers' real problems have been a dysfunctional ownership situation (MLB sent ex-Rangers president Tom Schieffer to oversee the mess) and injuries to several players, including most of the infield (Rafael Furcal, Juan Uribe and Casey Blake all have missed significant time). Too early to judge. And unfair, too.
To be just three games under .500 with all that's gone on is in many ways a tremendous feat. The hiring seemed like a reach considering Collins was run out of jobs with the Astros and Angels -- not to mention being run out of Japan, too. Overzealous in his previous stops with a tendency to annoy his own players, he appears to have returned from his 12-year absence in a major league dugout a somewhat more discreet manager. The Mets never had the pitching to contend this year, but he's also dealt with some very debilitating injuries, to Johan Santana, David Wright, Ike Davis, Chris Young, Angel Pagan and Jason Bay, among others. Very nice work so far. For the most part he has been fine on strategy, as well. Though, it is extremely curious that closer Francisco Rodriguez is on pace for 64 games finished, which would easily surpass the 55 he would need for contract to vest for 2012 at $17.5 million, which isn't something the Mets can afford. It's nice that Collins has played this straight up, but the high total at the very least could impair K-Rod's trade value.
He changed the culture last year, proving he was exactly the right man to shake up the moribund organization. Unfortunately, they are one of many teams beset by injuries, in their case to several infielders and pitchers (even so, they are only 5 ½ games behind the Red Sox in the impossible AL East). In the end, he may be the best choice of all. An expansion of the playoffs would be something else to cheer in Baltimore.
Owner Jeffrey Loria appeared intent on hiring anyone but Rodriguez, the interim who acquitted himself nicely after taking over for the fired Fredi Gonzalez midway through last year. But the White Sox mentioned Logan Morrison as possible compensation for Ozzie Guillen and Loria couldn't come to terms on a contract agreement with Bobby Valentine, who Loria had romanced for a year before offering only $1.5 million annually. Turns out E-Rod was a solid choice all along. He was familiar with much of his young team, having managed them in Triple-A, which is a plus. And while Hanley Ramirez is having an uncharacteristically poor season, he and Rodriguez appear to have a decent relationship, which should bode well for the future, assuming Rodriguez makes it into next season. With only a one-year contract, Rodriguez understood from the start the pressure was on, but he hasn't let it affect the way he's done things. He took it as an opportunity, and he's run with it, keeping the Marlins relatively close despite injuries to Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, Chris Coghlan and Morrison. Their recent hitting woes, however, led to Mallee's firing and the seven-game losing streak. Still, a 31-29 record is not bad at all, considering the injuries.
So many baseball people have shied away from hiring pitching coaches or pitchers as managers due to the fact that it has rarely worked, with the most notable exceptions being Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and to a lesser degree Roger Craig. But Farrell did such a good job with the Red Sox pitchers that he was on just about everyone's short list. He's done a very nice job in Toronto thus far, keeping the Jays in shouting distance in the tough American League East. His communication skills have been cited as exemplary. He also has a very good staff, with ex-Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu a standout.
He was seemingly the perfect fit from the start, a homegrown manager with the endorsement of the legendary Bobby Cox and also GM Frank Wren (two Braves power brokers who aren't especially close themselves). Gonzalez has the perfect temperament for the job, which he demonstrated working first for the demanding Loria in South Florida. The challenge with Atlanta will be to get enough out of an offense that should be better than it has shown. Gonzalez's personal favorite, Dan Uggla (.170 average), has been an unmitigated disaster so far, which hasn't helped matters. Even so, they are hanging right in the NL East race in one of baseball's two toughest divisions. It was odd that Gonzalez allowed closer Kimbrel to pitch to Stanton with a bases open and backup shortstop Ozzie Martinez on deck Wednesday night, leading to a tying hit in a game won by the Braves in 10 innings. But overall, this is an excellent pick.
Roenicke looks to be the third major success story from the tree of Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Bud Black was manager of the year with the Padres last year, and Joe Maddon keeps working his magic with the Rays. Roenicke is seen as a superior communicator who fits his young, strong nucleus in Milwaukee. Sometimes the surprise hires turn out to be among the best. It helps, too, that Brewers superstars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are said to love Roenicke (though it's unlikely even a warm and fuzzy relationship with the manager will keep Fielder in Milwaukee after the year). His easygoing manner provided a contrast to the past regime and fit the fun, young clubhouse in Milwaukee.
The tough-guy approach is apparently what Seattle needed. Wedge has burnished his rep early and often in the Great Northwest, most notably by calling out new second baseman Jack Wilson in the sixth game of the season about whether a frustrated Wilson removed himself from a game (he did), and whether Wilson should fib to the media about it (he shouldn't). Wedge has made "accountability" a watchword and put the fight back in the Mariners, who look poised for one of the biggest turnaround seasons in baseball, if not the biggest. They are doing it without much of an offense. Pitching and a new discipline instilled by Wedge are carrying them.
Who would have thought the Pirates could be .500 this late in the year (they're 30-30)? Pirates management was very wise to wait until after the World Series for Hurdle, who spent last year as the hitting coach of the AL champion Texas Rangers, because as an eternal optimist he is perfect for the organization that's had 18 straight losing seasons. Pirates president Frank Coonelly sent along a long list of attributes that make Hurdle right for the job, with the word "energy'' listed about a half dozen times. Hurdle's nonstop work provides a nice change from the previous regime. The message has also been right. Hurdle benched the team's star, Andrew McCutchen, after he failed to run out a dropped third strike even though his chances to reach base weren't great. Hurdle's decision emphasized his message that the Pirates needed to play the game right, important for a team trying to dig itself out of a nearly-two decade hole. The perfect choice.
He has drummed home the message that all players must show up every day to compete, not just be on time, which turned out to be a necessity for the historically underperforming franchise. He has made some unexpected calls, like naming Ian Kennedy the Opening Day starter early, which has resulted in a tremendous start for Kennedy, who is 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA. The skeptics were out in spring training when Gibson was blowing up over meaningless losses, and looked like an early burnout candidate. But the players, who have his respect, have hung right with him and his football mentality all the way. Still probably prone to yell a bit too much, but definitely the right man for this job at this time. He even had the upstart D-backs in first place for a few days in the AL West recently. An early Manager of the Year candidate.
• The Rangers fired hitting coach Thad Bosley, who they saw as a great guy who "didn't mesh'' with their hitters. Reports were that he wanted to do excessive tinkering with some of their stars, including Josh Hamilton, who'd like to avoid a rep as a coach killer at this point (he blamed third-base coach Dave Hamilton for the play at the plate where he broke his arm, before apologizing).
• Chipper Jones might have overreacted a bit by saying that young Braves star Jason Heyward shouldn't wait until he's 100 percent. Jones was expressing the Braves' frustration over the offense's struggles and Heyward -- who had said he wanted to be fully healthy before returning from a shoulder injury -- probably erred by saying his comments out loud at a time the Braves aren't scoring many runs. In the end, Jones' comments could have a positive effect.
• The Twins seem to be having some second thoughts now about trading catching prospect Wilson Ramos to plug their closing hole last year with Matt Capps. Ramos looks like a future star, Capps has converted only about 60 percent of his save chances this year and superstar Joe Mauer doesn't look like he's going to play out the entire eight years of his contract as a catcher, or anywhere close to that. Mauer is intent on remaining in that position for now. But realistically, he may need to consider a change in a year or two.
• This looks like it could be the Summer of Papi. David Ortiz is thriving, and some Red Sox people are crediting the presence of Adrian Gonzalez. Ortiz is batting .323 with 15 home runs and 34 RBIs and looks like a new man, and some just think he's borrowing Gonzalez's approach, especially in regard to how to use the Green Monster to his advantage. Ortiz annoyed Yankees manager Joe Girardi with a dramatic bat flip after a home run off rookie Hector Noesi. "I didn't care for it,'' Girardi told Yankees writers. But Ortiz made the Yankees pay the next night, with a home run off A.J. Burnett. Ortiz wasn't impressed by Girardi's comment, saying after burning the Yankees again, "I don't care about what Joe Girardi said. I've got almost 370 bombs in the big leagues. I don't want to make a big deal because I bat-flipped one of them.'' (The quote was spiced up with some saltier language).
• When someone told Carl Crawford a lot of players take a couple weeks to get acclimated to new teams, Crawford responded, "Took me a couple months.'' When it was mentioned he had seven years to make up for it, he said, "I have a lot of catching up to do.'' Word is, he has been an incredible pro through his early season slump, usually arriving to the park first. Eventually, the Red Sox expect him to be their No. 2 hitter. He is batting sixth now, up from seventh and has raised his average to .247, up from .209 as recently as May 22.
• It would not shock folks if Boston's J.D. Drew retired at year's end.
• The same goes for the Phillies' Roy Oswalt, who is still an ace when healthy.
• Jose Reyes is so hot the Mets are forced to make a respectable offer to him at this point. Their fans, understandably, are demanding it.
• Here's my explanation for Bryce Harper acting up recently in the minors. (He blew a kiss at a pitcher he victimized with a homer after having been hit by a pitch the day before by a different pitcher.) He is likely bored playing at Class-A Hagerstown (Md.). It's OK that the Nationals don't want to rush him to the majors this year at age 18. But isn't there a middle ground? He's obviously too good for Class-A at this point. The same goes for Mets righthanded pitching prospect Matt Harvey, who is absolutely dominating for Class-A Port St. Lucie.